Dispositionalism, Yay! Representationalism, Boo!

Eric Schwitzgebel

forthcoming in J. Jong and E. Schwitzgebel, eds., The Nature of Belief

We should be dispositionalists rather than representationalists about belief. According to dispositionalism, a person believes when they have the relevant pattern of behavioral, phenomenal, and cognitive dispositions. According to representationalism, a person believes when the right kind of representational content plays the right kind of causal role in their cognition. Representationalism overcommits on cognitive architecture, reifying a cartoon sketch of the mind. In particular, representationalism faces three problems: the Problem of Causal Specification (concerning which specific representations play the relevant causal role in governing any particular inference or action), the Problem of Tacit Belief (concerning which specific representations any one person has stored, among the hugely many approximately redundant possible representations we might have for any particular state of affairs), and the Problem of Indiscrete Belief (concerning how to model gradual belief change and in-between cases of belief). Dispositionalism, in contrast, is flexibly minimalist about cognitive architecture, focusing appropriately on what we do and should care about in belief ascription.

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