## Debate Discussion: "The content of belief is propositional".

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This thread is for discussing the formal debate "The content of belief is propositional" between @Banno and @creativesoul.
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Neat and long overdue! 1,500 word total each post/response or altogether?

Looks interesting for far. Last sentence sums things up fairly well, imo.
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We can be short about this one. Banno is applying the common linguistic meaning of proposition and creative soul is talking about the philosophical term. Both right but talking about different things. Next!
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But, when used to define belief, the two senses of the word are alike in appearing (superficially at least) to deny beliefs to cats, who are oblivious to either sense.
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Banno is applying the common linguistic meaning of proposition and creative soul is talking about the philosophical term. Both right but talking about different things.
Would you be able to briefly limn that distinction?
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We can be short about this one. Banno is applying the common linguistic meaning of proposition and creative soul is talking about the philosophical term. Both right but talking about different things. Next!

Very much yes. It's why I wanted the debaters to refine the sense of proposition before engaging in the debate.

If your sense of the proposition is like: so long as there exists a string of words which states the belief content at some point in time
***
(up to logical equivalence)
then the belief content is propositional because it can be stated, then yes of course it's propositional.

But if your sense of the proposition has the modality associated with that italicised "can" be temporal - IE there are some beliefs in some organism, or some beliefs at some points in time which cannot be stated at that
*
(or any accessible)
time, then no of course belief contents aren't always propositional.

I do not expect @creativesoul and @Banno to ever argue this crucial point regarding the modality of expression of belief statements in their debate, so I expect it to be a clash of worldviews without any interfacing - an exchange characterised by attempting to shift frames of interpretation for belief than regarding any thematisation of belief
**
(the frame spelling out the nascent assumptions regarding belief that would be the substantive disagreement)
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Sort of disappointed with Banno’s reply. He didn’t address what it means for a child or a cat to “believe” that the mouse ran behind the tree. To insist that they do, despite not knowing any language, is to be proposing something like Steven Pinker’s mentalese, which is a bit cheating.
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I figure dogs just live in the moment most of the time. They hunt because it's instinct and it's fun. It's a bonus to them that it fills their bellies too.

Same with spiders and their amazing web construction:. they don't do it because they believe anything. They just do it.

Are humans any different? Symbolism is one of our hallmarks. The question is: did we have beliefs before we started expressing our beliefs in symbols?

I mean, it's possible that both things happened at the same time, right? Symbols, abstraction, not living in the moment just doing stuff by instinct?

Maybe only then would we be able to get a vantage point on our thoughts (separate the self from thoughts) so that I now have (own) thoughts and so own commitments (belief)?

Or maybe it wasn't ownership. Maybe it was 'The belief is upon me.'
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Banno can grant beliefs to cats because he assumes beliefs are mythical folk psychology anyway. He needs them to be propositional so that they can be true or false all the same.

Others assume that beliefs are real mental furniture, or real behavioural or systemic dispositions. Or real something. They need to liberate them (the beliefs) from language in order to be able to grant them to cats without having to anthropomorphize.
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Others assume that beliefs are real mental furniture, or real behavioural or systemic dispositions. Or real something.

Do they really believe beliefs are real?
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I'm not really intent on participating here, but the sentence "the present king of France is bald" does express a proposition -- that there exists exactly one x such that x is presently king of France and x is bald -- and that proposition is false, because there is no x that is presently king of France.

The negation of "the present king of France is bald" is not just "the present king of France has hair", but "the present king of France has hair or there is no present king of France", which is true because there is no present king of France.

Also, I have not stopped beating my wife, because I never began beating my wife, because I've never had a wife.

And all my children are dead, yet I've never lost a child, because I've never had any children, and 100% of those zero children I've had are dead, while 0% of those zero children I've had have died.

Pragmatics is neither syntax nor semantics.
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the sentence "the present king of France is bald" does express a proposition -- that there exists exactly one x such that x is presently king of France and x is bald -- and that proposition is false, because there is no x that is presently king of France.

The underlying issue is that the subject term has no referent. Your comment is one proposal for handling such sentences.

That is, on Russell's view (and yours) the sentence entails that there is a present King of France. The entailment is false, therefore the sentence is false.

However on Peter Strawson's view (and my own and, I assume, Banno's), the sentence presupposes that there is a present King of France. The presupposition fails and so the sentence is not evaluable as either true or false. So the sentence does not express a proposition.

On a presuppositional view, one cannot evaluate a sentence as true or false when the subject term has no referent. For a programming analogy, to attempt to evaluate it is like attempting to dereference a null pointer.

Pragmatics is neither syntax nor semantics.

Yes, so it's not enough that "the present king of France is bald" is grammatical and meaningful. There also needs to be a context such that it is evaluable.
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Pragmatics is neither syntax nor semantics. — Pfhorrest

Yes, so it's not enough that "the present king of France is bald" is grammatical and meaningful. There also needs to be a context such that it is evaluable.

