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Minimal Theory of Mind (Butterfill)

We can think about theory of mind in two ways, as a set of abilities and as a type of cognition. Theory of mind abilities are abilities that exist in part because exercising them brings benefits obtaining which depends on exploiting or influencing facts about others’ mental states. Theory of mind cognition is cognition of mental states.

Theory of mind abilities are widespread but reasoning about beliefs and other propositional attitudes is relatively uncommon because it requires conceptual sophistication and is cognitively demanding. This has motivated the claim that theory of mind abilities in younger children and non-humans are based on behaviour reading rather than theory of mind cognition. As an alternative to both behaviour reading and the hypothesis that younger children, chimpanzees and scrub-jays reason about beliefs and other propositional attitudes, the aim of this talk is to construct a minimal theory of mind. I show how to turn a pure behaviour reader into a subject capable of solving some false belief tasks by means of five stepwise additions, none of which demand conceptual sophistication.