Thematic essay on belief systems

In light of these concerns and others, most recent philosopherssympathetic with the view described in the first paragraph of thissection have abandoned traditional dispositionalism. They divide intoroughly two classes, which we may call liberaldispositionalists and interpretationists. Liberaldispositionalists avoid the first objection by abandoning thereductionist project associated with traditionaldispositionalism. They permit appeal to other mental states inspecifying the dispositions relevant to any particularbelief—including other beliefs and desires. They also broadenthe range of dispositions considered relevant to the possession of abelief so as to include at least some dispositions to undergo privatemental episodes that do not manifest in outwardly observablebehavior—dispositions, for example, for the subject to feel (andnot just exhibit) surprise should she discover the falsity ofP, for her privately to draw conclusions from P, tofeel confidence in the truth of P, to utter Psilently to herself in inner speech, and so forth. This appears alsoto mitigate the second objection to some extent: The Muscovitepossesses his belief about Stalin's purges at least as much in virtueof the things he says silently to himself and the disapproval heprivately feels as in virtue of his disposition to express thatopinion were the political climate to change. Advocates of views ofthis sort include Price (1969), Audi (1972), Baker (1995),Schwitzgebel (2002, 2013), and arguably Ryle (1949) (though Bakercharacterizes her view in terms of conditional statements rather thandispositions).

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Dispositional and interpretational approaches to belief tend to beholist. On these views, recall, to believe is to be disposed toexhibit patterns of behavior interpretable or classifiable by means ofvarious belief attributions (see §1.2 and §1.3 above). It isplausible to suppose that a subject's match to the relevant patternswill generally be a matter of degree. There may be few actual cases inwhich two subjects exactly match in their behavioral patternsregarding P, even if it gets matters approximately right toattribute to each of them the belief that P. Since behavioraldispositions are interlaced in a complex way, divergence in any of avariety of attitudes related to P may be sufficient to ensuredivergence in the patterns relevant to P itself. As Ani'sassociated beliefs grow stranger, her overall behavioral pattern, ordispositional structure, begins to look less and less like one that wewould associate with believing that salmon are fish.


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On Dennett's view, a system with beliefs is a system whose behavior,while complex and difficult to predict when viewed from the physicalor the design stance, falls into patterns that may be captured withrelative simplicity and substantial if not perfect accuracy by meansof the intentional stance. The system has the particular belief thatP if its behavior conforms to a pattern that may beeffectively captured by taking the intentional stance and attributingthe belief that P. For example, we can say that Heddybelieves that a hurricane may be coming because attributing her thatbelief (along with other related beliefs and desires) helps reveal thepattern, invisible from the physical and design stances, behind herboarding up her windows, making certain phone calls, stocking upprovisions, etc. All there is to having beliefs, according to Dennett,is embodying patterns of this sort. Dennett acknowledges that his viewhas the unintuitive consequence that a sufficiently sophisticatedchess-playing machine would have beliefs if its behavior is verycomplicated from the design stance (which would involve appeal to itsprogrammed strategies) but predictable with relative accuracy andsimplicity from the intentional stance (attributing the desire todefend its queen, the belief that you won't sacrifice a rook for apawn, etc.).


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It embraces some elements of primitive superstitious belief, as in a "curse" or "hex." It plays into the subconscious fear most people have of being abandoned or rejected by the tribe or by society and being cut off from social and psychological support systems. The weakness of lies in its tendency toward overkill and in its obvious maliciousness.

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D. Kahneman, P. Slovic and A. Tversky,eds, If it seems to you like human thinking often isn't Bayesian... you'renot wrong. This terrifying volume catalogues some of the that pop up in human cognition. See also for a summary of some better-known biases.

Bellhouse, D.R.: . A more"traditional" account of Bayes's life.

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It is common to think of believing as involvingentities—beliefs—that are in some sense contained in themind. When someone learns a particular fact, for example, when Kaireads that astronomers no longer classify Pluto as a planet, heacquires a new belief (in this case, the belief that astronomersno longer classify Pluto as a planet). The fact in question—ormore accurately, a representation, symbol, or marker of thatfact—may be stored in memory and accessed or recalled whennecessary. In one way of speaking, the belief just is the fact orproposition represented, or the particular stored token of that factor proposition; in another way of speaking, the more standard inphilosophical discussion, the belief is the state of having such afact or representation stored. (Despite the ease with which we slidebetween these different ways of speaking, they are importantlydistinct: Contrast the state of having hot water in one's waterheater—the state of being “hot-water ready”, say—with thestuff actually contained in the heater, that particular mass of water,or water in general.)