ROMAN INGARDEN Lecture delivered at the annual meeting of the
Lviv Scientific Society in Lviv
on June 15, 1939, in the auditorium
of the John Casimir University
ON COGNIZING MENTAL STATES OF OTHERS
The question of whether, how and to what extent we are capable of cognizing mental facts that occur in people other than ourselves belongs to the theory of cognition, but its role extends far beyond this field. Apart from the fact that it is essential to combat metaphysical solipsism, the issue it refers to is of great importance for many fields of human practice and for a number of important sciences. A mother raising her child, a teacher educating and raising the young generation, a judge or a prosecutor fulfilling their professional functions, a doctor, and especially a psychiatrist, wanting to learn something about the health condition of of a sick person, a politician who wants to reconcile people to their political ideology, a commander preparing their unit for fighting, or in battle, an artist who reconstructs human mental states and structures in their works so they influence the viewer or listener, a historian investigating the history of human actions, an art historian, a law theorist, a psychologist, a sociologist, etc. – each of them needs to use the knowledge of other people’s psyche, and the way they succeed in doing it determines whether and to what extent they achieve the goals of their activity.
In view of such a wide range of domains which use cognition of other people’s psyche in their practice and the importance of this knowledge for the efficiency of many of our theoretical activities, one would expect that the issues concerning it should have been solved. Meanwhile this is not the case. In fact, it was not until the second half of the 19th century and in our times that more attention was paid to them, and the views that have emerged in this area hitherto are so far only divergent attempts which more so make us aware of the significant difficulties of the subject matter, rather than provide a successful solution.
Here I will only discuss one of the many and varied issues that come with cognizing mental facts of others.
When it comes to physical objects, we distinguish, as you know, d i r e c t and indirect cognition. The first is some form of experience, and ultimately perception, the second is judgments based on experience, different ways of reasoning, etc. This distinction is based on three arguments: a/ that cognition is i m m e d i a t e perception, in contrast to the mediate, p u r e l y i n t e l l e c t u a l reference to the objects of cognition, b/ that it is – so to speak – s o u r c e cognition, that is we access the cognized object, and not any r e p r e s e n t a t I v e of it, in contrast to s y m b o l i c thinking, which usually uses linguistic representatives, c/ that perception a l w a y s occurs with the full c o n v i c t i o n r e g a r d i n g t h e e x i s t e n c e of that which we perceive, whereas it often does not takes place with thinking.
There is no doubt that cognizing mental facts of others, which we use in a number of sciences and life practice, is a special kind of cognition that confirms i n d i v i d u a l facts and only tries to obtain a general theorem on this basis. The question is whether, within the scope of this cognition, one can and should distinguish direct and indirect cognition?
It is certain that we make judgments and infer, often very indirectly, about mental facts of others. For example, we infer about psychological properties of a person on the basis of their activities. Letters, literary works, works of art, technical and industrial products, social devices and institutions of all kinds – here is a set of facts are some items wherefrom we indirectly infer about people who created them and what was occurring in their souls during the creative process.
This also includes information that is given to us by someone telling us about their experiences, because speech is also one of human creations. It is, however, a special case where the sentences which the information consists of themselves refer to assigned to them? psychological facts and therefore it is enough to understand these sentences and inference is unnecessary, but in these cases too, we are dealing with indirect cognition of mental facts of others.
On the other hand, we often infer about a person’s psychological properties and mental states from their w a y o f b e h a v i o u r. For example, when we see someone passing a busy square in a big city while reading a newspaper, we infer that they are a careless or reckless person, or finally that they were taken by something so interesting in their reading that they ceased to care about the danger. Similarly, when someone dresses extravagantly, we suppose that they have bad taste, or that they want to draw the attention of others this way. The way of speaking, word order and intonation are also ways of behavior, wherefrom we can learn something about an individual’s mental life, although one can doubt whether we always use inference in this case.
Besides the cases of indirect cognition of the psyche of others, is there, however, any other e x p e r i e n c e wherein we are given something from the psyche of another human being? In particular: is there any form of p e r c e p t i o n of the states or experiences, or finally, the psychological properties of another person?
