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September 27, 2008



This seems to be a pretty standard Millian line. Nathan Salmon says something similar, I think.

Tristan Haze

I think there is a way of saying, in a certain sense, that Ralph believes that Hesperus is F, without implying that he believes that Phosphorus is F, without flouting Liebniz's Law.

Let's stick to belief-reports involving names, for simplicity. In short, my view is that the name 'Hesperus' in a belief report like:

(A) 'Ralph believes that Hesperus is F'

can be read as doing two things at once. (1) specifying the object of Ralph's belief, and (2) specifying the concept (or mode of presentation) via which he has it. On such a reading, (1) could be expanded to:

(B) Ralph believes, of Hesperus, via his Hesperus-concept, that it is F.

(A similar thing could be done for the 'F', but I'll keep it simple.) Some belief reports, on the other hand - purely de re belief-reports - may be read as only specifying the object. (A) read this way could be expanded to:

(C) Ralph believes, of Hesperus, via *some* concept(s), that it is F.

This analysis, I think, can shed light on Kent Bach's puzzle about belief (http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~kbach/puzzle.html), by making it clear how 'S believes that o is F' can fail to entail 'S believes the proposition that o is F'. The first report can be read in the (C) way, whereas the second report induces a (B) type reading.

Likewise Kripke's puzzle: in a (C)-sense, Pierre can believe that London is beautiful and also that London is not beautiful - once via one concept, once via another.

This treatment admittedly makes belief-reports quite ambiguous and flexible devices, but I think that's to be expected. Furthermore, it seems to make more sense out of the way people actually talk, than your resolutely Millian approach. What do you think?



Thanks for your comment!

I don't believe in "concepts", "senses", "characters" or any other sort of mediating mental representation . I think that the only argument for them is Frege's and I think that turns on a mistake.

The best way to understand what philosophers mean when they speak of the opaque/de dicto/narrow/intentional sense of:

(1) Ralph believes p.
(2) Ralph is in the state of mind that would lead a competent English speaker to believe the sentence ┌p┐ is true.
Which is why they get puzzled about how to ascribe beliefs to foreigners, animals, or less than competent speakers and indexicals… &c.

And when they find that folk's use of "belief" does not fit with their (philosophical theory driven) "intuitions" about how to ascribe beliefs they start sneering at "folk psychology".

I don't think (2) names a natural kind of mental state because I think it is contingently false that speakers believe sentences true because they believe the propositions those sentences express. So I think the sense of 'belief' you are hoping to account for with an appeal to concepts is a chimera born of this mistaken assumption

To see how you can handle Hesperus and Phosphorus without appeal to concepts, senses or any other sort of mental representation I invite you to have a look at Now, Me .

I would be very interested to hear what you think.

Tristan Haze

I've taken one look at your proposal, a few days ago, and thought a bit about it. I will have to have another look, but for now here's a preliminary response.

You say you don't believe in concepts, and that you think the only argument for them is Frege's. Arguments aside, I hardly think it's right to regard Frege's considerations about identity statements as being the only thing which might make us want to talk about concepts. I think concept-talk - or the concept of a concept, to put it provocatively - is much more basic than that. They're not just some posit which theorists invoke to solve puzzles. Pretty much all thoughtful, educated people talk and think about concepts.

Relatedly, in your 'Now, Me' paper, you indicate that one of the chief things in favour of your account is that this account doesn't require one to talk about concepts, senses, modes of presentation, or whatever. But I don't see that as particularly desirable. (To butcher a phrase of Lewis's: if we're going to have to posit concepts anyway, we might as well enjoy them.)

If you're going to try to do without concepts and the like entirely, I think you're going to have a very hard time in many areas. One particular challenge, close to my concerns, is: how are you going to make sense of modality? (cf. http://sprachlogik.blogspot.com/2011/06/sketch-of-way-of-thinking-about.html)

There are pretty basic criticisms, so I'm not sure how conducive they are to fruitful debate, but let's see. Again, I will have another look at your specific proposal and may have some further comments after that.



As you say, lots of philosophers talk about concepts these days. I know. It has taken a whole generation of philosophers for them to come back in style.

They went out of style for a while thanks to Quine, they have crept back as Quine's lessons have been forgotten. It has been a deliberate amnesia: it was just too hard to do philosophy in a post-Quinean regime, so people started to pretend he never existed.

So never mind my account. If you want to talk about "concepts " you need to answer Quine's objections.

Start with the problem set by Two Dogmas of Empiricism: If there are concepts then there must be a difference between people who share the same concepts but disagree about the empirical facts and people who agree about the empirical facts but have different concepts. How do we tell them apart?

Tristan Haze

Regarding this problem: first, and in general, I don't think it's generally true that a distinction is only defensible when one can give a method for applying it in all cases. So the lack of a general and informative answer to your final question ('How do we tell them apart?') needn't be perceived as a worry.

There will be difficult cases, and perhaps cases where the distinction between conceptual and non-conceptual "disagreement" is not helpful. But there will also be cases where it helps a good deal, for example where people who thought they had a factual disagreement come to agree that they are simply using different concepts.

But there's another issue here: the distinctions between apriori/empirical and necessary/contingent are being run together, and the analytic/synthetic distinction's in the mix somewhere too.

This is intolerable if, like me, you agree with Kripke that there are aposteriori (empirical) necessities, and furthermore think that these are conceptual truths in a certain sense. On such a view, one can disagree about 'empirical facts' by having different (or differently arranged) concepts. (This hangs together with semantic externalism: which conceptual arrangement is best depends on the identity and nature of the objects of the concepts, and this is not determined by the concepts themselves.)

I mention this in case it looked like I was committed to a view which sorts claims (propositions) and disagreements into non-overlapping categories 'conceptual'/'grammatical' and 'empirical'. What has made the philosophy of modality so difficult, in my view, is that we've got to get over this old-fashioned and over-simple way of looking at things, but without losing our grips entirely. We still need to talk about concepts, and make distinctions like conceptual/non-conceptual, apriori/empirical.

I guess I see Quine as responding to difficulties by rubbing out all of these distinctions as though they are essentially just one bad idea, in contrast to Kripke, who tackles the difficulties by separating out different distinctions in the area. And I'm much more sympathetic with this latter approach.

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