Theories of Pretense

February 12, 2010

Ori Friedman and Alan Leslie, in their Cognition article “The conceptual underpinnings of pretense: Pretending is not ‘behaving-as-if’” (2007), argue against what they call behaviorist theories of pretense. As they characterize the debate, theories of pretense fall into the following two families:

Metarepresentational Theories: What is central to pretense is mentalistic: treating pretense as such through the possession and deployment of the concept PRETEND. (Leslie is the primary proponent of this view.)

Behaviorist Theories: What is central to pretense is behavioral: behaving “as-if” a scenario obtains–or rather, behaving in a way that would be appropriate if that scenario obtains. (On Friedman and Leslie’s characterization, pretty much everyone else–such as Perner, Lillard, Nichols and Stich, Harris, and Rakoczy–defends some kind of behaviorist theory.)

One central point in they make the paper is this: without making room for the concept PRETEND in their theories, behaviorists cannot adequately explain how children are able to recognize pretense as such. Here is how they put this central point on page 115:

But more importantly, the above makes clear what game the Behavioral theory perforce finds itself playing: namely, trying to get the child to think that someone is pretending without actually thinking pretend as such. If the Behavioral theory is to measure up to the phenomena of early human pretending, its success will depend on finding an exact conceptual paraphrase of PRETEND without using that concept. Moreover, the paraphrase must be strictly behavioral. … Propositional attitude concepts are the heart and soul of ‘theory of mind’ and utterly foreign to and rejected by behaviorism (Fodor, 1981; Ryle, 1949). ‘Pretend’ is just the name of a specific attitude.

In response, I have two small worries and a major one:

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Bleg: Mental Activities?

September 23, 2009

I want to make a distinction between mental activities and mental states.

As I only have some vague ideas, it is easier to point to some examples. Some examples of mental activities: counterfactual reasoning, doxastic deliberation, planning, daydreaming, dreaming, playing a pretend game. Some examples of mental states: beliefs, desires, imaginings, emotions, perceptions. My sense is that there really is something different about the former cluster compared to the latter. Any suggestions on how that distinction might be made more precise?


Philosophical Thought Experiment as a Genre?

June 18, 2009

A recent post by Brian Weatherson over at the Arche Methodology Project Weblog raises an interesting idea: can philosophical thought experiments be treated as a genre like, say, science fiction? This idea is also explored in Jonathan Weinberg’s article “Configuring the Cognitive Imagination” in New Waves in Aesthetics. Weinberg spells out the idea, without endorsing it, on page 214:

Yet, what if philosophical thought experiments were a genre—at least in the sense that engaging in them successfully requires mastery along the same lines as I have sketched for the mastery of literary genres? There are rules to engaging properly with a hypothetical scenario, after all. To make just some of the more obvious generalizations about our imaginative practices with thought experiments: one should embellish as little as possible; generally it is a practice conducted in an affectively `cool’ manner; and our inferential systems must often be brought to bear in this particular sort of imaginative project as well. And there are surely other, and more subtly articulable, rules for the proper performance of thought experiments still to be detailed.

While I was initially attracted to the idea—especially given my interest in imagination, fiction, and genre—I now think that it won’t do, on the more interesting interpretation. Roughly, the idea is to treat philosophical thought experiment as a genre relevantly similar to other genres of fiction. I have two worries with the idea, interpreted thus. In this post, I’ll press the first worry: we engage with philosophical thought experiments relevantly differently from the way we engage with fictions in other genres.

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Color-judgment expressivism?

March 18, 2009

Hey guys,  

I don’t know too much about the philosophy of color, except for what you learn from examples people use in discussions about other topics. I’ve noticed that some people, to take one example, think that we should be error theorists about color: we falsely believe that surfaces have these mind-independent color features that they don’t really have, and therefore our color-judgments attributing these properties to surfaces are all systematically erroneous.  This, if I am not mistaken, is Velleman’s view. He brings this up in a discussion about whether people’s belief in free will is some kind of systematic illusion of a similar sort.  Other people, like Gibbard, think that an error-theory about color-judgments is too extreme; we should not attribute systematic errors to the folk unless no other, friendlier theory is available.  One type of theory of a friendlier sort takes color-judgments to be judgments about dispositional properties: we judge things to be such that they tend to look a certain way to people.   But, what are some other possible views?

