An Alternative Model for Direct Cognition of Third-Party Elementary Mental States

Revista de Filosofia Moderna E Contemporânea 9 (1):15-28 (2021)
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I aim to develop an alternative theoretical model for the direct cognition of the elementary states of others called the theory of interaction (henceforth TI), also known as the “second person” approach. The model I propose emerges from a critical reformulation of the displaced perception model proposed by FRED DRETSKE (1995) for the introspective knowledge of our own mental states. Moreover, against Dretske, I argue that no meta-representation (second-order representation of a first-order representation as a representation) is involved in the process, but only concepts, rudimentary enough, of others’ emotions: contentment and discontentment. Strictly speaking, all the empirical data and findings in developmental psychology only support the hypothesis that children in the pre-linguistic phase understand perceptual facial expressions of contentment and discontentment. My proposal consists of the following thesis: The direct perception of others' elementary mental states is not a perception in the usual sense of the word according to which we just perceive things, but rather a “perception of facts.” But how to understand that? It is nothing more than an epistemological process that is automatic and reliable at the same time. It is reliable in the epistemological-externalist sense of not involving any inference, reflection, theorizing or epistemic justification: a baby’s perception of her mom’s facial expression of discontentment (in the usual sense of “per- ception”) does not constitute a reason supporting the belief that mommy is discontent. The very word “belief” should not be understood in the usual sense but rather in the sense of a natural inclination for truth. But at the same time, it is automatic because the belief is a result or output of a process entirely subliminal and computational in nature. Thus, for instance, a child perceives that her mom is discontent (fact-awareness) by perceiving consciously (“perception” in the usual sense) a facial expression of discontentment (sensorial input) but recognizes that her mother is discontent as a result (output) of an entirely subliminal process.

Author's Profile

Roberto Horácio De Pereira
Federal University of Rio de Janeiro


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