Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Nature of Attitudes

I've written extensively on belief (e.g., here, here, and here), but very little on other attitudes like desire, intention, and love (though see here on love). (I regard desire and intention as "propositional attitudes" in the philosopher's sense, but not love.) Here's the summary version of my current thinking:

(1.) Attitudes are dispositional. To believe that there's beer in the fridge is to be disposed to act, react, and cognize in certain ways. It is not a matter of what you're currently doing or thinking. So, for example, your attitudes don't change simply by virtue of your falling unconscious. To believe that there's beer in the fridge is to be disposed to go to the fridge if you decide to have a beer, to say "yes" if someone asks you if there is beer in the fridge, to feel surprise were you to open the fridge and find no beer, to conclude "I will win a million dollars!" if you're told that you will win a million dollars if there is beer in your fridge, etc. Such dispositions are, of course -- like virtually all dispositions -- subject to defeaters or excusing conditions (for example, you might not tell the truth if you want to keep the beer a secret). Similarly: To want to complete your dissertation is to be disposed to feel good if it seems that you're making progress on your dissertation, to favor actions that promote completion of the dissertation over other actions all else being equal, to think to yourself "completing that dissertation would be a good thing to do", etc. To love someone is to be disposed to prioritize that person's well-being in your choices, to feel especially bad when bad things happen to that person, to value having a connection with that person, etc.

(2.) But attitudes also have an occurrent face. In fact, they have two occurrent faces. (By "occurrent" here I mean having to do with events that transpire at particular moments of time.) Attitudes can manifest, that is, the disposition can be activated. You can actually go to the fridge to find the beer, do something to further your dissertation work, choose something reflecting your prioritization of the welfare of someone you love. And attitudes can form (or disappear). A minute ago, perhaps, you had no desire for the chicken sandwich vs. the roast beef. You hadn't started thinking about it yet; sometimes you choose one, sometimes the other. You look at the menu and make a choice, forming a desire for the chicken.

Forming an attitude can be nonconscious, if it happens underground, as it were, or it can involve dedicating attention or consciousness. The conscious formation of a belief -- or the conscious reinforcement of that belief, if it was already present -- we can call a "judgment". The conscious formation of an intention we can call a "choice". We don't have natural names for some of the other conscious attitude formation episodes. ("Falling in love" isn't quite what I have in mind as the conscious formation of love; judging that something is good isn't quite the same as forming a desire for it -- though perhaps judging good and forming/reinforcing a desire are close enough to explain why we don't have separate terms for them.) Of course, sometimes the judgments and choices don't stick and the attitude isn't actually formed. You choose to exit the freeway at the next offramp, for example, but then forget. You say to yourself, and quite sincerely judge, that death is not bad while failing to form the dispositional profile appropriate to that attitude. (I have a paper about such cases here.)

(3.) Attitudes are not discrete entities; rather they overlap. This is true both within and between attitude types.

First, within attitude types: I do not have one ball in my "belief box" for "my cat is in the tree" and another separate ball for "Waterball [the name of my cat] is in the tree" and yet another separate ball for "Waterball is in the oak" and yet another for "our only pet is in that tall plant right there", etc. I believe all those things, more or less, but not via discretely held contents. What I have is a cluster of dispositions such that all of these things are approximately true to say of me -- though possibly some are more apt than others (for example, if I'd be disposed to call the tree an elm rather than an oak if asked).

Second, between attitude types: The dispositional profile for thinking that it would be good to finish your dissertation largely overlaps with the dispositional profile for wanting to finish your dissertation, such that probably you have both or you have neither. But the dispositional profiles come apart enough that in some cases one way of putting things can be more apt: Intellectual acceptance is more central to the belief-good profile and emotionality is more central to the desire profile so that if you are prone to form pro-dissertation-completing intellectual judgments that leave you cold, it might be more apt to describe you as believing-good than as desiring (though still, in a way, you desire or half-desire), and vice versa if you're more prone to desirous emotionality than intellectual endorsement. But let me be clear: On my view this is not a matter of the attitudes being ontologically distinct and causally connected; rather it's a matter of their having partly overlapping dispositional profiles with different dispositions closer to the center. Similarly for hating vs. loathing, appreciating vs. being thankful, resentment vs. anger vs. feeling wronged vs. thinking you've been wronged, etc.

