If contemporary analytic philosophers are to believed, "propositional attitudes" are a central feature of mentality, perhaps the central feature. What is a propositional attitude? It is a mental state like belief, desire, intention, hope, fear, etc., that can take a full proposition -- speaking loosely, a sentence -- as its complement. I can believe that grass is green. I can desire that we eat cookies. I can hope that aliens will rescue us soon. The mainstream view is that human action arises from the confluence of our beliefs, desires, intentions, and other attitudes.
Now there's a funny thing about how philosophers discuss propositional attitudes. When we list the canonical propositional attitudes we always seem to list belief first. Why is that? Is belief more propositional or more psychologically important an attitude than desire or intention? Not according to conventional wisdom. Also, desire always seems to be listed second. After that, it's a grab bag.
This is not just a quirk of conventional linguistic ordering. Philosophers studying propositional attitudes also typically analyze belief first and most centrally, desire secondarily if at all, and other attitudes only haphazardly. The literature in philosophy of language on "propositional attitude reports" (i.e., sentences like "Lois believes Superman is strong") is especially striking in almost always using only belief examples. The Stanford Encyclopedia entry on Propositional Attitude Reports might be typical. A search within the page yields 183 hits for "belief", 169 hits for "believe", and 2 hits for "desire". The two occurrences of "desire" are not examples of desire reports, but rather gestures toward an interest in propositional attitude reports generally, including desire.
This monomaniacal focus on belief despite an advertised general interest in propositional attitudes seems, on the face of it, likely to be distortive. Things might go differently, in some ways, for belief than for other propositional attitudes. It's risky to generalize from a narrow range of cases, especially if other people in your subfield are also generalizing from the same narrow range.
I thought it might be fun to quantify this "belief first" distortion. So I set up a grudge match between belief and desire in philosophical work on propositional attitudes. Belief enters, of course, as the heavy favorite.
Here's what I did. I downloaded all the entries in Philosopher's Index that included "propositional attitude*" in a keyword/title/abstract search. Within those entries, I looked for appearances of "belief*", "believe*", and "desire*". (I needed only one search term for "desire*" since same word serves as both verb and noun; the asterisk is a truncation symbol.) If both "belief*"/"believe*" and "desire*" appeared in the same entry, I recorded which term appeared first.
Here are the results. The total number of "propositional attitude" entries was 616. Of these, 382 contained neither "belief*"/"believe*" nor "desire*" in the keywords/title/abstract. (Most of these will presumably discuss belief and/or desire in the body, but the abstract is framed more, shall we say, abstractly.) Of the 234 entries that mentioned either belief or desire, 182 (78%) only mentioned belief, 13 (6%) only mentioned desire, and 39 (17%) mentioned both belief and desire. Among the 39 mentioning both belief and desire, belief appeared first in all 39 cases.
Final score: belief 221, desire 13. Belief wins, with blood on the moon! Tim Schroeder, time to get back to work!