The Burgean intuitions

Abstract
have established that psychological content can be socially determined. They are taken to show that, contrary to the traditional Cartesian conception, the contents of an individual’s thoughts are not always determined by his intrinsic properties alone, but can depend on the practices of the linguistic community of which he is a member. Specifically, Burge claims that his thought experiments show that the socially determined meanings of the words a linguistically competent individual uses to express his thoughts about himself, his fellows and his physical environment can determine the contents of those thoughts, and, hence, that those contents themselves can be socially determined. In this paper I argue that Burge’s anti-individualist thesis is not supported by his thought experiments. The cases Burge presents are meant to elicit intuitions which, in combination with a plausible general principle about belief ascription, provide a strong motivation for abandoning the individualist conception of mind. The intuitions concern what it is natural to say about what the individuals described in the thought experiments believe, and the general principle is that all things equal belief–ascriptions it is natural to make are literally true. The intuitions are supposed to override any sense that the ceteris paribus clause of the principle is sprung in Burge’s cases because of the conceptual idiosyncracies of his subjects: they believe what they say in spite of their deviance from the communal norms governing the usage of their words
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