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Wittgenstein, mindreading and perception

Abstract Can we perceive others' mental states? Wittgenstein is often claimed to hold, like some phenomenologists, that we can. The view thus attributed to Wittgenstein is a view about the correct explanation of mindreading: He is taken to be answering a question about the kind of process mindreading involves. But although Wittgenstein claims we see others' emotions, he denies that he is thereby making any claim about that underlying process and, moreover, denies that any underlying process could have the significance it is claimed to have for this debate. For Wittgenstein, the question is not “Is this perception?” but “What do we mean by ‘perception’ here?” and that question is answered by investigating the grammar of the relevant concepts. That investigation, however, reveals similarities and differences between what we call “perception” here and elsewhere. Hence, Wittgenstein's answer to the question “Can we perceive others' mental states?” is yes and no: Both responses can be justified by appeal to different concepts of perception. Wittgenstein, then, has much to contribute to our understanding of mindreading, but what he has to contribute is nothing like the view typically attributed to him here.

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