Patterns, Noise, and Beliefs

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In “Real Patterns” Daniel Dennett developed an argument about the reality of beliefs on the basis of an analogy with patterns and noise. Here I develop Dennett’s analogy into an argument for descriptivism, the view that belief reports do no specify belief contents but merely describe what someone believes, and show that this view is also supported by empirical evidence. No description can do justice to the richness and specificity or “noisiness” of what someone believes, and the same belief can be described by different sentences or propositions (which is illustrated by Dennett’s analogy, some Gettier cases, and Frege’s puzzle), but in some contexts some of these competing descriptions are misleading or even false. Faithful (or truthful) description must be guided by a principle (or principles) related to the principle of charity: belief descriptions should not attribute irrationality to the believer or have other kinds of “deviant” implications.
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Archival date: 2019-08-27
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