René Descartes

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On Descartes' view, can we ever know the other minds exist? Why or why not?

Descartes argued that we can never know the mind of another person because your understanding is limited to your own mind. Since our knowledge is so limited, we cannot even be sure that other people even have minds of their own. The best we can do is make inferences based on what we think and have observed.

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Descartes was a major proponent of a philosophical school of thought known as solipsism. Solipsism is the notion that the only thing that a person can be sure actually exists in their own mind. The existence of anything beyond one's own thoughts will always be uncertain. The best we can do is make abstractions based on the experiences of our own minds, but we must be aware of the limitations of this approach.

Descartes subscribed to and greatly developed elements of this outlook. In Meditations of First Philosophy, Descartes contends that we can never be in doubt of our own existence. Furthermore, our own thoughts are private and wholly our own. Unlike the material world, others cannot directly observe our thoughts. This leads to another related philosophical idea known as dualism.

Dualism argues that the mind and the body are of completely different natures. Therefore, it is impossible to know the mind of another person or even be sure that their mind exists. This is referred to as "the problem of other minds." While we cannot prove that other minds exist, we can infer that they do through observation. We can observe their actions and behaviors and extrapolate their thoughts based on those and compare them to our own experiences.

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