What Beliefs Are Not
Baker (Lynne Rudder)
Source: Stephen Wagner and Richard Warner, Eds., Naturalism: A Critical Appraisal. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN, 1993
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. In recent years, philosophers have come to take it for granted that beliefs are inner states of individuals that cause behavior. Since it is assumed to be the business of science to discover causes, the view that beliefs are internal causes of behavior leads to an obvious research question: Are beliefs (and other attitudes) understandable as scientifically respectable entities, or should we deny their existence altogether? I want to consider a presupposition about the nature of belief that lies behind this research question. The presupposition is that beliefs have tokens that are identical with, or supervene1 upon, instances of brain states. Although I take Cartesian dualism to be dead, I am also skeptical that beliefs are internal states in the sense that contemporary philosophers assume, all the more so since the attempts to spell out such a view, I believe, have been unsuccessful.
  2. My aim here is further to undermine conceptions of beliefs as physically realized inner causes by presenting two arguments —
    1. one against views that combine the notion of belief as physically realized inner cause with a language-of-thought hypothesis,
    2. the other against a leading view that combines the notion of belief as physically realized inner cause with an account of belief-as-indication.
    The first argument questions the physical reality of syntactic properties; the second questions the causal efficacy of semantic properties. Then, I shall suggest a way to understand belief other than as an internal state without courting Cartesian dualism.
  3. According to the view that I want to consider, to believe that p is to have an internal state that means that p or has the content that p. On this view, being a belief that p is (or purports to be) a property of particular internal states, and a belief that p is an internal state that has that property; a person, then, has a belief that p in virtue of having an internal state that is a belief that p. What makes a particular internal state a belief that p may be determined in part by its relations to the environment; but even if the property of being a belief that p is a relational property, on the view under consideration, the bearer of the property of being a belief that p is an internal state. So, the notion that belief is an internal state does not require that beliefs be construed individualistically or narrowly.
  4. Such a view of belief is, I think, almost universally accepted today both by philosophers who think that there are beliefs and by philosophers (eliminative materialists) who think that there are not any beliefs. The eliminative materialists, of course, deny that there are any beliefs, but, they think, if there were any, they would be internal states. Indeed, the eliminative materialists' arguments require that beliefs, if there were any, be internal states for their arguments infer from the (alleged) fact that the sciences that study internal states have no use for beliefs (or anything like them) that there are no beliefs. Such an argument obviously rests on the tacit premise that if there are beliefs, then they are internal states. So, to discredit the conception of beliefs as internal states would be to discredit eliminative materialism along with what Fodor calls Intentional Realism.
  5. Let us turn to two attempts by friends of belief to fill out a picture of beliefs as internal states.

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