Individualism in Social Science: Forms and Limits of a Methodology

By Rajeev Bhargava | Go to book overview

5
The Social Dimension of Meaning

For the intentionalist, action has to be explained in terms of beliefs and desires.1 About beliefs, the intentionalist makes three essential claims. First, that they exist. Secondly, that they exist only as internal states of individuals. Finally, that they necessarily have a representational content. The first claim implies that the intentionalist is opposed to any form of eliminativism concerning beliefs. On the intentionalist view, a theory must be mistaken if it dismisses talk of beliefs as mere linguistic practice, construes it as a conceptual strategy that systematizes and predicts what humans say and do, or reduces them to brain states. The second claim brings in the crucial individualist assumption. If beliefs are mental attitudes, they exist exclusively as states internal to the individual. They cannot be embedded in actions or more generally in practices. The third feature, the crucial property of an intentional state, is that it is directed towards an object and therefore possesses a representational content. Unlike a state of pain, a belief must be about something. Secondly, a difference exists between its representational content and the object to which it is directed, a distinction that highlights its referential opacity.

This claim about the representational content of beliefs can be read in at least three different ways. First, that beliefs have a content independent of the linguistic structure wherein they are expressed and can be known by introspection; by direct, immediate acquaintance. Secondly, that they have a content that necessarily possesses a propositional format. Belief- content has a syntactically meaningful structure. There is no difference, on this view, between belief-content and propositional content. It is analytic to the notion of belief that it be a propositional attitude. A third possible view is that, whatever its nature, belief-content is objectively grasped only through its linguistic content, so that the only available option is to treat it as though it has a propositional form. I believe this to be fairly uncontroversial. Indeed, I assume that no difference exists

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1
Henceforth I shall refer only to beliefs and assume that what applies to them generally applies to other intentional states. I take differences within intentional states to be irrelevant for present purposes.

-171-

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