My dissertation, Representing Reason, was conceived as a contribution to my larger, and ongoing, research project in the theory of thought. In the dissertation, I defend a particular, and controversial, view of a particular kind of thought: namely, thoughts that ascribe propositional attitudes – e.g., the thought that Plato believes that Socrates is wise. In the Fregean terminology I favor, the view is that (for example) the thought that Plato believes that Socrates is wise has the thought that Socrates is wise as a component part. The view is motivated by the widely shared assumption that thinking the thought that Plato believes that Socrates is wise involves thinking the thought that Socrates is wise – or, to put it in linguistic terms, that an understanding of the sentence ‘Plato believes that Socrates is wise’ requires an understanding of the sentence ‘Socrates is wise’.
In order to give an account of thoughts of this particular kind, however, we need to know something about the nature of thoughts in general. So I begin, in Part I, by defending a general approach to the theory of thought. I argue, first, that Gareth Evans’s well-known Intuitive Criterion of Difference – which says that two thoughts are distinct just in case it is possible for someone to (e.g.) believe the one without believing the other – represents the best way of individuating thoughts. Second, I show that the only way to justify the Criterion is to explain thoughts in terms of propositional attitudes (like judgment and belief), rather than the other way around. In other words, we cannot, as most philosophers assume we must, explain propositional attitudes in terms of (in particular, as relations to or attitudes towards) thoughts or propositions, independently understood. I then sketch a particular account of thoughts, one on which they are explained as capacities (or dispositions) to judge (Aristotelian first capacities, to be precise) – so that the concept of a thought can actually be defined in terms of the concept of a capacity and the concept of a judgment. Finally, I introduce a philosophical and terminological framework within which to carry out the theory of thought, and hence within which to provide an account of both the nature and the truth-conditions of thoughts of particular kinds.
With this background theory of thought in hand, I then turn to the more particular task of the dissertation, namely, that of providing an account of thoughts that ascribe propositional attitudes. The aim of Part II is thus two-fold: first, to show that we can provide a consistent theory of such thoughts on which the thought that Plato believes that Socrates is wise (for example) has the thought that Socrates is wise as a component part; and, second, to show that this theory is preferable to the theory suggested by Frege himself, and defended, more recently, by Tyler Burge, Saul Kripke, Christopher Peacocke, and Terence Parsons. The central issue here is that, although the alternative theories grant that thinking the thought that Plato believes that Socrates is wise involves thinking the thought that Socrates is wise, they are forced to deny that the latter thought is a component part of the former. Instead, they must maintain that the former involves a special kind of way of thinking of the latter: a canonical way of thinking of a thought. I show that the introduction of this notion of a canonical way of thinking of a thought into the theory of thoughts that ascribe propositional attitudes is indefensible and, further, that the only thing that motivates its introduction into that theory is a questionable assumption buried in Frege’s use of the notion of Bedeutung: in linguistic terms, Frege assumes a general identification of (i) what a word stands for with (ii) what it contributes to the truth-conditions of sentences in which it occurs. I argue that this assumption should be rejected. Once it is, the way is clear to adopt the neo-Fregean theory I prefer.
If you want to know more about the dissertation, you can read the first, introductory, chapter here.