Lots of cool things follow from this approach to the attitudes, such as weak motivational internalism; the avoidance of puzzles about the countability of beliefs and of problems in drawing the line between implicit and explicit beliefs, an appealing gradualism about attitude change (including learning and forgetting), the lack of a need for a discrete type of cognitive token for every attitude verb, and a nicely moderate position about the relationship between desiring and believing good.


CP said...

Thanks for linking to so much of your interesting work in one place. It’s good to be able to see how you intend some of it to fit together.

While I don’t think you have a philosophical duty to do so, I’d be very interested to hear you give an explanation of the intuitions of those who disagree with you, particularly about belief. What leads to a belief in a ‘language of thought‘, for instance?

Explaining others’ intuitions might not be so easy. I think that in the Juliet case, for one, many people’s responses will in some way involve Juliet not believing what she believes she believes. It looks like your theory makes believing one believes something too close to believing that thing for this intuition to be possible.

From your examples, it seems that a large part of the disposition associated with believing that there is chocolate in the fridge, for instance, is just acting as though there is. Similarly, a large part of believing that I believe there is chocolate is just acting as though I believe it, which is acting as though I had the disposition, which is largely acting as though I acted as though there were chocolate, which is just acting as though there is chocolate. Since my two beliefs (that there is chocolate, and that I believe there is) are both associated with dispositions, a large part of the first of which is also a large part of the second, if I strongly believe one, I satisfy most features of the relevant disposition; hence most features of the large common part; hence many features of the other disposition; hence I at least quite strongly believe the other belief.

Anonymous said...

I’d also be interested to hear if you have any more specific thoughts on the conscious formation of attitudes. It seems as if we can make important choices and judgements very quickly, sometimes in an instant, and you hold that these involve altering our dispositions, perhaps significantly. It is a very powerful action, for instance, that can make Aristotle favour actions that will lead him from Athens, to feel good about moving farther from Athens, etc., perhaps for several weeks, but this is what you take to result from Aristotle’s ‘choice’ to leave Athens, if choosing is an action.

I wonder if you might be tempted not to regard choices (and judgements, etc.) as actions, but rather say that when I am caused to develop an intention, and am conscious of the cause, then I have ‘chosen’. As an indecisive person, this sounds plausible to me; when I can’t choose between cheesecake and trifle, for instance, I am not awaiting the strength to act to develop an intention, but rather just awaiting an intention.

CP said...

Sorry ... that last 'anonymous' is just me posting too quickly.

Tad said...

I like your view, but what do you say to people who think the role of PAs in practical reasoning is central to their nature? How can a disposition be a premise in an inference?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, CP. I think the "language of thought" view fits nicely with a model of the mind as operating through the manipulation of representations in accordance with rules -- the classic early cognitivist view. I also think, as Fodor emphasizes, that it has a more natural account of our power, seemingly, to recombine elements of thoughts into endlessly many new combinations.

I used to think that there was enough overlap between the stereotypes for "believes that P" and "believes that 'I believe the P'" to give a neat little account of first person authority, but reflecting on cases like Juliet's has led me to more ambivalence about the issue. "Believes that 'I believe that P'" seems to involve the disposition to judge that P, but where that disposition to judge does not cohere with a broader body of believe-P-ish dispositions, the belief-belief also seems to become problematic or in-betweenish.

On the conscious formation of attitudes, I do find it somewhat amazing -- and I think it is salutory to find it somewhat amazing -- that such a broad range of dispositions can shift "all in a twinkling" as it were. But of course, as I emphasize in my forthcoming PPQ paper, often they don't. As to whether it is an "action"... well, that's a tricky question. It's in some ways action-like and in other ways not action-like. (I know that's a bit of a cop-out.)

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Tad: Yep, dispositions aren't premises. Propositions are. Or sentences. So inferring from P and P->Q to Q is not a matter of combining dispositions. For example, it can be done purely hypothetically, right?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

P.S. Tad: I know that's more of an answer-sketch than an answer. I'm not really satisfied with it either. I do think the linguistic-representation model has a considerably easier time with things like recombination and inference. It takes some effort to show how such things go on a dispositional approach.

