My belief that London is pretty and my belief that my sister is happy are not directed at the same thing. These beliefs do not have a common focus. My belief that London is pretty and my belief that London is populous do have a common focus. What is more there is an object at that focus, namely London. Geach (1967) points out that there is an intermediate sort of case in which pairs of beliefs have a common focus in spite of there being, apparently, no object at that focus. For example, two or more beliefs can be directed at Vulcan even though there is no such planet. Geach introduced the label ‘intentional identity’ to pick out the relation that holds between attitudes in these intermediate cases; Geach says that ‘[w]e have intentional identity when a number of people, or one person on different occasions, have attitudes with a common focus, whether or not there actually is something at that focus’ (Geach 1967, 627). In this paper, I propose a novel theory of intentional identity, the triangulation theory, and argue that it has considerable advantages over its principal rivals. My approach centers on agents’ metarepresentational beliefs about what it takes for intentional attitudes to be about particular objects.
Some use the need to explain communication, agreement, and disagreement to argue for two-dimensional conceptions of belief content. One prominent defender of an account of this sort is David Chalmers. Chalmers claims that beliefs have two kinds of content. The second dimension of belief content, which is tied to what beliefs pick out in the actual world, is supposed to help explain communication, agreement, and disagreement. I argue that it does not. Since the need to explain these phenomena is the main stated motivation for the addition of the second dimension of belief content, my arguments also undermine the motivation for Chalmers’ two-dimensional account of belief content and theories like it.
This paper is about intentional identity, the phenomenon of intentional attitudes having a common focus. I present an argument against an approach to explaining intentional identity, defended by Nathan Salmon, Terence Parsons and others, that involves positing exotic objects. For example, those who adopt this sort of view say that when two astronomers had beliefs about Vulcan, their attitudes had a common focus because there is an exotic object that both of their beliefs were about. I argue that countenancing these exotic objects does not help us explain intentional identity.
Creationism about fictional entities requires a principle connecting what fictions say exist with which fictional entities really exist. The most natural way of spelling out such a principle yields inconsistent verdicts about how many fictional entities are generated by certain inconsistent fictions. Avoiding inconsistency without compromising the attractions of creationism will not be easy.
Works in progress:
What litmus paper teaches us about mental content (with Frank Jackson)
In this paper we argue that communication and related phenomena are better explained in terms of a kind of mental content that is tied to narrowly construed psychology than in terms of a kind of belief content that is determined in part the agent’s environment. This puts pressure on two-dimensional conceptions of mental content since these phenomena are often used to argue for the usefulness of a second kind of belief content.
In defense of idiosyncrasy
A number of theories in the philosophy of mind (for example those of Quine, Lewis, Braddon-Mitchell, and Jackson) imply that ordinary agents do not often have beliefs with the same content. A common complaints made against these theories concerns communication, agreement, disagreement, and the norms of belief change. The natural explanation of these phenomena, the complaints run, requires that agents often have beliefs with the same content, so accepting these accounts compromises our ability to correctly explain these phenomena. In this paper I spell out these complaints and consider how one should respond to them. Those who uphold the claim that ordinary agents do not have beliefs with the same content incur an explanatory debt. If communication, agreement, disagreement, and the norms of belief change are not to be explained in the natural way, we must give an alternative account of these phenomena. I argue that this explanatory debt can be paid with the help of a theory of sameness of subject matter, present my own theory of sameness of subject matter, and make the case that it should be prefered to its rivals in the literature.
Counterfactuals as diverse claims about the actual world (with Katie Steele)
In this paper we develop an answer to counterfactual skepticism and argue that my answer to the problem should be preferred to those available in the literature, for example, we argue that our solution is better than those of Williams, David Lewis, Karen Lewis, Moss and others.
Puzzling Pierre, Atlantis, and Intentional Identity
This paper concerns Kripke’s puzzle about belief. I have two goals in this paper, the first is to argue that two well-known and attractive approaches to Kripke’s puzzle, those of Lewis and Chalmers, are inadequate as they stand. Both approaches require the world to supply an object that the relevant intentional attitudes pick out. The problem is that there are cases which, I argue, exhibit the very same puzzling phenomenon in which the world does not supply an object in the required way. The second goal is to draw out a more general lesson about Kripke’s puzzle. I argue that Kripke’s puzzle should be understood as intimately related to a phenomenon sometimes referred to as ‘intentional identity’ and that an adequate account of Kripke’s puzzle should be extensible to cases in which the relevant attitudes are empty (not, prima facie, about anything that exists).
Some intentional attitudes (beliefs, fears, desires, etc.) have a common focus in spite of there being no object at that focus. For example, two beliefs may be about the same witch even when there are no witches, different astronomers had beliefs directed at Vulcan, even though there is no such planet. This relation of having a common focus, whether or not there is an actual concrete object at that focus, is called intentional identity. In the first part of this thesis I develop a new theory of intentional identity, the triangulation theory, and argue that it has significant advantages over the extant theories of intentional identity in the literature. Empty attitudes (attitudes that are not, prima facie, about anything that exists) will serve as useful cases for testing theories of intentional identity.
In the second part, I put the theory developed in the first part to work. I use triangulation theoretic tools to shed light on other debates about intentional attitudes. Some issues to which intentional identity are relevant are the debate about the content of intentional attitudes, the issue of whether or not we need to appeal to external constraints on the content of intentional attitudes, how we should understand the agreement and disagreement of attitudes, how we should construe communication and how we ought to solve Kripke’s puzzle about belief. The second part of this thesis also motivates a broadly internalist and individualistic approach to the con-tent of intentional attitudes; it turns out that if we take a closer look at the narrowly construed psychological states of agents we find materials that allow us to make sense of phenomena usually associated with externalist constraints on the content of attitudes (such as causal constraints and eligibility constraints) in a new way.