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William James and the Two-Minds Problem

William James was a radical empiricist. But this led him to the problem of how two people can perceive the same object. Suppose there is a pint of Guinness on the table and you and I both perceive it. How can we perceive it in the same way, e.g. as promising a tasty drink, or as something originating in Ireland, or as a product that has been marketed well? Does not this require that our minds overlap? James, in addition to radical empiricism, also held to the dogma of private minds, so he did not like this possibility. According to Sanders [1993] he struggled with this problem until his death.

However, it may be that Dooyeweerd can help us address this issue without invoking the idea of mind-overlap or the spectre of non-private minds. Dooyeweerd postulated the idea of two sides to temporal reality,

In agreement with James, in the fact side on its own there are no universals. Everything can be seen as a stream of events. However, beyond James, the law side governs all that happens, and indeed all that happens, happens by response to the law side. This law side has fifteen distinct aspects.

If I experience the pint of Guinness as a tasty drink I am functioning in the sensitive aspect. Experiencing it as a well-marketed product, I am thinking about the lingual aspect. Experiencing it as a product of Ireland, I am thinking about its juridical aspect.

Likewise, if you experience the pint of Guinness as a tasty drink you are functioning in the sensitive aspect. Experiencing it as a well-marketed product, you are thinking about the lingual aspect. Experiencing it as a product of Ireland, you are thinking about its juridical aspect.

Same set of aspects enables both you and I to experience the pint of Guinness. And we experience it in similar ways. It is not necessary to invoke non-private minds, only the notion of aspects, to explain the Two-Minds Problem.


This page is part of a collection of pages that links to various thinkers, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2013 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

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Created: 16 December 2013 Last updated: