Is she really in pain?
An Experiment on Internalism and Externalism about mental content in Clinical Practice
Eidos Talk, Durham Philosophy Department Seminar Room
Thursday 5 July 2012, 7.30pm
Experimental philosophy is concerned with exploring how ordinary people think about central philosophical issues. In this paper, I will present a study which empirically assessed intuitions regarding internalism and externalism about mental content. There is a longstanding debate in the analytic philosophy of mind regarding the nature of mental content the question being whether or not mental content is dependent on facts external to the subject. The question of how we think about mental content is not only a matter of philosophical debate however. For instance, it seems to be of particular importance in clinical practice regarding mental states commonly described as ‘symptoms’. This study therefore empirically assessed doctors’ intuitions regarding externalism and internalism about mental content. Quantitative as well as qualitative data were gathered. Results show that intuitions vary depending on the situation in which doctors find themselves: the face-to-face interaction with the patient on the one hand and the treatment of the patient on the other. I will argue that drawing on the philosophical debate helps clarify problems arising in clinical practice whilst the insights from practice can serve as inspiration for further philosophical reflection.