Behavioral and Brain Sciences

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Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2009), 32:121-138 Cambridge University Press
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How we know our own minds: The relationship between mindreading and metacognition

Peter Carruthersa1

a1 Department of Philosophy, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742
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carruthers p [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]


Four different accounts of the relationship between third-person mindreading and first-person metacognition are compared and evaluated. While three of them endorse the existence of introspection for propositional attitudes, the fourth (defended here) claims that our knowledge of our own attitudes results from turning our mindreading capacities upon ourselves. Section 1 of this target article introduces the four accounts. Section 2 develops the “mindreading is prior” model in more detail, showing how it predicts introspection for perceptual and quasi-perceptual (e.g., imagistic) mental events while claiming that metacognitive access to our own attitudes always results from swift unconscious self-interpretation. This section also considers the model's relationship to the expression of attitudes in speech. Section 3 argues that the commonsense belief in the existence of introspection should be given no weight. Section 4 argues briefly that data from childhood development are of no help in resolving this debate. Section 5 considers the evolutionary claims to which the different accounts are committed, and argues that the three introspective views make predictions that are not borne out by the data. Section 6 examines the extensive evidence that people often confabulate when self-attributing attitudes. Section 7 considers “two systems” accounts of human thinking and reasoning, arguing that although there are introspectable events within System 2, there are no introspectable attitudes. Section 8 examines alleged evidence of “unsymbolized thinking”. Section 9 considers the claim that schizophrenia exhibits a dissociation between mindreading and metacognition. Finally, section 10 evaluates the claim that autism presents a dissociation in the opposite direction, of metacognition without mindreading.

KeywordsAutism; confabulation; conscious thought; introspection; metacognition; mindreading; schizophrenia; self-interpretation; self-monitoring; self-knowledge

Peter Carruthers is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author or co-author of eleven books and co-editor of seven, and has published around a hundred articles and reviews. Most of his recent work has concerned reductive explanations of phenomenal consciousness, the involvement of language in thought, mental modularity, and the character of self-knowledge. His most recent book is The Architecture of the Mind: Massive Modularity and the Flexibility of Thought, published in 2006 by Oxford University Press.