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4. ‘This’

Imogen Dickie, Fixing Reference (Oxford, 2016)

A ‘perceptual demonstrative’ thought is a thought of the kind standardly made available by a perceptual link with an ordinary thing, and standardly expressed using ‘this’ or ‘that’ – for example, when you look at a grapefruit on the table in front of you and think the thought you would express by saying ‘That is orange’, you are having a thought of this kind.

What I’ve said over the last few days has nearly put us in a position to see how the account of aboutness-fixing for this kind of thought that I provide in the book works. We need just one more element: an empirical claim about the beliefs that we form in this kind of situation:

Empirical claim  ‘That’ beliefs formed by uptake from an attentional perceptual channel reliably match the properties of the attended object as long as it’s an ordinary material object.

Combining this claim with the elements already in place, we can explain perceptual demonstrative aboutness-fixing (and justification for perceptual demonstrative beliefs) like this:

1 The mind needs to think about things outside itself.

2 Formation of a body of ‘that’ beliefs in response to attentional perceptual input is an information-marshalling strategy guided by this need. Because the information-marshalling strategy is guided by a motivational state, the resulting beliefs are weakly justified.

3 Given the empirical claim and 2, uptake from an attentional link with an ordinary object is a route to formation of weakly justified beliefs that tend to match what this object is like.

4 Given reference and justification, these beliefs are about the object. (Recall that reference and justification says that a body of beliefs is about an object iff its associated means of justification converges on the object, so that beliefs justified by this means will match the object unless some unlucky spoiler intervenes.)

5 Given that in most cases where we get as far as forming ‘that’ beliefs, the attended object is an ordinary object, the beliefs are also strongly justified: they are formed by a strategy that is a reliable generator of fulfilment of its guiding motivational state.

Now, as it stands the 1-5 story contains a bald-faced equivocation on ‘justified’/’justification’. The sense of ‘justified’ in the reference and justification principle is theoretical justification – justification for belief. The justification conferred by guidance by a motivational state is obviously practical justification – justification for an action or activity. So why is the 1-5 line of thought not just…bad?

This worry about equivocation is bound up with the worry about circularity I floated at the end of the second post. Next time I’ll explain how I think I can make both worries go away.

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