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God and other minds

  • FIONA ELLIS (a1)


I reconsider the idea that there is an analogy between belief in other minds and belief in God, and examine two approaches to the relevant beliefs. The ‘explanatory inductive’ approach raises difficulties in both contexts, and involves questionable assumptions. The ‘expressivist’ approach is more promising, and presupposes a more satisfactory metaphysical framework in the first context. Its application to God is similarly insightful, and offers an intellectually respectable, albeit resistible, version of the doctrine that nature is a book of lessons.


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1. Plantinga, A.God and Other Minds (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1967).

2. J. Wisdom, ‘Gods’, in A. G. N. Flew (ed.) Logic and Language, 2nd series, VII (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953).

3. Hughes, G. E.Plantinga on the rationality of God's existence’, Philosophical Review, 79 (1970), 246252.

4. Wittgenstein, LudwigPhilosophical Investigations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1953), 178.

5. See Avramides, AnitaOther Minds (London: Routledge, 2001); John McDowell ‘Singular thought and the extent of inner space’, in Philip Pettit and John McDowell (eds) Subject, Thought, and Context (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 137–168.

6. Taliaferro, CharlesConsciousness and the Mind of God (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 114122.

7. McGinn, ColinWhat is the problem of other minds?’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, supplementary vol. 58, (1984), 123. See also Overgaard, SørenRethinking other minds: Wittgenstein and Levinas on expression’, Inquiry, 48 (2005), 259; Plantinga, God and Other Minds, 188.

8. Dretske, FredPerception and other minds’, NoÛs, 7 (1973), 3344.

9. Macdonald, CynthiaSelf-knowledge and the inner eye’, Philosophical Explorations, 1 (1998), 83106., for a defence.

10. This section is influenced by Wikforss, AsaDirect knowledge and other minds’, Theoria, 70 (2004), 271293.

11. For a defence, see Aune, BruceOther minds after twenty years’, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 11 (1987), 559574; and Paul M. Churchland Matter and Consciousness (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1984), ch. 4. See also Hilary Putnam ‘Other minds’, in idem Mind, Language and Reality: Philosophical Papers, II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975); John McDowell ‘Criteria, defeasibility, and knowledge’, in idem Meaning, Knowledge, and Reality (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), 369–394; and Wikforss ‘Direct knowledge and other minds’ for criticisms.

12. Churchland Matter and Consciousness, 72, welcomes this implication.

13. Aune ‘Other minds after twenty years’, 346. See also Wikforss ‘Direct knowledge and other minds’, s.2.2.

14. See McDowell, JohnMind and World, Lecture 4 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994). See also Wikforss, ‘Direct knowledge and other minds’, s.1.3.

15. This section is influenced by Overgaard, ‘Rethinking other minds’.

16. R. Rhees (ed.)‘Wittgenstein's notes for lectures on “private experience” and “sense data”’, Philososophical Review, 77 (1968), 302–303.

17. McDowell ‘Criteria, defeasibility, and knowledge, 387.

18. Ibid., 384.

19. Ibid., 393.

20. Taliaferro Consciousness and the Mind of God, 115.

21. See also P. F. Strawson ‘Self, mind, and body’, in idem Freedom and Resentment and Other Essays (London: Methuen, 1974), ch. 8.

22. Taliaferro Consciousness and the Mind of God, 114–122.

23. See also Grigg, RichardThe crucial disanalogies between properly basic belief and belief in God’, Religious Studies, 26 (1990), 393394; Michael Martin Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Philadelphia PA: Temple University Press, 1990), 274; and Garth Hallett A Middle Way to God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 26.

24. Paul Tillich Systematic Theology 1 (Chicago IL: Chicago University Press, 1973), 205.

25. Ferre, FrederickThe uses and abuses of theological arguments’, Journal of Religion, 41 (1961), 182193.

26. Richard Swinburne The Existence of God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979).

27. Mackie, J. L.The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 291.

28. This section is influenced by Clark, Kelly JamesProofs of God's existence’, Journal of Religion, 69 (1989), 5984.

29. Swinburne The Existence of God, 291.

30. Mackie The Miracle of Theism, 253.

31. Robinson, JohnHonest to God (London: SCM Press, 1963); Schubert Ogden The Reality of God and Other Essays (Dallas TX: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963); John Macquarrie Thinking about God (London: SCM Press, 1975); Grace Jantzen God's World, God's Body (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1984).

32. Philip Clayton ‘Panentheism in metaphysical and scientific perspective’, in Philip Clayton and Arthur Peacocke (eds) In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God's Presence in a Scientific World (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 76–77.

33. Robinson, JohnExploration into God (London: SCM Press, 1967), 22.

34. See Jantzen God's World, God's Body, 128.

35. Ibid., 134.

36. McDowell Mind and World, 71.

37. Ibid., 72.

38. Jantzen God's World, God's Body, 151.

39. Ibid., 134–135.

40. Ibid., 125.

41. Ibid., 126–127.

42. Ibid., 151.

43. Ibid., 153.

44. Ibid., 152.

45. See Taliaferro Consciousness and the Mind of God, 196–210.

46. Ibid., 288–338.

47. I am grateful to Mike Inwood, Gerry Hughes, Gemma Simmonds, Craig French, Brian O'Shaughnessy, Roger Scruton, and Paul Snowdon for their indispensable and generous support. I would also like to thank an anonymous referee for this journal whose comments contributed greatly to my understanding of the problem.

God and other minds

  • FIONA ELLIS (a1)


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