Inference and action: relating beliefs to the world

Abstract

The goal of this dissertation is to offer a practice-based account of intentionality. My aim is to examine what sort of practices agents have to engage in so as to count as talking and thinking about the way the world is – that is, what sort of practices count as representational. Representational practices answer to the way the world is: what is correct within such practices depends on the way things are, rather than on the attitudes of agents. An account of representation must explain how such objective standards of correctness are introduced in human practices: one must explain how the world gets to have a say in what is correct in human discursive practices. Roughly, my proposal is that human discursive practices become responsive to the way things are by virtue of involving practical interactions with the world. The outcomes of these interactions depend on the way the world is and the evaluation of such outcomes contributes to determining which moves within the practice count as correct. Due to our practical engagement with the environment, thus, the world gets to constrain discursive practices. In order to flesh out my proposal, I develop a practice-based characterization of intentional or representational content. On this sort of approach, expressing intentional contents is seen as a matter of playing a certain role in relevant practices, rather than as a matter of engaging in some word-world relation. The expression of content, thus, is explained in terms of use. In particular, I adopt an inferentialist perspective, according to which discursive moves express contents because of their role in practices of giving and asking for reasons. I investigate how practical engagement with the environment introduces friction with the world in these practices of giving and asking for reasons. One of the main conclusions reached in the dissertation is that defeasibility is an essential feature of objective representational practices – so that attributions of representational correctness are revisable in an open-ended way. The discussion of defeasible reasoning – and of the way in which defeasibility shapes human representational practices – is a central point of this dissertation

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