Monday, October 23, 2006

Millianism, Propositional Guises, and the Hooded Bugsy

I'd like to flesh out the idea of propositional guises a bit more. Consider the example from class, where I utter (1) and you utter (2):

1. You are a student.
2. I am a student.

There is a clear sense in which (1) and (2) say the same thing (in the case where I'm addressing you). According to Millians, and others, this sense is respected by assigning the same proposition to our utterances, one that we might represent as an ordered pair of you and the property of being a student.

In virtue of so uttering, each of us assert the proposition that x is a student, under an assignment of you to 'x'. The assertion relation is two-place; it's a relation between an individual and a proposition. But it is intuitive that we assert the proposition in different ways; you do it by uttering (2) and I do it by uttering (1).

So there are various ways in which one can assert a proposition. If S sincerely asserts P then S believes P. So corresponding to ways of asserting P are ways of believing P--those ways in which P can be asserted. These ways are relevant to behavior--partly in virtue of the way you accept the proposition that you are a student, you have to do assignments, etc., and partly in virtue of the way I accept the proposition, I do not.

Additionally, it's plausible to suppose that in order to believe P, one must be in some internal mental state, which we can call a 'belief state'. A belief state is a state of your brain (or mind); believing is a relationship between you and a given proposition. Belief states may differ by having different causal roles; being in one belief state may dispose you to do or say or accept certain things. This opens the possibility of their being several distinct belief states, being in any one of which is sufficient for believing that P. We could say these belief states are propositional guises, or ways of believing propositions.

If belief states involve tokens of mental sentences, then just as different natural language sentences express the same proposition, different mental sentences may express the same proposition. Then one may believe a proposition by having a mental sentence with the right sort of causal role (we may say the mental sentence occupies your "belief box"), while witholding belief from that same proposition by entokening a different mental sentence with the same propositional content though that mental sentence is not in one's "belief box".

On the simplifying assumption that natural language sentences are propositional guises, one believes a proposition by accepting some sentence or other that has that proposition as its semantic content. (This is roughly what Salmon's (BEL) says.) But one may grasp another sentence that has the same content as the first and not accept it.

This is what Salmon thinks Elmer is doing in the Hooded Man. He grasps and accepts 'Bugsy is dangerous' when thinking of Bugsy as his friend, so he believes the proposition that Bugsy is dangerous. But on the Millian view, this entails that he believes the proposition that Bugsy is dangerous when thinking of Bugsy as the criminal, though he understands and does not assent to 'Bugsy is dangerous' when thinking of Bugsy in that way. To grasp a sentence but assent to neither it nor its denial is necessary and sufficient for witholding belief, in Salmon's sense (under the assumption that natural language sentences are propositional guises). So Elmer believes Bugsy is dangerous, does not suspend belief with respect to that proposition (since that would entail not believing it), and witholds belief in that proposition when taken in a different way.

No one can believe and fail to believe the very same proposition. Elmer believes it on Salmon's view, but there's more to the story--more that cannot be told without introducing a technical notion of witholding belief that depends on grasping but neither accepting nor rejecting a certain sentence. Thus, Salmon rejects (4) of the Hooded Man argument.


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