Cabbage à la Descartes

Ergo, Volume 3, No. 24, 609-637, 2016 [pdf]

This article offers my interpretation of Descartes's method of doubt. I examine Descartes's pedagogyas exemplified by The Search for Truth as well as the Meditationsin order to argue for the sincerity of the universal doubts engendered by the First Meditation.

Painting: An Incomplete Modular Diagram of Human Vision by Colin Prahl

Painting: An Incomplete Modular Diagram of Human Vision by Colin Prahl



The first part of my dissertation distinguishes the attitudes of belief that people attribute to each other in ordinary life from the cognitive states of belief posited by (some) cognitive scientists. The second part defends the Rylean view that to have an attitude of belief is to live—to be disposed to act, react, think and feel—in a pattern that an actual belief attributor identifies with taking the world to be some way.

Part 1: Belief as Attitude, Belief as Cog

  + Chapter 1: A Rylean ancestry

       Some Ryleans about belief—including Gilbert Ryle himself, Lynne Rudder Baker, and Eric Schwitzgebel—are usually dubbed ‘dispositionalists’. Other Ryleans—including Daniel Dennett, Donald Davidson, and Bruno Mölder—are usually dubbed ‘interpretivists’. Nevertheless, dispositionalists and interpretivists subscribe to the same general view. All Ryleans hold that beliefs are syndromes of dispositions that an interpretive scheme designates as constitutive of taking the world to be some way.

  + Chapter 2: Varieties of (theory of) belief

       Attitudes of belief are stances that people attribute in quotidian social contexts. Cognitive states of belief are representations that cognitive scientists posit as operative components of mental architecture. According to Ryleanism, attitudes of belief cannot be accounted for except as attributor-relative properties of the manifest image. Still, Ryleanism about the attitude of belief is compatible with a wide range of views about the cognitive state of belief, including agnosticism.

  + Chapter 3: How beliefs are like colors

       Relationalists claim that colors exist only in relation to color perceivers; Ryleans claim that beliefs exist only in relation to belief attributors. Perceivable colors should not be identified with physical properties of objects, because (a) objects with different physical properties can have the same perceivable color and (b) objects with identical physical properties can have different colors for different perceivers. Analogously, attitudes of belief should not be identified with cognitive states of belief because (a) believers with radically different cognitive systems can have the same attitude of belief and (b) believers with identical cognitive systems can have different beliefs for different belief attributors. Finally, just as perceivable colors have co-evolved with color perceivers, attitudes of belief have co-evolved with belief attributors.

  + Chapter 4: Beliefs as inner causes?

       The most powerful consideration in favor of the identification of attitudes and cognitive states of belief is the assumption that the folk construe beliefs as inner causes. Many philosophers of mind and psychologists studying lay belief attribution and behavior explanation cite Davidson (1963) in support of this assumption. But Davidson's influential argument is unsound; there are no objective grounds for the intuition that the folk construe beliefs as inner causes that produce behavior. Indeed, recent experimental work provides an empirical framework that accords well with Ryle’s (1949) alternative thesis that the folk construe beliefs as patterns of living that contextualize behavior.

Part 2: The Metaphysics of Belief in Practice

  + Chapter 5: Beliefs as attributor-relative patterns of living

       The arguments of Part 1 deliver a generic form of Ryleanism. According to my relativistic version of Ryleanism, to believe is to live—to be disposed to act, react, think and feel—in a pattern that an actual belief attributor identifies with taking the world to be some way. This chapter unpacks my view and considers common objections.

  + Chapter 6: Styles of belief

       Consider the belief that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. To have this belief is to be disposed to act, react, think and feel in a pattern that a belief attributor would construe as living out the belief. However, while Mrs. Bennett and Mr. Darcy both wholeheartedly believe—and live out—Pride and Prejudice’s opening line, they are disposed to act, react, think and feel as if rich men must want wives in dramatically different ways. Eric Schwitzgebel’s conceptual machinery can be adapted to account for the capacity of belief attributors to recognize that different people have different styles of believing.

  + Chapter 7: Interpretivism, intersubjectivity, and norms

       Ryleans usually hold beliefs to be fixed in relation to a norm of interpretation. However, work by philosophers and psychologists has revealed that human practices of belief attribution are governed by a rich diversity of normative standards. Ryleans thus face a dilemma: either give up on the idea that belief is constitutively normative or countenance a context-sensitive disjunction of norms that constitute belief. Either way, Ryleans should embrace the intersubjective indeterminacy of belief.

  + Chapter 8: Brute believers and monkey mindreaders

       Ought anthropomorphism be prohibited in animal cognition research? Do nonhuman animals have beliefs? Are nonhuman animals belief attributors? Applying my Rylean account of belief to these methodological and substantive questions in animal cognition research illuminates a key moral of this monograph: mental differences matter.