It would seem that in view of the universal agreement on the empirical nature of cognition of another’s psyche, a positive answer is decided in advance and that it is not necessary to ask about it whatsoever. However, there are reasons that prompt us to ask this question. They are mainly related to some philosophical or scientific t h e o r i e s, but they also have – as we will see later – some justification in facts. As far as theories are concerned, the following view is quoted most often: What is mental is nothing but conscious experiences, devoid of any extension, and what is philosophical is the opposite of consciousness, something that is extensive, and yet unconscious. Since the time of Descartes, this opposition is regarded as a universally accepted acquirement of our knowledge. On the other hand, since Locke’s time, there persists an almost universal belief that there are only t w o varieties of experience: sensory perception and the so-called “reflection”, or inner observation. It is also usually thought that one can only perceive sensorily what can be perceived by a separate sensory organ, and that internally one can only perceive their o w n experiences. This last claim is usually turned around and assumes that all what is mentally can be perceived o n l y in reflection. On this basis, the notion that of others we can only perceive their bodies, and those only in properties the perception of which occurs with dedicated sensory organs, is seemingly obvious. And what constitutes the properties or mental activities of another human being is inaccessible to our experience, we can only i n d i r e c t l y suspect it or infer about it from other facts accessible to our experience, but never immediately perceive it.
Knowledge of others’ psyche would therefore be some sort of distinctive empirical knowledge that would be deprived of its own separate experience, and, by means of inference, it would only utilize a different kind of experience. This contradicts our everyday pre-scientific conviction, and at the same time it is hard to suppose that we obtain this rather extensive and diverse knowledge only by reasoning from facts that are not the psyche of others. So, despite the arguments I just mentioned, the question of the empirical basis for this knowledge remains.
Various theories try to provide the answer to this question.
- The oldest of these is the theory that we cognize mental facts of others by inference per analogiam. It occurs in two forms. According to the first, which we can find e.g. in J. S. Mill, we infer about conscious experiences of others <feelings> provided that
a/ we conclude on the basis of experience that in our o w n c o n s c i o u s life experiences are causally conditioned by certain modifications or processes occurring in o u r body and, at the same time, have some effect on it,
b/ we establish that others’ bodies are similar to ours,
c/ that other people’s bodies undergo physical changes similar to those in our body that causally condition our experiences, as well as physical changes similar to those that result from our experiences
We conclude, therefore, that others must have the same intermediary between these changes as the one which in us relies on some conscious experience.
According to the second form of the theory under consideration, in inferencing about the existence of mental facts of others, other than internal experience data, we do not use e a r l i e r or l a t e r physical changes in someone else’s body, but rather those occurring simultaneously with the experience we assume. We perceive certain features or physical activities of another’s body similar to those of our body. Knowing also from past experience that when we look or act similarly, we also have specific mental states or experiences, we infer that others also have such states or experiences, since such are the characteristics or behavior of their body.
- According to the so-called association theory the perception of e.g. someone else’s facial expression or gesture i s a s s o c i a t e d w i t h the i m a g e of one’s own similar facial expression or gesture, while this image is associated with the image of a multitude of our kinesthetic impressions, and finally with a certain experience of ours, and in particular our feeling that was once associated with the recalled gesture or word. However, we experience this associated feeling as someone else’s, namely as the feeling of a person whose facial expression or gesture we noticed. This supposedly happens because it is not motivated by our previous experiences and therefore it is not translated into a certain actual movement or facial expression of ours, and, as a result, it is captured objectively. This way our own associated experience creates the impression that we somehow perceive the experiences of others.
- Another theory which should be mentioned here is the so-called theory of imitation, put forward by M. Grooms and T. Lipps, in close connection with the latter’s theory of “empathy” <Einfühlung>. When I notice someone’s gesture or expression, I involuntarily imitate them. And although I usually do not really act it out (although it does occur sometimes), ↓ but only “in thought”, this imitation is related to a certain specific experience of mine. And since it arose in close connection with a gesture I noticed in another, noticing this experience I am convinced that it manifests itself to me as another’s experience in their gesture or expression.
- Probably the best known to us today is the so-called theory of “empathy” or “empathizing.” It was preached by various scholars, such as Fr. Th. Vischer, Theodor Lipps, J. Volkelt, M. Geiger, Edith Stein, and Edmund Husserl. However, the views of these scholars differ significantly. Sometimes it is only the case of the same word being associated with a completely different concept. Unable to go into detail here, I will limit myself to outlining this theory in the form it took from Lipps, and I will skip the discussion of the so-called aesthetic empathy, as it is besides the scope of our considerations.
An important aspect of this view is that, although, strictly speaking, we do not perceive mental facts <e.g. feelings> of others, it seems to that way to us. Some of the experiences that arise in us, e.g. when we see another’s gestures or facial expressions, we “empathize,” insert into or project onto another’s body in a way, and at the same time “empathize” with them ourselves, as if we did not distinguish ourselves from another mental entity. It is only by taking into account the separateness of our bodies that we realize the separateness of the mental entities. As a result, it seems to us that we directly capture someone else’s experience. However, in reality we only deal with our own experiences.
