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By David Wood, Robert Bernasconi

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Rather I wish to focus on a slightly different issue. The theory theory of mind and the simulation theory of mind are frequently depicted as quite opposed accounts of the basic nature of social cognition. However, both accounts share certain presuppositions that underlie and shape the very theory of mind debate. In particular, they both share certain assumptions about the mind-body relation. I find these assumptions questionable, and what I intend to do in the following is to suggest that an alternative and more satisfactory account can be found in phenomenology.

It should be noticed that the theory theory of mind defends a double thesis. It does not only claim that our understanding of others is inferential in nature, it also argues that our own self-experience is theoretically mediated. After all, the basic idea is that any reference to mental states involves a theoretical stance, involves the application of a theory of mind. Whereas the theory theory argues that our understanding of others chiefly engages detached intellectual processes, moving by inference from one belief to the other, the simulation theory of mind argues that our understanding of others exploits our own motivational and emotional resources.

The use of the concept of empathy is not uncontroversial. In fact, in phenomenological circles, the notion has fallen into a certain disrepute because of Heidegger’s well known criticism. As Heidegger argues, if one seeks to understand intersubjectivity on the basis of empathy one will remain committed to a serious misconception of the nature of the self: If this word [empathy] is at all to retain a signification, then only because of the assumption that the “I” is at first in its ego-sphere and must then subsequently enter the sphere of another.

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