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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Bach and Chalmers on Belief Reports

As mentioned in two earlier posts (The Specification Assumption and Belief Reports Do Not Report Beliefs) there are some good reasons to think that the Specification Assumption fails. Here is Kent Bach's formulation of it (Do Belief Reports Report Beliefs?):

Specification Assumption: Belief reports specify belief contents, i.e., to be true a belief report [of the form 'S believes that p'] must specify a proposition [that p] the person believes.

As I see it, Kent is saying that 'S believes that p' ascribes a dyadic relation, but 'believe' expresses different relations depending on the standards for describing belief that are salient in the context. Kent's view has the advantage over the hidden indexical accounts that it takes 'S believes that p' to ascribe a dyadic relation, whereas the hidden indexical accounts take it to ascribe a triadic relation (a relation among a subject, a proposition and a mode of presentation).

I have recently been reading up on the literature on epistemic two-dimensionalism. I realized that Dave Chalmers' account of belief reports has the same virtues. Here is my take on it (the terminology is Dave's).

'A believes that p' is true iff B(A, p). So 'believe' ascribes a dyadic relation, but Dave takes 'B(A, p)' to hold iff A endorses a proposition q that is co-ordinate with p. q is co-ordinate with p iff (1) q and p express the same Russellian proposition and (2) q determines an S-appropriate primary intension in the mouth of the ascriber, where S is the sentence used to express p. Which q is relevant will depend on the context of the ascriber. So, it seems to me that Dave and Kent agree that 'S believes that p' ascribes different relations in different contexts depending on which standards for belief description are in place in the context (Kent) or which belief is taken by the ascriber to be co-ordinate with p (Dave). In other words, both are committed to a rejection of the Specification Assumption. So, as far as I can see, at least three authors reject it: Kent, Dave, and Delia Graff. Any others?


Anonymous said...
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Brit Brogaard said...

That is offensive. Don't leave any more comments on my blog.

tristanhaze said...

I reject the specification assumption.

From a comment made in the context of a discussion of modality (and recycled once already in a discussion of individual concepts!):

'In short, my view is that the name 'Hesperus' in a belief report like:

(A) Ralph believes that Hesperus is F.

can be read as doing two things at once. (1) specifying the object of Ralph's belief, and (2) specifying the concept (or mode of presentation) via which he has it. On such a reading, (1) could be expanded to:

(B) Ralph believes, of Hesperus, via his Hesperus-concept, that it is F.

(A similar thing could be done for the 'F', but I'll keep it simple.) Some belief reports, on the other hand - purely de re belief-reports - may be read as only specifying the object. (A) read this way could be expanded to:

(C) Ralph believes, of Hesperus, via *some* concept(s), that it is F.'

Brit Brogaard said...

So what's wrong with the specification assumption?

Tristan Haze said...

Sorry for not being clearer - my thought was that some sentences of the form 'S believes that a is F', in context, are to be read as only specifying the object of the belief, leaving the cognitive/conceptual content of the belief un(der)specified.

This seems like a counterexample to the Assumption as stated, but maybe there's an issue over 'proposition' here; with a Millian/Russellian notion of propositions plugged-in, the Assumption remains unaffected by my point.

I was thinking of propositions as involving sense, concepts, modes of presentation or something like that. (I'm being deliberately vague here for the sake of cross-compatibility with other philosophers.)

Brit Brogaard said...

Yeah, I am wondering if the problem goes away if propositional attitude ascriptions are to be analyzed ala Chalmers (his Nous paper)?