This entry is a continuation of the last post Faith vs. Reason, Part 1. These two entries come as a pair.
Again, dispositionalism is the view (Schwitzgebel’s proposal in any case) that a belief just is the right sort of cluster of stereotypical dispositions – behavioral, cognitive, and phenomenal (‘behavioral’ includes the disposition to verbally affirm the belief “that P”). However, on my interpretation of the dispositionalist theory, a mild incoherence is forced since our conception of the stereotypical dispositions is dependant on referencing the belief in standard linguistic form: the “belief that P”.
The grammar evidences this. While the theory holds that the stereotypical dispositions just are the belief, the theorist is left asking if this or that disposition is stereotypical “of the belief” in question. But the cluster of stereotypical dispositions cannot be the belief and at the same time be of the belief, since ‘of’ locates behavior that we expect to follow from the belief “that P.” These expectations result from our innate sense of practical rationality, not from what we take a given belief to be. Otherwise, so I claim, we have no way of deciphering whether a disposition was a genuine deviation from the stereotypical dispositions of a given belief. And so it seems we are stuck pointing to the linguistic “belief that P” as a necessary reference point before we can begin any discussion of the theoretical “belief” that just is the stereotypical dispositions.
This, I think, is the only way to understand Schwitzgebel’s statement:
Does Ellen believe that all Spanish nouns ending in ‘a’ are feminine? Some of her dispositions accord with that belief. (260)
Are some of Ellen’s dispositions just “that belief,” or are they the sort that “accord with that belief”? In Schwitzbegel’s story, Ellen thinks that the proposition “all Spanish nouns ending in ‘a’ are feminine” is true. But her behavior suggests that she does not take this as true, since she speaks Spanish well, which includes the use of non-feminine nouns ending in ‘a’. “that belief” is identified with Ellen’s taking the world made true by “all Spanish nouns ending in ‘a’ are feminine” as the actual world; the dispositions either accord or don’t accord with that belief.
Here Schwitzgebel makes the linguistic statement, “the belief that P,” the standard, which only seems right to me. There has to be a linguist anchor. Otherwise we are just talking about behavior and not belief behavior. We are especially cut off from belief behavior when we reference merely the skill of a language user. If Ellen can speak her native language fluently while having very little ability to verbally express beliefs about that language – such as grammar rules – then we should think that Ellen’s knowing how to speak a language does not require, in principle, beliefs about that language to begin with. I would want to argue, for instance, that Ellen does not give evidence to any belief whatsoever when she expresses her ability to speak Spanish well. The only relevant belief we know she does have is a false one. What we mean by ‘belief’ must therefore be something other or at least something more than dispositions.
On my view, believing in its most primitive form cannot be separated from believing that. (Hebraic belief/faith, which is not tied as directly to statements of fact, is what I take to be a higher level, less primitive form of commitment). Belief ascription is short hand to describe our behavioral dispositions and to describe the behavioral dispositions of others; it is a simplifying reduction rooted in language. (more…)