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Mirror Neurons and Social Cognition


  • I owe many thanks to Larry Shapiro, Sarah Paul, and Elliott Sober for helpful discussion on this topic. I presented parts of this paper several times, and I am grateful for useful comments from the audiences at the Washington University Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology colloquium, Washington University Medical School, and the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology conference.

Address for correspondence: The Department of Philosophy, Washington University in St. Louis, Campus Box 1073, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130-4899, USA.



Mirror neurons are widely regarded as an important key to social cognition. Despite such wide agreement, there is very little consensus on how or why they are important. The goal of this article is to explicate clearly the exact role mirror neurons play in social cognition. I aim to answer two questions about the relationship between mirroring and social cognition: What kind of social understanding is involved with mirroring? How is mirroring related to that understanding? I argue that philosophical and empirical considerations lead us to accord a fairly minimal role for mirror neurons in social cognition.