What are Mental States?

In this Wireless Philosophy video, Mason Westfall talks about the different kinds of mental states that agents can have.
Assistant Professor of Philosophy at University of Toronto

Hi, I’m Mason. I’m an Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream at the University of Toronto, where I received my PhD. I specialize in philosophy of mind.

Much contemporary philosophy of mind takes either an introspectionist or empiricist approach. The former takes the deliverances of introspection as the core phenomena for philosophical theorizing, while the latter endeavors to reduce mental categories to kinds identified by the cognitive sciences.

In my work, I start with the mental as it shows up in folk psychology, which is neither especially introspective, nor constrained to the kinds uncovered by the cognitive sciences. This approach was favored by P.F. Strawson, and other descriptive metaphysicians, but the project looks very different now, in light of the empirical work on social cognition over the last fifty years.

My dissertation—'Understanding Minds: Essays on Social Cognition'—treats the problem of other minds from this perspective, with some surprising results. Among them, I argue that we perceive agency, but not mental states, that perception immediately justifies beliefs that outstrip how things are perceptually presented, and that the personal–subpersonal distinction is a psychological construction.

After defending my dissertation, I plan to pursue accounts of more 'sophisticated' knowledge of the mental—introspection and empathy—as well as develop my constructivist account of the personal, especially as it relates to the normative.

View Website