Can we ever truly understand another's point of view? When each one of us is made up of a different set of experiences and conditioning, and using the "trainings" of life we plug in answers to the perceived questions that surround us, can one really state without a doubt to understand another's mind? The answers might be the same but how we get to them is different, so is it in fact a different answer according to the individual? Sorry i know its a few different questions, but i feel the theme is there.

There are a few points to consider: first, the challenge of understanding another's point of view. Second, knowing without any doubt whatsoever another's point of view. The later is sometimes connected with what philosophers call the problem of other minds or, more recently, it has been called the zombie problem. How do you know that all of those around you who appear to be thinking, feeling, conscious persons are actually mindful, conscious beings? Could they all be zombies? Few philosophers worry about this as a real possibility but there are philosophers who think that such a state of affairs is logically (or metaphysically) possible (however unlikely) and this leads them to certain conclusions in their philosophy of human nature (sometimes such thought experiments have been used to argue that consciousness is something more than anatomy and behavior). In any case, I suspect it would be quite rare to come across someone who could not understand the points of view of other people. If we were completely in the dark about others' points of view, it seems hard to imagine how we would learn a language as children or speak with each other as adults. Living in a community or reflecting ethically or enjoying a friendship or even being someone's enemy would all be problematic unless one can have reasonable, shared understandings of one another's point of view. That said, there still remains an important distinction between reasonable, confident awareness of each others' thoughts and feelings, and knowing those thoughts and feelings without any possibility (however remote or unlikely) of being mistaken.

Let me add a few remarks, not to disagree with Charles Taliaferro, but to help bring the discussion back to earth after wondering about zombies, etc!

I understand quite a bit about my friend Jack's political point of view (we argue often enough in the pub); but I've little idea where he is coming from sexually (what clues I have seem to have no pattern, and a few drunken chats have left me even more mystified). My colleague Jill shares my tastes in music, and we seem to enjoy much the the same concerts and CDs for the same reasons -- when we talk about them, sometimes at length, we seem to be very much on the same wavelength; but in some other respects she's a closed book to me, and the more we discuss, the less I feel that I am "getting" her.

And isn't that how it ordinarily is (when we use "understand" in the ordinary way, not in some fanciful philosopher's sense)? We might understand someone's take on X very well, find it difficult to get on their wavelength on Y but sort-of understand, and are at a loss to grasp where they are coming from on Z. But note the fact that we just can't, perhaps, get a real feel for their point of view on Z -- our experiences, history, tastes, cultural background, sexuality are too different -- doesn't mean that we can't truly understand their take on X. It isn't an all-or-nothing business, "understanding another's point of view".

Even our nearest and dearest have hidden corners that remain puzzling; but that doesn't stop us understanding a lot about them. Does that mean we should agree, "I don't truly understand her mind"? Say that if you will; but it can be equally true to say "having lived with her for twenty years, I understand her inside out". Both are exaggerations, that can usefully be used on different occasions to help point up different facets of the no doubt messy and complicated situation.

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