A Test for Theories of Belief Ascription

Analysis 62 (2):116-125 (2002)
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These days the two most popular approaches to belief ascription are Millianism and Contextualism. The former approach is inconsistent with the existence of ordinary Frege cases, such as Lois believing that Superman flies while failing to believe that Clark Kent flies. The Millian holds that the only truth-conditionally relevant aspect of a proper name is its referent or extension. Contextualism, as I will define it for the purposes of this essay, includes all theories according to which ascriptions of the form ‘S believes that a is F’ and ‘S believes that b is F’, where ‘a’ and ‘b’ are coreferential proper names, may, depending on the context, differ in truth-value even though in those very contexts each ascription relates the same believer to the very same proposition. What the two theories have in common is the claim that names are Millian. What separates the two theories is what they say about belief contexts. In this essay I prove that Millianism is true, Contextualism is true, or our intuitions regarding belief ascriptions are hopelessly inaccurate. As a consequence, my argument is a proof that either names and many general terms are Millian or our intuitions regarding belief ascriptions are hopelessly inaccurate.

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