T. said...

I have a problem with your terminology: I would emotional states like desire and emotions associated with interpersonal relations not call "attitudes". I use the therm "attitude" when refering to complex decision and valuation procedures after they have been schematized and turned into automatic routines. The use of such "attitudes" is that conscious processes like observing and thinking can focus on other, more suitable, issues and are less often disrupted, that unconscious processes are faster that conscious one's, that unconscious processes have full and fast access to sensorial informations and memories which would be difficult to access by the conscious processes. The drawbacks of such "attitudes" are the lack of permanent conscious supervision and that their adaption to shifted circumstances needs an excess-attention (1. turn the "attitudes" conscious again, 2. check the circumstances, 3. define appropriate modifications, 4. automatize these modified "attitudes"), which delays usefull adaptions. The formation and change of such "attitudes" depends on neurological flexibility, which depends on age, but is probably very high anyway.

Badda Being said...

@Eric @CP - Differences in dispositional stereotypes would account for conflicting intuitions about whether someone can be said truly to believe in something. And weak stereotyping would account for in-between believing. Yes no?

Badda Being said...

@T - Your use of 'attitude' appears to be homologous with Eric's use of 'belief': you separate out emotional states from attitudes the way he separates them out from beliefs, though in his case they are parsed from a general category (attitudes, i.e. dispositions)

Badda Being said...

@Eric - Your summary is excellent but might include the following points as foundational to the ones you've already listed:

1. All attitudes are dispositional; not all dispositions are attitudinal. Attitudes and dispositions are mediated by dispositional stereotypes as structural operators in attitude formation. An attitude is formed by counting dispositions under the banner of a stereotype that names it.

2. In any attitudinal system there are always dispositions that elude the operation of stereotypes; there can be no attitude that encompasses all dispositions.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the continuing comments, T & Badda.

T: Terminology is a pragmatic choice. I agree there are advantages and disadvantages to my choice.

Badda: Your first comments seems exactly right to me; I'm not sure enough about T's view to evaluate your second comment. On your third: I'm inclined to agree with it, with some caveats about what what "mediated" and "formed" mean in this particular context.

Anonymous said...

As I understand your view, one of its central tenets is that propositional attitudes are dispositions. Here is an argument against this tenet:

1) Dispositions are never causes.
2) Propositional attitudes are sometimes causes.
Ccl) Propositions are not dispositions.

The argument is clearly valid, and I take it that the 2nd premise is beyond dispute. So the only place that one can reasonably contest this argument is the first premise. I will allow that the first premise is somewhat controversial, but here is a line of argument in support of the first premise that I find persuasive. (The following is largely a paraphrase of Frank Jackson’s discussion of dispositional properties in From Metaphysics to Ethics, p.91-92.) Let us suppose that a particular vase is fragile, and let us furthermore suppose that fragility is a dispositional property (e.g. a disposition to break in certain circumstances). Suppose that the vase is dropped and shatters on the floor. Question: Did the vase’s fragility cause it to shatter? Answer: No. One can explain the fact that the vase shattered solely in terms of the (non-dispositional) physical properties of the vase (e.g. the bondings between the glass molecules), the physical properties of the floor, and the act of dropping. To claim that the disposition – fragility – served as an additional cause of the shattering would be explanatorily unnecessary, and would also commit one to a form of overdetermination – which many find metaphysically objectionable. If one finds this answer persuasive in the case of fragility, then presumably the answer generalizes to all dispositions: dispositions themselves are not causally efficacious; rather, their underlying categorical bases are causally efficacious.

I don’t pretend that this line of argument for 1) is incontestable, but I do think that it is extremely plausible. And if one accepts 1), this argument shows that propositional attitudes cannot be dispositions; rather, they are the categorical bases for (certain types of) dispositions.

Anonymous said...

Sorry - the conclusion of the argument in the previous comment should read: "propositional attitudes are not dispositions".

peter kirwan said...

