Monday, September 2, 2019

Animal Belief :: Philosophy Language Papers

Animal Belief If Mary believes a bone is on the lawn, then she literally believes that, though her belief may be mistaken. But, if her pet Fido rushes up to what is in fact a bit of bone-shaped plastic, then Fido does not believe that there is a bone on the lawn. However, the best explanation for Fido’s behavior may be that he initially believed there was a bone on the lawn. Unless we are methodological or analytical behaviorists, the claim that we can best explain the behavior of dumb animals by treating them as if they literally held beliefs (and desires) subject to various rationality constraints is hardly surprising. I argue that this instrumentalism does not support the realist view that dumb animals are literally to be credited with beliefs. In particular, I focus on Davidson’s argument that a creature can have beliefs only if it can be the interpreter of the speech of another. Davidson’s argument, which has not won wide acceptance, is the most subtle examination to date of the relation between belief and language. I examine the premises of his argument, indicate two major criticisms, and attempt to defend his conclusion that dumb animals lack beliefs by adducing supporting arguments. This paper is concerned with the problem of whether non-language-using creatures literally have beliefs, rather than with the question as to whether it is predictively useful to ascribe beliefs to them. The answer to this latter question is plainly in the affirmative. The issue of belief-attribution to dumb animals is a narrow form of a more general problem, the problem of whether dumb animals can literally be credited with thoughts. Still, it is reasonable to focus on the case of belief since it lies, as it were, at the centre of the cognitive domain. The attribution of any intentional state, such as desire, regret, hope and so on, to a creature presupposes the attribution of belief to that creature. I Like many other philosophers, I will kick off with a brief discussion of Descartes’ views which many find wildly implausible. Descartes believed that dumb animals could not be credited with beliefs because he thought they were mindless machines: dumb animals behave as if they feel fear, as if they believe various things, etc., but the truth is that all of the cases where we are inclined to ascribe psychological states to them, can be redescribed solely in terms of internal physiological processes set in motion by mechanical causation.

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