The Cultural Origins of Propositional Attitude Psychology
I argue that uniquely human forms of ‘Theory of Mind’ may be a product of cultural evolution. In particular, our developed propositional attitude psychology can be conceived as a language-dependent folk model of the human mind, invented by our ancestors for the purpose of predicting and explaining (and also shaping) human behaviour and refined over successive generations of users. Through an analogy with number cognition, I show how this exercise in model building has could have given us new tools for thinking and reasoning about mental states – and so imbued humans with mindreading abilities not shared by other, non-linguistic species. In order to show how new abilities for mind-modelling might have developed, I sketch a historical model of the cultural evolution of mental state talk that is informed by work in comparative linguistics and that does not presuppose the existence of developed mindreading abilities.