In addition to the aforementioned views, there are other theories, such as Max Scheler’s view, Bergson’s theory of intuition, etc.; however, I will not discuss them here, because it would require quite extensive preparations, and they are not as widespread as the ones I outlined. I shall, instead, discuss some critical remarks that arise with regards to the presented theories:
ad 1. There is no doubt that we often employ inference by analogy when making statements about mental facts of others. However, according to the theory, this type of inference is supposedly the o n l y way of cognizing another’s experiences or mental states. It rejects all direct cognition of these facts. This does not seem right. For there are many cases wherein we learn about mental facts of others – whether it be accurately or inaccurately – and do not carry out inferencing Mill speaks about. The advocates of the theory respond that this inference becomes so fast and automated over the years that we cease to realize its occurrence. But automated or not, either it does not take place at all, and then it cannot be unconscious, or cognition is also unconscious, and then it is completely absent, and cognizing mental facts of others takes place in some other way. Therefore, we fall back on inferences only when other ways of cognizing mental states of others f a I l us. At that point our knowledge about experiences or states of others is completely n o n – v i s u a l: we only have certain thoughts about the fact that another person is undergoing a certain process or mental state, and these thoughts are rather undefined and do not characterize the individual properties mental fact the existence of which we accept precisely. That is why Mill is very cautious and speaks only about the e x i s t e n c e of others’ experiences. Meanwhile – no matter what this cognition of mental facts of others were like and what its cognitive value were – when we learn something about e.g. one’s feelings in direct interaction with someone, at that point in close connection with the perception of their body, facial expression etc., there arises a concrete and directly observed p h e n o m e n o n of a specific quality of the emotion felt by the person we are interacting with. Mill’s theory of does not pay any mind to the existence of this phenomenon, assuming in advance that we perceive other people the same way as inanimate objects, artificial dolls, etc., however, that is inconsistent with the facts.
It also does not take into consideration that very often, and it is particularly in those cases where we learn about mental states of others without inference, the conditions that would allow inference per analogiam are not met. Above all – as rightly pointed out by Lipps, who, like Riehl, comprehensively criticized this theory – one is generally not perceptively aware with one’s own bodily properties and ways of behavior when they occur in them. For example, I do not know what my face looks like when I am happy, sad, fearful, in awe of something or when I concentrate on something. I do not know, because I have not been perceiving it. I only know my own face because I use a mirror, and then I am usually not experiencing anything that would make the state of my psyche to appear on my face. On the other hand, if I accidentally see myself in a mirror in a real life situation where something important is happening in me, I usually experience an outright surprise that this is how I look; sometimes I cannot even recognize myself at all, so unfamiliar is to me – despite the mirror – my own facial expression. How can I then compare the appearance of someone else’s face in a certain expression with my face, when I do not know it at all in situations when something vital is occurring inside me?
Lapps emphasizes that it is undeniable that thanks to my muscular and motor sensations I gain an “inner” sense of my appearance. But this feeling is above all unreliable, i.e. in fact I often look – as it seems – quite different from what I picture in my thoughts – as my friends may sometimes confirm, to my great surprise. Secondly, I do not perceive another’s facial expression in that “inner sense” but precisely “from the outside”, admittedly not purely visually, as some mistakenly believe, but in a complex experience, the essential foundation of which is visual perception. Therefore, having a muscular and motor sense of my appearance in some cases will not be of any help to me, as it is completely different from the appearance I have at the time I perceive others. Without the set of facts that are supposed to be the starting point for inference per analogiam, on the other hand, I cannot, at least in a number of cases, carry out this inference. Lipps’s critique goes even further, saying that one cannot infer this way a t a l l, because in order to keep the analogy one would have to take relate the assertion of another person’s bodily state to a judgment about the existence of one’s own experience. Regardless, however, whether Lipps is right, if there were no other way of cognizing mental facts of others, inference could not teach us about any mental states that would not have been familiar to us from our own internal experience. Meanwhile, the facts, as I will show, contradict this.
ad 2. We cannot completely agree with association theory either, although it is closer to reality, as it takes into consideration the cases where our knowledge of mental states of others is immediate and c o n c r e t e. Strictly speaking, this theory is only an attempt at a genetic explanation how this kind of knowledge comes about, it does not, however characterize it in itself, or describe these distinctive experiences. If it were to pass for such description, it would have to be rejected as inconsistent with the facts. For certainly this particular immediate cognition of current mental state of another is not a process of association of a representation or an image of some past experience of one’s own with the perception of another’s body.
