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What is the Mind-Body problem?
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Theory-Theory: Belief is a collection of physical experiences

Beliefs are constructed from experiences. As early as 18 months of age, we are able to process these circumstances and behave in accordance with our surroundings.


Theory-theory attempts to account for the physical causality of beliefs, something widely seen as a purely mental phenomenon.

The Argument

Theory-theorists maintain that belief is the result of a collection of physical experiences, which when processed in the brain alongside other cognitive states, produces behaviour in line with our beliefs.[1] Beliefs are causal. They are caused by observed instances and phenomena. They then allow us to interpret new experiences in the context of our existing framework of belief, which was formed through our own experiences. Andrew Meltzoff uses examples in toddlers to support theory-theory. He suggests that toddlers imitating the lip and mouth movements of adults, and babies using adult behaviour to generate their own motor movement are both examples of theory-theory in action. By 18 months, toddlers have experienced enough interaction to begin reading into the behaviour of others and interpreting their actions.

Counter arguments

Altruism Materialism has come under fire for its inability to fully explain altruism. There seems to be no physical explanation for why an individual performs selfless deeds for someone else with no personal benefit. It does not explain why some people are more altruistic than others, or why the same person might in some cases behave in an altruistic way, and in others not. The only explanation for altruism, critics argue, is the presence of unconscious, and unobservable thought. A soul, as Descartes would argue, or at the very least a “thinking thing”. Simulation Theory Theory-theory is often contrasted with simulation theory. Simulation theory argues that we anticipate behaviour in others and interpret other people's actions by employing mental processes to project our own mental states onto others. If I see someone lost and crying, I employ my mental processes to simulate how I would feel in their situation (empathy) and use this simulation to predict their behaviour. In this way, despite never having been in a similar situation myself, I can still predict and interpret the behaviour of someone in that situation. However, simulation theory depends on the existence of purely mental processes to simulate and project my mental states onto those around me. It is therefore incompatible with the materialist argument.



We form thoughts and beliefs through experience. Experiences are physical. Therefore, our thoughts can be reduced to physical occurances.

Rejecting the premises

I can feel empathy for someone who has been in a situation I have never been in. Therefore, beliefs and feels are not reducible to my own experiences.


This page was last edited on Thursday, 11 Jun 2020 at 17:20 UTC

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