Here’s what I am specifically interested in knowing: do you guys know if any philosophers have given expressivist views about color judgments?  The idea would be something like this.  In saying, for example, “the sky is blue” what people are doing is expressing their mental state of seeing the sky as blue.  Now, what is their seeing it as blue supposed to mean here?  Well, perhaps I would have done better to say something like “they express their mental state of its looking a certain particular way to them”.  So, the state of judging something to have a certain color is closely tied, on this view, to the state of something looking/appearing a certain way to you.  And, if you say that the thing has the color in question, then you are expressing this state of mind, rather than reporting it.  (This, by the way, seems right: in calling something blue it seems better to say that I am expressing my state of mind of seeing it as blue than to say that I report its looking to blue to me.) Read the rest of this entry »


Zillions of Beliefs?

March 12, 2009

Here’s a fun one:

  1. Anyone who knows basic maths knows that 2+2=4.
  2. If someone knows that 2+2=4, then that person believes that 2+2=4.
  3. The known proposition in premises 1 and 2 (i.e. that 2+2=4) can be replaced by a very large number of other propositions (e.g. that 2+3=5 or that 5-1=4) while maintaining the truth of the premises.
  4. Therefore, anyone who knows basic maths has a very large  number of beliefs (countably-many?).
  5. Regular people do not have a large number of occurent beliefs.
  6. Therefore, many of the beliefs of regular people are non-occurent.

I’ve heard a few people complain that this idea of a non-occurent or implicit belief is non-sensical or elusive.  If you’re one of those people, which premise do you reject?


Self to Self

July 3, 2008

In this post, I reply to my previous post on a new motivation for positing desire-like imagination. The right response to the argument sketched there, I now think, is a combination of `Who cares?’ and `What are you talking about?’. But there’s a functionalist explanation behind the indifferent shrug and the incredulous stare.

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Advertisement for a Sketch of an Outline of An Argument for Desire-like Imagination

June 25, 2008

Desire-like imagination, or I-Desire, is said to be analogous to desire in the same way that belief-like imagination, or imagination, is analogous to belief. There are a few different arguments for positing desire-like imagination in print. Greg Currie has given a few on the grounds of inference to the best explanation: he argues that desire-like imagination can best help us explain phenomena including affective response toward fiction and seemingly conflicting desires toward fiction (Currie and Ravenscroft 2002), and imaginative resistance (Currie 2002, in Gendler & Hawthorne). Tyler Doggett and Andy Egan similarly argue that desire-like imagination can best help us explain behaviors of pretenders who are immersed in the fiction of the pretense (Doggett and Egan 2007). I am unconvinced by these arguments and remain skeptical of desire-like imagination. But in a reading group today, I tried to provide a new motivation for positing desire-like imagination.

Take as the starting point the analogy at the beginning of this post: desire-like imagination is to desire as (belief-like) imagination is to belief. There is a tradition of differentiating belief and desire by their “directions of fit”. Belief is said to have a mind-to-world fit: the aim of belief is to represent a fact about the actual world. Desire is said to have a world-to-mind fit: the aim of desire is to make the world as the non-actual state of affairs represented. Arguably, we can also say that imagination has a direction of fit, at least when we are exercising the faculty in pretense or engagement with fiction. Imagination, I want to claim, has a mind-to-fictionality fit: the aim of imagination is to represent a fact about the (relevant) fictional world. The relationships between belief, desire, and imagination are summarized by the following table:

belief-like mental states desire-like mental states
real world belief (mind to world) desire (world to mind)
fictional world imagination (mind to fictionality) ???

Now it seems natural to fill out ??? with a mental state that is both desire-like and about the fictional world. Desire-like imagination fits. Following through with the analogies, desire-like imagination has a fictionality-to-mind direction of fit: the aim of desire-like imagination is to make the fictional world as the non-fictional state of affairs represented.

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