The association process discussed by the theory does indeed occur in us sometimes during the attempts at cognition of the psyche of others. But it is in those exact cases that we d o n o t cognize mental states of others. At best, we either perceive our o w n state in reflection in, or just simply w e u n d e r g o a certain feeling or some other experience, which do not cognitively relate to another and their states at all. It may happen, however, that while having e.g. a certain feeling, one assumes that our partner has a similar feeling. But this assumption – how often is it false! – is firstly – different from our feelings, and secondly – is usually the influence of our natural tendency, or wish that under certain circumstances others have the same feelings as ourselves, and it is not immediate cognition of the psyche of others. The best cases against association theory are those where the feelings we have while interacting with another person are of a downright contrary nature to those which, in all their concreteness and liveliness, manifest themselves to us as those of others in our interactions with them. For example, when we capture someone else’s joy at our sadness, this joy, according to the theory, would have to be associated with our own joy. Meanwhile, not only do we not experience that joy ourselves, but it can be the root of our indignation, which can grow the stronger and more visible the partner’s joy. According to the theory at hand, we would have to be sad and happy about our sadness, and finally indignant at the same time. And yet nothing like this happens, nor it could happen, at least for a normal person.
Proponents of association theory might respond that the association in these cases is not the feeling itself, but its representation or image, and that could exist next to any other feelings we might have. This objection can be answered: 1. that under the assumptions of the theory, this representation would have to be a representation of our, and not someone else’s feelings, and its emergence cannot explain why we attribute the represented feeling to another person, 2/ that according to the theory it would have to be either a creative or recreative image, or finally just a thought about the feeling. All this, however, could not by itself provide us with this concrete and factual p r e s e n c e of another’s mental state which we often simply e n c o u n t e r in contact with another human being as a reality independent of us. Therefore, as we can see, association theory in its currently considered interpretation does not take into account the fact that there is a radical difference between any creative or recreative image and experience, or broadly understood cognition.
ad 3. The theory of imitation, although it also rejects the possibility of direct perception of mental states of others, tries to explain genetically the already mentioned cases wherein there is presence of immediate knowledge of those states. Similarly to the theories discussed above, one of its justifications is that sometimes there are cases of involuntary imitation of someone else’s physical or even mental behavior. Especially very sensitive, mentally vulnerable people often succumb to psychological infection of sorts; influenced by the behavior of people they interact with, they begin to behave in their way, speak, feel and think in their way. It does not mean, however, that this involuntary imitation equals cognizing their mental states. For an experience that imitates someone else’s experience is always o n e’ s o w n, and the other person’s, and secondly, when we e.g. undergo a certain feeling, we are not performing a cognitive act concerning another’s feeling, even if the feeling itself is very similar. ⬍ Meanwhile, all imitation – as Max Scheler points out – a s s u m e s accurate or inaccurate cognition of the mental state of the person we imitate. For we have to grasp in another’s gesture or facial expression at least a manifestation of another’s specific experience, if not a specific quality of the experience itself, so that we can imitate it at all. As long as we treat another’s gesture as purely physical motion, another’s face as purely physical appearance of a material object <e.g. a doll>, the tendency impulse to imitate, even purely physically, will not arise in us at all.
Scheler also accurately notes that we often understand expressions of mental states that we have not previously experienced and we could not imitate. His example of it is an expression of fear of death. But this example does not seem convincing. Maybe it would be better to point to an expression of sexual desire of a person of the opposite sex, which, admittedly, evokes our response, but never an imitation of another’s desire. There are also cases, as Scheler remarks as well, where become immediately aware of the fact that a certain facial expression or behavior of another does not correspond with their actual mental state at all, e.g. in cases of masking emotions or deliberate deception. Noticing it would not be possible if cognizing mental states of others were accomplished through imitation.
As a result Hence, this theory must also ultimately be rejected.
ad 4. Finally, the theory of empathy, quite fashionable in various circles, especially among German aesthetics, tries to explain a certain fact difficult to understand through hypostasis of another fact that seems even less understandable and likely. Because of some general philosophical assumptions, they do not want to accept that one can directly perceive another’s mental states, the theory assumes instead that one can somehow “empathize” into, project onto, or insert into the bodies of others one’s own mental states. This empathizing is probably not understood as a real process ending in acquisition of a certain experience by the person into whom we empathize it. But even if it were only a matter of a p p a r e n t “empathizing” of our experience into another person, it would be difficult to understand what it would consist in. The very word “Einfühlung” does not tell us much about it, and in internal experience it would be difficult to detect such a process in the course of mental interaction with other people.
