Thinking things and feeling things: On an alleged discontinuity in folk metaphysics of mind

Mark Phelan, Adam Arico, Shaun Nichols

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


According to the discontinuity view, people recognize a deep discontinuity between phenomenal and intentional states, such that they refrain from attributing feelings and experiences to entities that do not have the right kind of body, though they may attribute thoughts to entities that lack a biological body, like corporations, robots, and disembodied souls. We examine some of the research that has been used to motivate the discontinuity view. Specifically, we focus on experiments that examine people's aptness judgments for various mental state ascriptions to groups. These studies seem to reveal that people are more inclined to think of groups as having intentionality than as having phenomenology. Combined with the fact that groups obviously lack a single biological body, this has been taken as evidence that people operate according to the relevant discontinuity. However, these studies support discontinuity only on the assumption that the experimental participants are interpreting the relevant group mental state ascriptions in a specific way. We present evidence that people are not interpreting these ascriptions in a way that supports discontinuity. Instead, we argue that people generally interpret group mental state ascriptions distributively, as attributions of mental states to various group members.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)703-725
Number of pages23
JournalPhenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Collective intentionality
  • Experimental philosophy
  • Group minds
  • Linguistic pragmatics
  • Methodology
  • Phenomenal consciousness
  • Philosophy of sociology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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