An Externalist Theory of Social Understanding: Interaction, Psychological Models, and the Frame Problem

Review of Philosophy and Psychology:1-25 (2021)
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Abstract

I put forward an externalist theory of social understanding. On this view, psychological sense making takes place in environments that contain both agent and interpreter. The spatial structure of such environments is social, in the sense that its occupants locate its objects by an exercise in triangulation relative to each of their standpoints. This triangulation is achieved in intersubjective interaction and gives rise to a triadic model of the social mind. This model can then be used to make sense of others’ observed actions. Its possession plays a vital role in the development of the capacity for false belief reasoning. The view offers an integrated account of the development of social cognition from primary intersubjectivity to level-2 perspective taking. It incorporates insights from interactionism and mindreading theories of social cognition and thus offers a way out of the stalemate between defenders of the two views. Because psychological sense making is perspectival, the frame problem does not arise for social reasoners: the perspective they bring to bear on the action that is to be interpreted constrains the information they can select to make sense of what others do.

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