In response to this, one could say that there is such a thing as “empathizing” our experiences into a material object in cases of aesthetic perception of e.g. sculptural works: after all, in reality we are dealing with a dead piece of marble, and yet it seems as if we were seeing e.g. a living, suffering person. This fact, however, is no more an argument for the theory of “empathy”, than for the view that in certain circumstances we have the ability to immediately perceive another’s mental state, even if this perception is sometimes completely false. It may be that it is particularly in e.g. a sculpture that the artist at least partially fulfills conditions similar to those fulfilled by the appearance of a living human body when the process of cognition of another’s mental state takes place. Either way, the analysis of aesthetic contact with a sculpture, carried out on the basis of internal experience, does not normally detect any process of “inserting” or “empathizing” the perceptor’s experiences into the perceived object. On the contrary, everything usually develops as if we were perceiving the mental state of the person depicted in the sculpture, even though, purely objectively, we are dealing with a piece of marble. On the other hand, to those who would like to claim that this kind of aesthetic perception is the best proof that the form of perception of mental states we are looking for here is nothing but an illusion or our own delusion, and not only when we perceive a sculpture, but also when we deal with living people, we must reply that in the sculpture’s case there is no illusion. Because even when we are most immersed in the aesthetic experience, we are not really c o n v i n c e d, even for a moment, that we are interacting with a living person and that we are directly in contact with a specific mental reality. Meanwhile, this is what happens when someone else’s real state of mind is imposed on us, oftentimes against our will. Secondly, it should be emphasized that the question of what is actually occurring within us when we find out something about another’s mental life in an immediate manner is one issue, and whether by fulfilling a certain cognitive act we effectively attain true cognition of a certain fact is quite a different question. In other words: the fact that a certain cognitive event has the character of experience or, in particular, of perception, does not yet determine the cognitive v a l u e of the knowledge we obtain through it. The value of this knowledge depends only on the particular structure of said cognitive event, which possesses this general character. Therefore, in the course of these considerations regarding the legitimacy of the theory of empathy I am not questioning the value of knowledge that could be obtained in it. I am only asking whether the experience of immediate perception of another’s mental state really proceeds in such a way that one’s own experience is “empathized” into the body of another. And based on internal experience, this question has to be answered negatively, even if there are some cases where this kind of “empathy” really comes about.
The theory of empathy also forces us to acknowledge certain facts that do not occur. What would follow from it is e.g. that during our interaction with others we can only become acquainted with our mental life and that we can never increase our knowledge of the mental by interacting with people. For, according to the theory, a l l our knowledge of mental facts of others depends entirely on the occurrence of “empathy”, and in “empathy” we always deal only with our own previous experiences. Other people would then be in their mental lives only our doubles of sorts, produced by us in large quantities, or just some simple bodily machines. Meanwhile, the facts do not confirm this. Admittedly, some people can do nothing more than assign people experiences similar to their own, but we are aware of just how great their ignorance of other people’s psyche is. However, at least many people, after diligently examining the facts that occur in them, will have to agree that through direct interaction with other people, knowledge of their various states and mental structures grows to significantly exceed the scope of those mental facts that have hitherto occurred in their own life. In a large number of cases, we are enormously enriched by interacting with others and learn about mental states that we could never reach ourselves.
Facts of this kind, such as admiring other people, making them an ideal which we aspire to reach through imitation, such as love and worship for others, as well as jealousy of someone else’s life wealth, states of depression and a sense of our own insignificance and poverty against the inner prosperity of others, etc. – facts each of us probably knows well from everyday life – would not be possible at all if other people were only our doubles. So, either the theory of empathy is invalid in general, or at least it only regards an unreliable way of m i m i c k i n g the psyche of another, next to which we have at our disposal some other cognitive means that actually allows us to reach mental lives of others, and not just some mirror image or representation of ourselves. –
However, if the various theories of cognition of mental facts of others fail us, should we give up and say that this matter cannot be resolved? Or are we to agree that we just do not learn anything about mental lives of others or their soul characteristics? – Such a surrender would seem premature. But it would be equally premature to give some definitive answer to this problem in the current state of research, especially since its solution requires thorough initial preparation. Perhaps it would then be better to make some preparatory considerations that will, maybe, facilitate attacking the issue directly in the future. I would like to devote a few more remarks to this matter.
As a temporary result of the discussion, it seems certain that there are cases in which, without any inference, imitation or empathy, we learn about a certain quite specific mental state of another in an explicit and direct way. In a “immediate” manner, which means here that when we interact with another person in a specific life situation, on the ground of their bodily appearance <which we are not clearly aware of> appears some p h e n o m e n o n of an individual mental state of another person, which cannot be equated with any detail of their bodily appearance. In a “direct” manner, in turn, means that this phenomenon is given to us in its concrete self-presence and as such self-present it constitutes for us (legitimately or illegitimately) a certain mental r e a l i t y of the other person, that they exist in. Grasping this phenomenon, we are finally fully convinced the other person exists as a bodily and soul being, and not just as a material object. All three previously discussed characteristics of perception occur therefore in the considered case. Therefore Hence, there is no reason for this direct and immediate cognition of mental state of others not to be considered a distinctive variation of perception.
