Check out graduate student Nimra Asif’s recent article in Synthese, “Minimal theory of mind – a Millikanian Approach.” Synthese is a philosophy journal focusing on contemporary issues in epistemology, philosophy of science, and related fields.
Minimal theory of mind (ToM) is presented in the theory of mind literature as a middle ground between full-blown ToM and mere behavior-reading. Minimal ToM seems to be a useful construct for studying and understanding the minds of nonhuman animals and infants. However, providing an account of minimal ToM on which minimal mindreading is significantly less demanding than full-blown mindreading yet more than just a behavior-reading process is a challenge. In this paper, I argue that to address this challenge, we need to depart from the traditional framework of mindreading in more radical ways than offered by current minimal theory of mind accounts. First, I explain the traditional view of mindreading on which mental state attribution is treated as essential for mindreading and analyze the general respects in which it makes mindreading demanding for the mindreader, such as requiring the mindreader to have concepts of mental states, engage in inferential reasoning processes involving mental states, and form meta-representations. Then I discuss and critically evaluate two accounts of minimal ToM and argue that these accounts either do not depart sufficiently from the demanding requirements of traditional mindreading or risk becoming re-descriptions of behavior-reading accounts. Finally, I present an alternative Millikanian account of minimal ToM that avoids this risk while departing more radically from the traditional view of mindreading by providing a way for minimal mindreaders to represent the mental states of others and respond to them without engaging in conceptual mental state attribution.