I'm working again on the nature of belief. Increasingly, I find myself drawn to be explicit about my pragmatist approach to the metaphysics of attitudes.
Sometimes the world divides into neat types -- neat enough that you can more or less just point your science at it and straightforwardly sort the As from the Bs. Sometimes instead the world is fuzzy-bordered, full of intermediate cases and cases where plausible criteria conflict. When the world is the latter way, we face antecedently unclear cases. Antecedently unclear cases are, or can be, decision points. Do you want to classify this thing as an A or a B? Would there be some advantage in thinking of the category of "A" so that it sweeps in that case? Or is it better to think of "A" in a way that excludes that case or leaves it intermediate? Such decisions can reflect, often do at least implicitly reflect, our interests and values. Such decisions can also shape, often do at least implicitly shape, future outcomes and values, influencing both how we think about that particular type of case and how we think about As in general.
Pragmatic metaphysics is metaphysics done with these thoughts explicitly in mind. For instance: There are lots of ways of thinking about what a person is. Usually, the cases are antecedently clear: You are a person, I am a person, this coffee mug is not a person. But some interesting cases are intermediate or break in different directions depending on what criteria are emphasized: a fetus, a human without much cortex, a hypothetical conscious robot, a hypothetical enhanced chimpanzee. There is no settled fact about what exactly the boundaries of personhood are. We can choose to think of personhood in a way that includes or excludes such cases or leaves them intermediate -- and in doing so we both express and buttress certain values, for example, about what sorts of being deserve the highest level of moral consideration.
The human mind is a complex and fuzzy-bordered thing, right at the center of our values. Because it is complex and fuzzy-bordered, there will be lots of antecedently unclear cases. Because it is central to our values, how we classify such cases matters. Does being happy require feeling happy? Is compassion that doesn't privilege its object as irreplaceably special still love? Our classification decisions here aren't compelled by the phenomena. Instead, we can decide. What range of phenomena deserve such important labels as "happiness" and "love"? We might think of metaphysical battles over the definitions of those terms as political battles between philosophers with different visions and priorities, for control of our common disciplinary language.
At the center of my interest in belief are a set of antecedently unclear cases in which one intellectually assents to a proposition (e.g., "death is not bad", "women are just as intelligent as men") but fails to act and react generally as though that proposition is true (e.g., quakes with fear on the battlefield, treats most women as stupid). The pragmatic metaphysical question is: How should we classify such cases? What values are expressed in saying, about such cases, that we really do or really do not believe what we say we believe? What vision of the world manifests in these different ways of speaking, what projects are supported, what phenomena rendered more and less visible?
Against Intellectualism About Belief (July 31, 2015)