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05/29/2014

Comments

Phil H

I can't understand this project at all. It seems to be about the use of the word "believe" in English (rather than some abstract concept of belief); there is much recourse to examples in natural language. However, many of the examples are rather strained, so it's not clear what linguistic standard is being applied. Are we to simply trust the judgments of these philosophers? This seems like a highly suspect methodology.

But worse than this, it's a methodology towards a non-existent end. First, the assumption appears to be that all uses of the word "believe" in English have the same meaning, or at least some elements in common. This is a completely unwarranted assumption, and just reveals a distressing naivety about natural language. Worse still is the the assumption about the *type* of common element all of the philosophers seem to expect to find in all uses of the word "believe". All of the arguments above are about features which supposedly appear in the definition of "believe" with positive or negative values. Wedgwood argues that beliefs must be justified, true, safe, adherent, Kripke disagrees:
W K
J + +
T + +
S + +
A + -

But the definitions of words in human minds are not complexes of features. It's not clear that the mental definitions of words are all the same, but I would suggest that prototype definitions are much more common: "Judging something against a prototype, therefore, and allowing rough matches to suffice, seems to be the way we understand a number of different words." Aitchison, Words in the Mind.

So I can't see what this kind of argument is doing. If it's an argument about the English language then its assumptions and methodology are wrong. If it's not about the English word "believe", then what is it about?

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