Work in Progress

“Belief as the Power to Judge” (draft)

A number of metaphysicians of powers have argued that we need to distinguish the actualization of a power from the effects of that actualization. This distinction, I argue, has important consequences for the dispositional theory of belief. In particular, it suggests that dispositionalists have in effect been trying to define belief, not in terms of its actualization, but instead in terms of the effects of its actualization. As a general rule, however, powers are to be defined in terms of their actualizations. I thus argue that belief has just one actualization, and that that actualization is a particular kind of mental act that I call a judgment. I explain the resulting view—that belief is the power to judge—and argue that it has some important advantages, not only over other dispositional theories of belief, but also over categorical theories of belief. Since these options are apparently exhaustive, it thus has important advantages over all other theories of belief.

“Belief as an Act of Reason” (draft)

Most philosophers assume (often without argument) that belief is a mental state. Call their view the orthodoxy. In a pair of recent papers, Matthew Boyle has argued that the orthodoxy is mistaken: belief is not a state but (as I like to put it) an act of reason. I argue here that at least part of his disagreement with the orthodoxy rests on an equivocation. For to say that belief is an act of reason might mean either (i) that it’s an actualization of its subject’s rational capacities or (ii) that it’s a rational activity (hence, a certain kind of event). And, though belief is not an act of reason in the second sense, it may nonetheless be one in the first: it may be a static actualization of its subject’s rational capacities.

“Extensionality and the Composition of Thoughts” (draft)

In recent years, a consensus has emerged, among philosophers of mind and language, that there is no consistent Fregean theory of propositional attitude ascriptions which dispenses with Frege’s infamous hierarchy of senses. In this paper, I show that this consensus is premature: even the most persuasive arguments for the hierarchy rest on the undefended, and questionable, assumption that any genuinely Fregean theory must be purely extensional. On the alternative theory I propose, both the sense and reference of an expression will remain the same in every linguistic context, but the truth-value of a propositional attitude ascription will nonetheless depend on the customary senses of some of its parts. The result is a consistent, plausibly Fregean, but non-extensional theory of propositional attitude ascriptions.

“Coming to Believe” (draft)

This essay develops and defends a view of belief on which the rationality of a belief is generally to be explained, at least in part, by a past act in which it was formed or confirmed. On the proposed view, the belief that p is a single-track disposition: the disposition to judge that p. This view, it is argued, avoids difficult problems that beset views on which judgments merely cause beliefs, but does so without recourse to the more radical suggestion (due to Matthew Boyle, among other) that believing is an activity rather than a state.