Second order dispositions; or beliefs about beliefs


Any of you who read seed of reason may have noticed my poor conduct in defaming the character of Barnaby Dawson. I do sincerely apologise for my misbehaviour. I am a man of principles and academic family values, and I committed the fallacy of argumentum ad hominem. I also made a possible strawman misrepresentation of Mr. Dawson. For that. I most sincerely apologise. 


My intention at attacking Barnaby’s intentions was this: we should be good naturalists, or, what I should mean by that, is to look at the world in as universal, general and consistently as possible. If we posit the existence of Px, we should be concerned with Pa, Pb, and so on.  Furthermore, if we are to make a comment about Pa (minor premiss), it is certainly a comment about Px (major premiss). I thought Barnaby was saying something of the form Pa à Px; where Pa may not have been legitimate to have claimed Px; for, a counterexample, say Xa, may have denied the generality of Px on the basis of Pa.

Perhaps my elementary propositional logic is ill used here.  When we say that a certain thing is metaphysically real; we must consider things of a similar family. When we talk of properties; we must ask what kind of properties? We may talk of a property ‘red’ existing, and we may say ‘RED EXISTS’ we may express the proposition x (Rx)[1]; however, we may want to make an ontological claim about the nature of properties genera. So we may say: 

i.                     Red is a property[2] 

ii.                    Red exists

iii.                  If red exists, then properties exist through the transitive relation

iv.                  Properties exist 

Why properties are problematic

 Properties are a very murky area of metaphysics; there are all sorts of things we have to consider; morality is the least of our concerns; we need to justify our cognitive import in our ontology (otherwise we entertain a purely a prioristic or Kantian psychological approach to metaphysics, which, in a way, isn’t really metaphysics [in the case of the latter]). I would like to just sketch out a very odd example of a property for the rest of this piece; which re-iterates my position that talk of properties (whether moral, doxtastic, semantic, ontic) should not be undertaken casually. I admit to committing this fallacy; but this is a humble hypocrisy.  

Dispositions/or beliefs 

The term disposition is a very difficult one to use; so I shall use the term ‘belief’ assuming that what is said of the latter has applications to the former. Belief is a very odd thing to have in our ontology; I suppose if we are a naturalist/materialist; we would like to say they supervene, or reduce, to corresponding brainstates, or are explained error-theoretically by proper science, which denies the truth of our most fundamental intuition such as “I love Kant”, in terms of hormonal imbalances, and causal ancestry to explain away why any given agent explains the construction of this intuition we call belief. Despite whether we can or cannot reduce or explain away this queer thing called belief.

Lets complicate matters even further. Sometimes we can have beliefs ABOUT beliefs (or dispositions about dispositions): here are a few candidates: 

i.                     Daniel Dennett’s so-called “belief in belief in God”

ii.                    Second order desires:

a.        The desire to NOT desire to smoke

b.       The desire to want to fall in love (the latter being a desire in itself) 

Further thoughts 

  1. We MUST enter this kind of proposition which allows for dispositions about dispositions into our ontology; we obviously have examples in the world of where we desire a desire, or want to believe a belief.
  2. Do second order dispositions, or second order properties lead to a Bradley Regress? Where a relation is needed to import or explain the two or more connecting atoms of the proposition
  3. Corollary: are second order beliefs one order too many?
  4. Are beliefs (first order) themselves too queer to add into our ontology? We cannot directly map them through natural kinds EXCEPT through supervenient isomorphic reduction; maybe we should abandon this folk concept (a la Churchland) in favour of a more scientific approach.

 These are all very difficult issues.  

Destre [Michael’s edit: argument simplified and truncated]

[1] Where R is the predicating term for the unspecified entity, x

[2] Universal is a synonymous term; I’m not so much interested in defining the domain of ‘properties’ in so short a post as this


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