What I meant was that the strict logical content of a sentence doesn't always include pragmatically implied information. Hence the examples about all of my zero children, etc, as well.

We wouldn't usually bother saying anything about the King of France unless we thought there was such a person, so saying something about him does pragmatically presuppose there is such a person (i.e. in saying it in practice, you're acting as though you think such a person exists), but that doesn't make the sentence have some kind of indeterminate truth value, because its strictly logical content can still be evaluated to false.

In the same way that "all of my children are dead" pragmatically implies that I have had some nonzero number of children, all of which have died, but strictly logically equates to "there does not exist any x such that x is my child and x is not dead", which is true because there does not exist any x such that x is my child.
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but that doesn't make the sentence have some kind of indeterminate truth value, because its strictly logical content can still be evaluated to false.

The point here though is that we normally use a sentence to assert something about a (referring) subject. If there is no subject, then we can't be asserting something about one - so the question of whether our assertion is true or false does not arise. Thus the sentence has no use, except perhaps to deceive, or (as you note) in situations where we wrongly thought there was a subject. But that doesn't change the fact that there was no subject to assert something of.

The issue is, as Strawson puts it:

We are apt to fancy we are talking about sentences and expressions when we are talking about the uses of sentences and expressions.

This is what Russell does. Generally, as against Russell, I shall say this. Meaning (in at least one important sense) is a function of the sentence or expression ; mentioning and referring and truth or falsity, are functions of the use of the sentence or expression. [italics mine]

In the same way that "all of my children are dead" pragmatically implies that I have had some nonzero number of children, all of which have died, but strictly logically equates to "there does not exist any x such that x is my child and x is not dead", which is true because there does not exist any x such that x is my child.

Strawson has comments about the use of those kinds of sentences as well in "(c) The logic of subjects and predicates" on p343.

Anyway, just a different point of view to consider! The broader theme is discussed at SEP's Descriptions.
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It's just not truth apt, right?
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If your sense of the proposition is like: so long as there exists a string of words which states the belief content at some point in time *** then the belief content is propositional because it can be stated, then yes of course it's propositional.

But if your sense of the proposition has the modality associated with that italicised "can" be temporal - IE there are some beliefs in some organism, or some beliefs at some points in time which cannot be stated at that* time, then no of course belief contents aren't always propositional.

I do not expect creativesoul and @Banno to ever argue this crucial point regarding the modality of expression of belief statements in their debate, so I expect it to be a clash of worldviews without any interfacing - an exchange characterised by attempting to shift frames of interpretation for belief than regarding any thematisation of belief **

But words are just scribbles and sounds. Does a dog's bark or a dog's wagging tail qualify as a proposition?
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we normally use a sentence to assert something about a (referring) subject.

Gosh.

"Subject" in the sense of grammatical [or logical] subject, a word or phrase (e.g. "snow" or "king of France") capable of referring to an object or subject-matter (snow or French king), but which is not itself, typically, what the sentence containing it is used to assert something about?

Or "subject" in the sense of a typically non-referring object or subject-matter (snow or French king) about which we use a sentence to assert something? ... Normally to the exclusion of referring to or asserting about any parts of the asserting sentence?

"Snow" or snow?
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It's just not truth apt, right?

:up:

"Snow" or snow?

Snow. If I assert that the snow outside is white, then I am (purportedly) referring to snow outside and saying something about it. If there is no snow outside then that is a failure of reference. Hence, on Strawson's view, my assertion is neither true nor false (i.e., it's not truth apt).
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On a presuppositional view, one cannot evaluate a sentence as true or false when the subject term has no referent. For a programming analogy, to attempt to evaluate it is like attempting to dereference a null pointer.

It occurred to me tonight that while you cannot access the data in a null pointer, you can still evaluate the attempt to access it as true or false.

I mostly only do web programming, but in that domain there is an awful lot of testing for the existence of features along the lines
if (object.method) {do stuff} else {error handling}

. If there is no such object, or the object has no such method, evaluating "object.method" will return false.

So
if (france.king.hairstyle == "bald") {polish his head} else {do nothing}

will result in nothing being done, because france.king.hairstyle is a null reference (since france has no such property as king) and so comparisons against it universally return false.
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Do be careful with computational logic. It doesn't work the same as propositional logic, because instructions are not statements. "A= A+1" Contradiction as statement, simple commonplace instruction.
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Plus the sentence could become truth apt (if we grant that sentences can be) if you named your dog 'The present king of France'

Still have to look to use to discern meaning. The meaning is the proposition (kind of).
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Snow. If I assert that the snow outside is white, then I am (purportedly) referring to snow outside and saying something about it. If there is no snow outside then that is a failure of reference. Hence, on Strawson's view, my assertion is neither true nor false (i.e., it's not truth apt).
Asserting that the snow outside is white isnt useful, as it is basically redundant information -as if snow could be another color. I don't know anyone that says such things, except in a philosophy forum.

