Augustine on Reasoning from One’s Own Case

Augustine on Reasoning from One’s Own Case

Matthews, Gareth B. (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

Medieval Philosophy and Theology 7 (1998)


Forty years ago Norman Malcolm presented a now-famous paper at the Eastern Division meetings of the American Philosophical Association in Burlington, Vermont. Malcolm’s paper, like the symposium itself, was titled “Knowledge of Other Minds.” The paper focused on the Argument from Analogy for Other Minds, which, of course, Malcolm roundly criticized.

After making a number of preliminary points, Malcolm stated:

I have not yet gone into the most fundamental error of the argument from analogy. It is present whether the argument is the classical one (the analogy between my body and other bodies) or Price’s version (the analogy between my language and the noises and signs produced by other things). It is the mistaken assumption that one learns from one’s own case what thinking, feeling, sensation are.

What Malcolm here calls the “classical” Argument from Analogy he illustrates with a passage from John Stuart Mill. While many have attributed this argument to Descartes, no such argument can be found in his writings.  It is correct, however, to think that the Argument from Analogy predates Mill; it is, in fact, to be found in Augustine.

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