Converging evidence demonstrates that one-year-olds interpret and draw inferences about other's goal-directed actions. We contrast alternative theories about how this early competence relates to our ability to attribute mental states to others. We propose that one-year-olds apply a non-mentalistic interpretational system, the 'teleological stance' to represent actions by relating relevant aspects of reality (action, goal-state and situational constraints) through the principle of rational action, which assumes that actions function to realize goal-states by the most efficient means available. We argue that this early inferential principle is identical to the rationality principle of the mentalistic stance – a representational system that develops later to guide inferences about mental states.