Predicting Mind: Belief Attribution in Philosophy and Psychology

Dissertation, University of Minnesota (2000)

Kristin Andrews
York University
There are two problems with many philosophical theories of the mind and language: they almost always focus exclusively on normal adult humans, excluding others such as children, people with autism, and animals, and they are often developed without regard to the relevant scientific research. In my dissertation, I explain why this is a problem. First, I argue that we should accept the existence of animal minds, and that we should use the methods of experimental psychology and cognitive ethology in order to better understand those minds. I show that one philosophical theory, Donald Davidson's account of mind, language, and communication, is inconsistent with psychological research on children with autism. I show how Davidson's theory entails the absurd conclusion that many children with autism do not have beliefs. I also argue that Daniel Dennett's intentional stance account of belief, conjoined with a few accepted facts about vervet monkey behavior, results in an armchair solution to an empirical question. Namely, the intentional stance account of belief blurs the distinction between having beliefs and having a theory of mind . Finally, I argue that the emphasis placed on belief attribution as a necessary condition for predicting intentional behavior is misguided. Rather than there being a symmetry between folk psychological prediction and explanation, I argue that we often do not use belief/desire attribution when making predictions. However, when providing psychological explanations for intentional behavior, appeal to beliefs and desires is often obligatory.
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