Marcia appears to be the most ordinary of persons, in the most ordinary of circumstances, a department store. Marcia is the consummate shopper: she knows what she wants and is in the process of taking steps to get it. Even at this stage, before anything unusual happens, there are issues for the philosopher: What is it to have beliefs and desires? How do we go about figuring out what someone believes and desires? We make these attributions so easily – but how do we do it? This isn’t the epistemological question of how we know that others have beliefs and desires, but it’s the question of how we come to even have beliefs about the contents of other persons’ beliefs and desires. Of course we can still raise the question of whether our beliefs constitute knowledge: At the end of the episode, do you still think it was correct to attribute the beliefs and desires you attributed to Marcia?
Before long Marcia finds herself on a floor of the department store selling the very item she wants, and we begin to see that, as she puts it, something is odd. Marcia wants a thimble for her mother. But does she really? What has to be the case for someone to want to buy a thimble for their mother? Doesn’t one have to have a mother to want to buy the thimble for? We’ve assumed, and Marcia has believed, that she has a mother. This episode, and others we’ll see shortly, explore the idea that a being could have beliefs, desires, and memories that are somehow packaged into it, but don’t arise from that individual’s natural history. The episode suggests that we might very well take such individuals to be persons. Marcia looks like your average department store shopper. But is she really a person? To answer that question we need a theory of personal identity.
Marcia discovers that she’s a mannequin. Is this really possible? What would it mean to learn that you were a mannequin? The problem of other minds suggests that everyone other than me could be a mannequin, but how could I (or you, from your perspective, or Marcia, from hers) be a mannequin? When Marcia remembers that she is a mannequin, what exactly is she remembering? Does she remember what it’s like to stand, statue-like, not moving? But how could one remember that? Do mannequins have consciousness, a consciousness others are completely unaware of? Are they standing on their pedestals longing to “climb off” and move around?
We can apply the problem of other minds here as well. Just as we can look at other people and consider the possibility that they are really mannequins, where by “mannequin” we mean beings who do not think, we can look at mannequins and consider the possibility that they are really persons, that is, thinking, remembering, even conscious beings. So I can imagine being a mannequin, if mannequins think, and that’s certainly the scenario in “The After Hours.”
Thinking and being a person, however, are not the same thing. It’s still not clear that Marcia or the other mannequins are persons. Marcia’s belief about her mother turns out to be a false belief. Mannequins don’t have mothers, and Marcia is a mannequin. Therefore Marcia has no mother. Marcia does have a past, however, and the crucial moment in the episode is the moment when she correctly remembers that past. So combining the insight we just had that Marcia, in her mannequin state, could still be a thinking thing with a mental life, with the observation that she can remember her mannequin mental life, it follows that she is a person. Of course she’s a very different kind of person than persons we take ourselves to be surrounded by. But she’s a person nonetheless.