Interesting post eric. For my benefit, would you mind briefly explaining how it helps with distinguishing implicit and explicit beliefs?

peter kirwan said...

or linking me to somewhere where you do

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for your comment, Anon! I put considerable thought into the issue about dispositions and causes when I developed my dispositional view of belief as a graduate student, though I have written little about it (relegating it to footnote 18 of my 2002 paper on belief). In summary, my view is this: To the extent 2 is undeniably true, it is in a sense such that 1 can be false. Conversely, if one insists on a metaphysics such that 1 is true, then it's no longer clear that 2 is incontrovertible. Beliefs "cause" behavior in the same way that the vase's fragility "causes" it to break or the aspirin's analgesic properties cause the remission of your pain.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Peter: I haven't published anything directly on the issue, though I see the case of Juliet in my forthcoming PPQ paper as pertinent to the topic.

The short version is: Implicit believing is always a type of in-between believing -- a type in which the person is not (or is not much) inclined to judge that P but does possess other important belief-that-P-ish dispositions. The implicit racist (Juliet) is the classic case. One might also have implicit values (or value beliefs): E.g., one's decisions might reflect an implicit valuing of work over family, despite one's sincere protestations that one thinks family is more important (another example from my forthcoming PPQ article).

CP said...

I think that when I asked for an explanation of others’ intuitions about belief, I really wanted to know how you account for the existence of cognitivists, etc., at all. The reference to the ‘language of thought’ was just a choice of a theory that seemed particularly distant from yours. If belief (among other things) is dispositional, why do so many people believe it isn’t and why are so many mistaken in this particular way (let’s stick with cognitivism)? What is it about the dispositions corresponding to beliefs that allow us to be led astray, and led in this particular direction? (As I said before, I don’t think that you have a philosophical duty to explain these theories just because you oppose them; I’d be interested, but unsurprised, if you had thoughts on the matter, though.)

Another brief point: philosophers often aim to change each other’s beliefs by exchanging thoughts (and rely on the contents of the thoughts to bring about the change, rather than the forms in which they are delivered). How do you explain how thought-contents change beliefs, if beliefs are dispositional (unless philosophers are doing it wrong)? Is the onus on the recipient of the thought to decide to alter the relevant beliefs?

peter kirwan said...

thanks, yes it comes back to me now. For some reason I was having some sort of temporary amnesia regarding the in between believing paper. Reading it shortly before the proposal exam probably didn't help.

I think your account of in between believing might be helpful with the most interesting cases of implicit believing which are cases like Juliet. What particularly interests me is that it could potentially allow us to collapse emotive Implicit Bias into cognitive Implicit Bias because the dispositions you allow include emotional responses. Not sure what the point of such a collapse might be, I'll get back to you on that.

Anyway, I also have some worries about a possibly counter intuitive consequence of saying that implicit beliefs are ‘always’ (as opposed to 'mostly' which I think is right) cases of in between believing. See what you think. Hopefully this is helpful and not just nitpicking.

Imagine that I am implicitly sexist but explicitly non sexist at T1 but then change my explicit views so that I am now explicitly sexist at T2. We don’t want to say my implicit bias disappears at T2 right? In short, I think, the existence of Explicit Belief X doesn’t imply the non existence of Implicit Belief X.

Given the rarity (i guess?) of such cases, it probably is nitpicking as all you need to do is say 'mostly' instead of 'always'.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

CP: I don't have a full answer to why people are drawn toward the cognitivist representational-kinematics ball-in-the-box view of belief. However, I do think that it is an appealing model (and metaphor) for clean cases; part of the problem, then, is taking the model (and metaphor) too realistically, i.e., reifying one's explanatory shortcuts.

As for changing beliefs: Sure, we do it all the time! Somehow -- often in a twinkling -- a broad range of dispositions can change upon the receipt of new information. I think it's salutary that we see this as somewhat amazing; and we should note that for our most important, life-involving, and habit-involving beliefs the change is often very incomplete.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks, Peter, that is helpful. I suppose by "implicit belief" I (implicitly!) meant "merely implicit belief" -- i.e., cases in which explicit endorsement is lacking.

peter kirwan said...

sure that works :)

There seem to me two types of instances where 'explicit endorsement is lacking.' from the difference between contraries and opposites. You're account will work for both i think but it does no harm to keep the distinction in mind lest it cause trouble later.

1) CONTRARY I have implicit belief that women should not work in leadership roles. I have the explicit belief that women should work in leadership roles if the individual in question is willing and able.

2) LOGICAL OPPOSITE: I have implicit belief that women should not work in leadership roles. I have no explicit beliefs on the subject.