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On the metaphysics of belief

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000128080D
Original Publication Date: 1998-Dec-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Sep-14
Document File: 4 page(s) / 18K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Spencer, Cara: AUTHOR [+3]

Related Documents

http://theses.mit.edu:80/Dienst/UI/2.0/Describe/0018.mit.theses/1998-204: URL

Abstract

There is a traditional picture of belief, according to which someone's having a belief is that person's standing in a certain relation to an abstract object, a proposition. My dissertation examines the metaphysical demands that two problems for this picture of belief make on these abstract objects. The first problem comes to us from Frege's "; On Sense and Reference, "; and the second concerns a certain sort of one's beliefs about oneself, which I call "; indexical belief." Frege notes that someone can believe that Hesperus is Hesperus without believing that Hesperus is Phosphorus. It is a short step from Frege's observation to the claim that the sentence "; A believes that Hesperus is Hesperus "; could be true while "; A believes that Hesperus is Phosphorus "; is false. Quine has insisted that we cannot address this problem by taking either of these sentences to express a predication of the referent of both names, the planet Venus, as then both sentences would express the same predication of the same object, and this stands in evident tension with the fact that they can differ in truth value. In a recent response to Frege's problem, Mark Richard has taken exactly the route Quine has warned against. In my first chapter, I show that Richard's response is unsuccessful. I then consider the implications of the failure of his response on his proposed semantics for belief and the philosophical motivation he provides for it. I argue that his semantics for belief ascriptions stands in serious tension with its purported philosophical motivation. In the second and third chapters, I turn to the problem about indexical belief. The task of the second chapter is to identify this problem. To this end, I consider three of John Perry's arguments that the traditional picture of belief cannot accommodate indexical belief. I show that even if these arguments are sound, they give us no reason to think that the problem about indexical belief is in any way unique. I then suggest that there is a special problem about indexical belief, despite the failure of these three arguments to isolate it. Special difficulties attend an account of what it is to retain a tensed belief over time, and I suggest that the special problem about indexical belief is, in brief, a generalization of this problem about retention of tensed belief. In the third chapter, I raise the problem about indexical belief in a new way, as arising from a tension between several intuitively plausible claims about the relationship between beliefs and desires, on the one hand, and actions, on the other. This presentation of the problem brings out

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On the Metaphysics of Belief

by

Cara Spencer
A.B., Philosophy, Columbia College, 1992 Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology September 1998
SIGNATURE OF author: [[signature omitted]]

Department of Linguistics and Philosophy

September 4, 1998

CERTIFIED BY: [[SIGNATURE OMITTED]]

Robert C. Stalnaker

Professor of Philosophy and Chair of Linguistics and Philosophy Thesis Supervisor ACCEPTED BY: [[SIGNATURE OMITTED]]

Vann McGee Professor of Philosophy Chairman, Committee on Graduate Students ARCHIVES MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY LIBRARIES SEP 21 1998

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Page 1 Dec 31, 1998

Page 2 of 4

On the metaphysics of belief

LIBRARIES

On the Metaphysics of Belief

by Cara Spencer

ABSTRACT

There is a traditional picture of belief, according to which someone's having a belief is that person's standing in a certain relation to an abstract object, a proposition. My dissertation examines the metaphysical demands that two problems for this picture of belief make on these abstract objects. The first problem comes to us from Frege's " On Sense and Reference, " and the second concerns a certain sort of one's beliefs about oneself, which I call " indexical belief."

Frege notes that someone can believe that Hesperus is Hesperus without believing that Hesperus is Phosphorus. It is a short step from Frege's observation to the claim that the sentence " A believes that Hesperus is Hesperus " could be true while " A believes that

Hesperus is Phosphorus " is false. Quine has insisted that we cannot address this problem by taking either of these sentences to express a predication of the referent of both names, the planet Venus, as then both sentences would express the same predication of the same object, and this stands in evident tension with the fact that they can differ in truth value. In a recent response to Frege's problem, Mark Richard has taken exactly the route Quine has warned against. In my first chapter, I show that Richard's response is unsuccessful. I then consider the implications of the failure of his response on his proposed semantics for belief and the philosophical motivation he provides for it. I argue that his semantics for belief ascriptions stands in serious tension with its purported philosophical motivation.

In the second and third chapters, I turn to the problem about indexical belief. The task of the second chapter is to identify this problem. To this end, I consider three of John Perry's arguments that the traditional picture of belief cannot accommodate indexical belief. I show that even if these arguments are sound, they give us no reason to t...