Symbolic Belief in Social Cognition

Philosophical Perspectives (forthcoming)
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Keeping track of what others believe is a central part of human social cognition. However, the social relevance of those beliefs can vary a great deal. Some belief-attributions mostly tell us about what a person is likely to do next. Other belief-attributions tell us more about a person’s social identity. In this paper, I argue that we cope with this challenge by employing two distinct concepts of belief in our everyday social interactions. The epistemic concept of belief is primarily used to keep track of what other people take to be true, and this informs how we predict and interpret their behaviors. The symbolic concept of belief, in contrast is primarily used as a means of signaling to one’s social identity to other members of one’s community. In turn, community members closely monitor each other’s symbolic beliefs as a means of enforcing social norms.

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Evan Westra
Purdue University


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