Dr Carrie Figdor

American Philosophical Association Edinburgh Fellow

American Philosophical Association Edinburgh Fellowship: March to August 2020 / Honorary Fellowship: September 2020 to January 2021

Professor Carrie Figdor is Associate Professor in Department of Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience at the University of Iowa.

Project title: Minding the Other: How We Do Things With Folk Psychology

Social interactions and behaviors are structured by the various ways we understand what is going on in the minds of others. We ascribe beliefs, desires, and intentions to others in order to explain what they have done and to predict what they will do. He pulled the trigger because he believed that the other man intended to cause him harm. She dismissed the criticism of her friend because she was confident that her friend believed she was doing the right thing and wanted to do the right thing. Philosophers and psychologists call this general type of explanation mindreading or folk psychology. It is a core ability of social cognition that we acquire in normal development.
My research project advances this vibrant topic of contemporary philosophical and psychological research by articulating a general theory of mindreading in terms of speech acts. This approach will add insights from philosophy of language and linguistics to our understanding of mindreading practices. This project addresses a fundamental issue that falls within the Edinburgh Environmental Humanities research area. Our moral and social relationships to other humans, nonhuman animals, the living world generally, and to artificial intelligences are all structured by which individuals we ascribe minds to and what sorts of minds we ascribe to them. For example, a common justification for why there are things we cannot do to other humans and that we can do to nonhumans is that the former have psychological capacities the latter do not. This line is shifting: a clear case is the change in our attitudes and laws regarding experimentation with chimpanzees as we have become more aware of their cognitive capacities. The speech-act theory promises to illuminate these ascriptive practices and changes in them in a fruitful new way.