But if you had said, "There is white snow on the ground outside", would that be any different? If there were no snow, then your sentence would be false, regardless of the color. Statements are either true (useful) or false (useless), not somewhere in between.
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Do be careful with computational logic. It doesn't work the same as propositional logic, because instructions are not statements. "A= A+1" Contradiction as statement, simple commonplace instruction

Yet A=A+1 still has meaning to both a computer and human being. Such statements produce real outcomes in both computers and human beings. Programmers often define instructions in a computer program as functions. Basically computational logic and propositional logic are just different sets of rules for using symbols. We can translate one set of rules to another. We do it all the time with different languages.

In this case, we have a statement/function that changes the definition of A, which is just a scribble that can mean anything at any moment we define it.

A=A+1 actually doesn't work in a computer program. You have to have A defined prior to this line in order for it to work. The A between the = and + actually means something else, so it's not a contradiction if you write the function correctly. So A=A+1 is actually only part of a statement/function, therefore is meaningless without A=1 before A=A+1.
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snow outside

Indeed. Deep and crisp and even. Not composed of four letters. So, just to be clear, this phrase,

(referring) subject.

was a typo?
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Language is not needed for the event to happen,

There is the space-time region independent of our talking about it now (or whenever), sure.

nor is it [language] needed to believe that a mouse ran behind the tree.

Language isn't needed to correlate the event (region) with others of the same (mouse-running-behind-tree) kind?

Because the cat shows it has drawn exactly or roughly this correlation?
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So

if (france.king.hairstyle == "bald") {polish his head} else {do nothing}

will result in nothing being done, because france.king.hairstyle is a null reference (since france has no such property as king) and so comparisons against it universally return false.

Yes, that's a nice example where the language creators have designed it that way.

Whereas other programming languages don't permit null references at all, so that scenario can't arise.

With languages that do allow null references, one approach is to design classes that provide the appropriate context when instantiated. For example, by restricting the evaluation of a French King's baldness to those contexts where there is a French King. Which, in turn, simplifies reasoning about the code.

Plus the sentence could become truth apt (if we grant that sentences can be) if you named your dog 'The present king of France'

Still have to look to use to discern meaning. The meaning is the proposition (kind of).

Yes, it's not enough to look at the words in isolation, you also have to look at the context they are used in.

Asserting that the snow outside is white isnt useful, as it is basically redundant information -as if snow could be another color.

I'm making a comment about failure of reference. If that example doesn't work for you, then see the earlier "the present king of France is bald" example.

(referring) subject.
— Andrew M

was a typo?

No, I meant it in the sense of "existing" or a successful reference, as opposed to a failure of reference (such as the present King of France).
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That's how it works, and drawing and maintaining the distinction between believing a mouse ran behind the tree, and believing that a description of those events is true does not in any way, shape, or form deny that some statements are about the way things are.

It seems to me that you're describing a state of affairs. So in this case, the state of affairs (or the ways things are) is that the mouse ran behind the tree.

A state of affairs is, at least, like a proposition. But perhaps different in the sense that no-one needs to have stated or believed it. Presumably mice ran behind trees before humans emerged to notice that kind of thing. Another difference is that states of affairs obtain (or fail to obtain) rather than being true or false.

So, on your view, can the content of belief be a state of affairs?

And for Banno, would a state of affairs count as propositional?
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-as if snow could be another color.

Never heard of yellow snow? You can certainly have polluted snow which is brown or black. You could also pour food coloring on it. Snow cones are a thing.

It's like saying, "Water is H2O", which is only true in the pure sense. Water often has other things mixed in. It's something to keep in mind in these philosophical discussions. The real world is messy.

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A state of affairs is, at least, like a proposition. But perhaps different in the sense that no-one needs to have stated or believed it. Presumably mice ran behind trees before humans emerged to notice that kind of thing.

Sure, but for whom was the mouse behind the tree? A predator? The mouse? Certainly not the world. States of affairs are a bit tricky. They can contain hidden perspectives like "behind X".
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States of affairs are a bit tricky. They can contain hidden perspectives like "behind X".

Quite right. There's no view from nowhere.
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Never heard of yellow snow? You can certainly have polluted snow which is brown or black. You could also pour food coloring on it. Snow cones are a thing.

It's like saying, "Water is H2O", which is only true in the pure sense. Water often has other things mixed in. It's something to keep in mind in these philosophical discussions. The real world is messy
LOL. Its not the snow that is yellow. Notice how you said there are other things mixed in. Those other things mixed in isnt snow. "Yellow snow" is simply lazy use of language. The snow wasn't yellow before you mixed something that isn't snow in.

Notice how yellow snow has more information than white snow because the former isn't redundant and the latter is.
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