Let us take a closer look at this experience. Usually, even among scholars who are aware that one cannot do without adopting some kind of experience of mental states of others, it is said that we p e r c e i v e, e.g. visually, someone else’s face in its particular arrangement of features, and at the same time we t h i n k that a given person e.g. is happy about something. It is said that this happens in the same way as when, for example, we see smoke coming out of a chimney, and at virtually the same time we think that there is a fire burning in a furnace. This smoke is a signal of something different from itself. Someone else’s facial expression is supposed to be the same kind of signal. Some even preach that others’ gestures and expressions, once described so aptly by Darwin, are no more than certain s i g n s, during the observation of which we think about what they mean. However, neither of these descriptions accurately reflects what really happens in the course of perception of mental states of others.
First of all, a sign is a conventional creation that we use to represent something that is not present to us, and that has no ability to presentify the represented object to us. A sign also loses its raison d’être the moment an object is given to us. Meanwhile, in cases of perceiving mental states of others another’s face is not something we have created by convention to be a sign of a mental state. Certainly, we use such signs often when e.g. we talk “in gesticulation” or use language. But this “gesticulation” and language have been created precisely because not everything that is mentally occurring in us can be perceived by others. And when such perception takes place neither gesticulation nor language is unnecessary, and even if we do sometimes use speech in such cases, how often are we aware that we communicate much better without the help of language and that language as a means is highly imperfect and not very suitable to share information on one’s own mental state with others.
As for signals, there is no doubt that <involuntary> facial expressions and gestures are signals of sorts, but of a completely different kind from the aforementioned smoke from a chimney. This smoke, even when observed most carefully, does not show us the fire in the furnace. That I still cannot see, and at best I can only imagine it in a recreative manner. And I only do it because at one point I observed fire and smoke at the same time, or because I simply know, in a purely intellectual way, the causal relationship between fire and smoke. Seeing the result, I think about the cause. Finally, in order for me to think about it, I must first perceive and direct my attention to the effect, in our case – the smoke. <Sometimes the inversely observed cause is combined with the thought of the effect and thus becomes its signal>.
In the case of perceiving another’s mental state, matters look quite different. First of all, what strikes me f i r s t and what I direct my attention to is a certain extra-sensory phenomenon of something mental, only later – if I have time for it and any interest in it – do I pay attention to someone else’s facial expression. Normally, we don’t even realize what said expression is. The best proof of this is that it took specialized scientific research of Darwin’s to detect and describe the types of facial expressions in humans and animals. The vast majority of people is unfamiliar with the results of these tests and could not give even general descriptions of these facial expressions, yet in practice they are perfectly capable of perceiving mental states of others. At the same time, this phenomenon of some mental existence immediately p r e s e n t to me, and not just in thought or recreation. Nor is it given to me as the cause or effect of that facial expression, or because I am aware of some general regularity occurring between one and the other. On the contrary, wherever such regularity was detected – as H. Słoniewska rightly points out – it became necessary to obtain direct knowledge about another’s mental states or experiences.
Finally: the phenomenon of something mental and the facial expression or gesture are not – as in the case of fire and smoke – s e p a r a t e from each other. As Volkelt and Lipps – who in spite of that arrive at their a theory of “empathy” – rightly point out, this phenomenon is, in a way, set in the facial expression itself, it is within it that I somehow perceive it. The relationship which occurs between one and the other does not appear with any other type of signals. Therefore, it would be better to distinguish facial expression or gestures as a special sort of signal, separate it terminologically from other signals and, as is customary, call them the e x p r e s s I v e factor, and the phenomenon of something mental – e x p r e s s i o n. The function of expression – in this sense – is therefore characterized by a/ a close relationship between the expressive factor and the expression, b/ the presentification of the expression in its in full specificity, c/ that the expression manifests itself to us first and in a direct way, in a way, only on the background of the expressive factor, which in and of itself – when performing this function – is not an object of our attention. One probably cannot say that we do not perceive the expressive factor sensorily at all. We do, but somewhat in passing, fleetingly, without focusing attention on it – only to immediately move on to the expressive function it fulfills, take it up and perceive the mental expression. That is why I said before that sensory perception <e.g. of someone else’s face> is only a foundation, necessary, but also insufficient for the perception of another’s mental state.
Just describing cases of directly experiencing mental states of others in this way, of course, does not resolve the main issues that arise. It is only a way to outline the tentative range of cases that should be subject to a closer epistemological analysis, and now, before I finish, I still have to make some stipulations to avoid the critical remarks that readily come to mind.
