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  • Boxed
  • Daniel M. Putnam

Skepticism about other minds is typically presented as a straightforwardly epistemological thesis. Eliminativism about folk psychology is typically presented as a straightforwardly metaphysical thesis. But having moral status entails having, or having had, some mental states. And relating to persons as persons presupposes the application of folk-psychological concepts. So neither view can be divorced from ethics.


Mary likes watching others. She always has. "Stop," her mother said. "It's rude."

"What's rude?"

"Staring like that. Making people uncomfortable."

"How do you know they're uncomfortable?"

"Because they just are."

"But how do you know they're uncomfortable unless you stare at them?"


They were in a supermarket. There was a fat man pushing a cart and a skinny man leaning on a cane in front of a row of Cheerios. The skinny man caught her eye and smiled. She looked away. She liked watching others, but she was shy. Deep down, she still is. [End Page 229]

Now Mary waits: smartly dressed, a shock of red lipstick, wrinkles of thought around her eyes. The room she's in is cold and sterile. On one wall is a row of pictures. They are pictures of brains: arranged, chronologically, from crude eighteenth-century sketches to the present. The one from the late twentieth century has arrows pointing to different regions of the brain, each a different color, with names and short descriptions. Mary's eyes settle on the amygdala: "regulates memory and emotion, especially fear." On the far right is the most recent picture. Lacing through the brain are dozens of numbered squiggles. Like a highway map, Mary thinks. A legend identifies each neural network with a specific pattern of thought or feeling. But the letters are too small for Mary to read.

On the opposite wall is a long, steel shelf. On this shelf sits a row of writing devices. At one end is a jet-black, 1920s Corona typewriter. In the middle are the bulky desktops of the late twentieth century, followed by the slender laptops of the early twenty-first. At the far end is the 2039 model of Compuglasses. They look like aviator goggles. But if you put them on, all you see is a screen. Half the people on the train wear them. But Mary doesn't like them. She thinks they make people look like bugs.

There's just one other person in this room. It's an old woman wrapped in a burgundy shawl. In her hands is a book: the real thing, the kind you don't see anymore. Her lips are moving slowly and her fingers are tracing the words. Mary wonders what she is reading. She wonders what brings her here, whose patient she is. The woman looks tired and unwell; her cheeks are sallow, her shawl frayed. The edges of her eyes are puffy. It occurs to Mary that perhaps she has been crying. An image forms in Mary's mind: the woman leaning on a sink, peeling potatoes, two tears wending their way down her cheeks, the slicing motion of the peeler going faster and faster, to keep the tears at bay.

A door opens.

"So you're interested in Targeted Cognitive Elimination."

Dr. Sunderman's hands, dry and speckled with liver spots, are clasped together on a steel-and-glass desk. This desk is the only thing in his office, apart from the two chairs on which each of them sits. In the air is a faint smell of cleaning fluid. Sunderman does not like dust.

"I am," she says.

"Why? The last time we met you said you were quite happy with the combination. In terms of mood, I mean." As he speaks, his body [End Page 230] remains uncannily still. The gaze does not wander, remaining fixed on a point just between Mary's eyes. The hands do not move. The tone of the voice is even. It is just loud enough to be heard, but not more so. Sunderman does not like noise.

At first, Mary found his stillness disconcerting. But with time, and somewhat to her surprise, it made her feel safe. It made her feel...


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pp. 229-247
Launched on MUSE
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