Pragmatic Failure and the Attribution of Belief

Twentieth-century action theory has concentrated on the relationship of intention to action, and thereby the relationship of belief as an occurrent state of the agent to the agent’s action. This stress on belief appears to be predicated on the view that our actions are primarily guided by our understanding of the relevant conditions of action, a view encouraged by the fact that we can and do attribute beliefs to ourselves and others to explain instances of the failure of an action toachieve a desired outcome. I argue that, to the contrary, there is no compelling reason to conclude that such attributions imply that our actions are guided by occurrent beliefs. The alternative view offered is that our actions are typically guided by habit, but in cases of pragmatic failure we attribute putative prefailurebeliefs on the basis of the overall intention of action and relevant background understanding.
Keywords Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 1053-8364
DOI 10.5840/jpr20073244
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