- Arguing for the existence of cases of direct perception of mental states of others, I am not saying that these states are experienced by us the same way as our own states or conscious experiences, or even that their perception is characterized by the same directness as that present when we are dealing with our own experiences in reflection. On the contrary, there is a clear and radical difference between the aforementioned manners of cognition. I perceive states of other’s ‘externally’, not in reflection, I do not ‘experience’ them, nor could I do that. But that is why I perceive states o f o t h e r s rather than my own, and the directness of this perception in no way affects their separateness from my states, nor their complete independence from me. There are many different types of directness of cognition, and one should not reduce them all to that which occurs in experiencing or inner perception. There is also no reason to demand such directness in cognition of mental states of others, and after finding its lack in this process, to proclaim right away that it is not direct experience at all. Only those who dogmatically adopt Locke’s claim of the existence of two varieties of experience and think that there are no other forms of experience can arrive at such conclusion. However, what constituted progress in research in Locke’s or Malebranche’s time must, in confrontation with the refined descriptive research in the field of conscious experiences we are witnessing in our times, seem only some old superstition that should not block us from detecting numerous varieties of experiences we actually employ.
- I am not claiming that everything that belongs to the psyche of another person is, or may be available to the experience under consideration. Only what is e x p r e s s e d in an immediate phenomenon appearing on the foundation of expressive factors is really available. Sometimes it is an unambiguously qualitatively defined mental s t a t e of a human being, sometimes only the fact that someone undergoes a certain experience, and, finally, sometimes a certain conscious experience. For example, another’s sadness is presented to me in an immediate and direct manner, as a distinctive quality of a mental state, expressed in the so-called “facial expression”, gaze, sometimes in the characteristic lowering of the shoulders. The same strikes me directly in movements expressing sudden fear as a rapid, transient experience – and fear of a quite specific tinge, although it usually does not reveal to me its reason or object. Finally, I can perceive from a characteristic grimace on one’s face that something hurts them, but I cannot perceive what kind of pain it is. I never learn directly or even indirectly about the quality of so-called “physical” pain when someone tries to describe their pain to me in words. I can only i n f e r, e.g. on the basis of anatomical or physiological data that it is probably similar to the pain I experience in similar circumstances. The same applies to specific qualities of a l l purely sensory impressions, e.g. to another’s XXX. In direct interaction with other people, these impressions and their qualities are not given to me, and I learn t h a t they exist at all either from another’s verbal information, or on the basis of inference from certain anatomical and physiological changes I observe /I confirm e.g. a tooth cavity/, or finally because the fact that a person u n d e r g o e s them reveals itself in some mental phenomenon, expressed by their bodily behavior.
I am pointing this out, because in view of the facts mentioned above it is often concluded, unjustifiably and with clear disregard for experience, that the case with a l l that is conscious or psychological is the same as that of sensory impressions, and on that basis it is stated that nothing conscious or mental can be immediately and directly perceived by another person. Meanwhile, the truth lies in the middle: s o m e mental states or conscious experiences are available in expression to others’ immediate observation, while some are beyond the reach of that experience. The task of further scientific research would hence be precisely to specifically determine the range of facts in the field of psyche of another that can be shared with others in direct cognition.
- This range may vary depending on the circumstances in which two people come into direct mental contact. Cognizing the psyche of another human being is completely different from perceiving inanimate objects in their physical properties. When I intend to make a number of observations regarding, for example, the stand I am currently speaking from, said stand is, so to speak, defenseless against my perceptive activities. It is not up to it – if you can say so – whether I want to perceive it and how I want to further examine it. However, when I am dealing with a living person, they may, for various reasons, not want me to find out what their mental properties are and what is occurring within them. As a result, they may want to h i d e their current state from me, they may try to act completely different than would be appropriate in their state, etc. As we are all aware – and as Scheler points out – each of us has a sphere of intimacy we absolutely refuse to let others into. This sphere narrows or expands depending on who we are dealing with. In confrontation with people we are close and friendly with, we tighten it, we live more freely, with others we are closed off, and only against our will do we r e v e a l to them what is occurring within us and what we are like. The fact of the existence of the sphere of intimacy and its variable boundaries – dissimilar at different stages of our lives and varying from individual to individual – makes the mental state of another person in certain circumstances available to the experience of someone else in some situations, but not in others. Therefore, from the fact that in a single specific case person X did not and could not obtain any insight into the mental state of person Y, one should not conclude that this state is not available to someone else’s experience at all, or vice versa that since it has become available, it will always be this way, and finally that its manifestation in a specific outward phenomenon is just some illusion. It is certain, however, that it is precisely this possible variability of the actual range of the experience of mental states of others that creates enormous difficulties in answering the question of what the cognitive value of the results that we obtain by means of this experience is. These difficulties are all the greater, since the person whose state we are trying to cognize can not only passively hide his state, but even try to actively mislead us by inducing in their body a configuration of conditions that will reveal to the perceptor an expression of a mental state completely different from that which actually occurs in the person who is deceiving the perceptor. However, all these possibilities and difficulties related to them do not dispute the existence of experience of mental facts of others, on the contrary, they assume it: if we did not know on the basis of our own experience that we can learn about other people’s mental states in direct and immediate perception, we would not be afraid that other people could, under the right circumstances, find out what is happening within us, we would not hide from them, would not put different masks on ourselves, would not lie to them in our behavior, only so that no one breaks into our sphere of intimacy.
