True Believers


True Believers Essay, Research Paper

The intentional strategy is in Dennett’s sense, the most efficient tool for predicting behaviour. However, for now I will ignore its comparison with other theories and limit my discussion to the processes of the intentional strategy. It is important to note, that Dennett’s methods differ from the Identity Theorists’ and the Functionalists’. Where the former asserts that the mind is precisely the same thing as the brain, and the latter attaches mental states to their function or design, intentionalism reflects the almost common-sense approach to identifying the mind, and formulates the theory upon the sheer volume of evidence in its favour. For example, one might claim that s/he knows that X is alive because its behaviour became erratic when its food dish was empty. Closer examination of what s/he did would surely reveal that they implicitly presumed that X felt hungry, had the desire for nourishment, and believed that acting in a strange fashion would grant attention and the solely needed food. Another more important belief was the one that X would act more or less as s/he would in the given situation- as a ‘rational agent.’ Dennett works from similarly basic model and develops it into an imperfect yet notably effective method for predicting behaviour.

With both Identity and Functionalist theories in the mainstream, Dennett attempts to provide a better explanation of the mid- one which is neither too rigid nor too broad. Dennett’s method involves two main parts, the first being attribution of particular beliefs X would have in its given situation. The possible attributed beliefs are notably quite a bit greater in volume than the somewhat fleeing metaphysical or cosmological ones, which immediately spring to mind. Not only do these beliefs include every minor detail our X may have stored in memory, but also every desire they may have, such as the desire to eat if they are hungry (founded upon the desire to satisfy their hunger and the belief that eating will ease that desire). Secondly, it must be assumed that our subject is what Dennett calls a ‘rational agent’. Meaning, simply that X will act upon some internal connection between its beliefs and desires. That faculty of reason does not need be as developed as in the Vulcan sense, but must show some connection between beliefs and desires along the lines of desires based on beliefs and action based on desires. Moreover, one could not begin to try and predict the behaviour of an irrational being unless it is on the basis of why it is acting irrationally or why it is broken. Through this stance Dennett can treat almost any given subject as an intentional one, down to the beanbag chair, which has the desire to mould itself to my body when I sit on it. However, it is the subject of another paper to distinguish between subjects, which truly possess belief, and those that do not.

Previously I have described the necessary premise that most ascribed beliefs must be true, and now I will attempt to defend the validity of that point. Dennett, makes his own argument in this case immediately. Foremost, beliefs included in this statement include so many minute details which the question of whether people believe them or not seems meaningless. One could go on for hours merely describing themselves, without delving into the hotly debated issues of whether abortion is right or wrong. Although questionable beliefs are the most active in our minds they are not the most numerous. Secondly, Dennett defends himself be describing false beliefs as being rooted in true ones. Case in point, if one falsely believes that the home team lost the game last night, that belief may be based on the fact that a friend had misinformed him, though s/he believed that friend often read the newspaper in the morning, paid attention to the sports page, and had no reason to lie. Our subject would hardly believe the friend if they were known liar.

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