- But just as the experience of another’s mental state can be facilitated or impeded by the examined person, so can our own mental state or permanent properties of our personality facilitate or hinder it, and even make it entirely impossible. And again, depending on who we are dealing with and the life situation which we find ourselves in with our partner, we become more or less sensitive to mental facts, manifesting themselves to us in the form of specific phenomena. Just as the examined person can close themselves off from us, so can we <without even realizing it> become blind or deaf to their mental states. There are people – and among them there would probably be quite a few sensory psychologists or theoreticians of knowledge – who do it somewhat intentionally, not wanting to be restrained in their own proceedings by the feelings of others. Sometimes, however, despite an honest desire to learn as much as possible about a certain person’s mental life, we fail to obtain immediate and direct cognition of their condition, because it turns out that it is the circumstances under which we try to obtain this cognition that are the obstacle. These may be, for example, specific feelings that we have for a given person – hate or love, or even fear of finding out something we would rather not to know, etc. Finally, there may be a case where even though the mental situation we find ourselves in does not prevent us from gaining the experience of someone else’s mental state, it causes us to misunderstand said state, to misread the expression that occurs, or to delude ourselves that it is different than it is in reality. All these are circumstances that are readily invoked by those who, on principle, deny the existence of perception of mental states of others. However, I believe that the cases I am pointing to can help us delimit these special events in our mental life which I have called here perception of mental states of others and analyze them more thoroughly, and, moreover, provide us with material, so that we can examine the cognitive value of the considered perceptions.
Of course, that I cannot do here. My intention was only to discuss some of the recognized theories of cognizing mental facts of others and point to some facts from our mental life that need to be considered if one would like to solve the riddles that getting to know others puts in our path. If the description of these facts I provided here turns out to be inaccurate, it will need to be amended in the future. But one should not resort to artificial theories just to stay in agreement with the old superstition that there are only two varieties of experience. There are many such varieties and we all use them more or less successfully in practice. And it is because of their existence that the world around us is so rich and diverse, and much richer than this philosophy which only sees the world of dead or moving bodies and a lost, eternally limited by bodies of others human being would like to see it. This philosophy is wrong. We live and coexist with each other, understand each other, sympathize with each other or fight against each other. And in doing all this, throughout our lives we recognize ourselves as members of the human community, to the good of which we devote our best efforts, not loners, who do not care about others and only sometimes communicate with them indirectly, in gestures of sorts.
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x Due to the nature of the speech, I could not cite source literature on the subject. Ex post, I shall note that in the course of developing this lecture I used the following works: J.St. Mill, Examination of Sir W. Hamiltons philosophy, Th. Lipps, Ästhetik and Zur Einfühlung / Psychologische Studien vol. II./ M. Scheler, Wesen un Formen der Sympathie, E. Stein, Zum Problem der Einfühlung, J. Volkelt, Das ästhetische Bewusstsein, E. Husserl, Formale u. Transzendentale Logik and Méditations Cartésiennes, from Polish authors: Wł. Witwicki, Psychology, vol. II and H. Słoniewska, On the interpretation of symptoms of mental experiences.
Cognizing (at the top of each page)
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(notes on page 1)
F from ancient times epistemologists and psychologists have been dealing with and long ago they should have
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(handwritten at the back of page 11) (a lot of doubts…)
⬍ When a certain feeling is occurring in us, we can also – as we say in everyday language – “realize” it more or less clearly, but this “realization” can either be a completely new system of internal perception (the so-called “reflection” – “introspection”) or a simple “experience” of the feeling. But in both cases we undergo, or experience something of ourselves, taking place within us. And the phenomenon of a given feeling being “ours”, strictly speaking “mine,” is a term – if one can put it that way – the “mineness” of such a realized experience is so primal and familiar to us, though indescribable, that it would not only be completely incomprehensible if we were to suddenly be mistaken about it and when imitating others consider the feelings we experience to be “another’s” [“yours” or “your”]. Although in our experience we distinguish our “own”, deeply rooted feelings which arise in us from those only assimilated, imposed on us from the outside, from feelings that are not sincere, pretend, those we only have because it “is appropriate” so we are not ashamed of ourselves ashamed that we do not have them organically – but it is all dishonest, imposed on us, assimilated etc. feelings and states in general are, despite that, “ours” in the sense that they occur within ourselves, one could never find that character of “otherness” or strangeness, which appears precisely when we interact with someone else and find out about when they are touched or delighted, their joys and sorrows, XXX love and hate somehow, suddenly, without thinking about it and without imitating anyone whatsoever.