Version: v1, Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 07, 2021, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/propositional-attitudes/v-1
1. Elementary distinctions
Propositional attitude ascriptions standardly take the form ‘X Fs that p’, where ‘X’ denotes the subject of the attitude, ‘F’ is a verb of propositional attitude, and ‘that p’ gives the content of the attitude. So, for example, in the sentence ‘John believes that snow is white’, ‘John’ denotes the subject of the attitude, ‘believes’ is the verb of propositional attitude, and ‘that snow is white’ gives the content of the attitude.
Taking the form of these ascriptions at face value, it is natural to suggest that a propositional attitude ascription of the form ‘X Fs that p’ is true just in case X is in a propositional attitude state of type F – a F-state – which has the content that p. So, for example, ‘John believes that snow is white’ is true just in case John is in a belief-state which has the content that snow is white; ‘Mary hopes that Sheila is happy’ is true just in case Mary is in a hope-state which has the content that Sheila is happy; and so on. More generally, it is natural to divide a discussion of propositional attitudes into two parts: one part which focuses on the nature of propositional attitude states – the difference between hoping, fearing, believing, wishing, and so on – and one part which focuses on propositional attitude contents – the difference between believing that snow is white, believing that snow is grey, believing that snow falls at night, and so forth.
It is plausible to think that belief and desire are the basic exemplars of two quite different kinds of attitudes, with characteristically different directions of fit. On the one hand, there are attitudes, like belief, which aim to fit the world – and, hence, which are important for theories of truth, impact of evidence, credence, and so on. And, on the other hand, there are attitudes, like desire, which aim to have the world fit them – and, hence, which are important for theories of value, virtue, wellbeing, and so on. Some philosophers think that all of the propositional attitudes can be explained in terms of beliefs and desires; they think that the apparent multiplicity of kinds of propositional attitudes is merely apparent – hope, for example, is a kind of desire about the future – and that direction of fit is the only fundamental dimension which needs to be considered in classifying the propositional attitudes.
Oppy, Graham. Elementary distinctions. Propositional attitudes, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V028-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/propositional-attitudes/v-1/sections/elementary-distinctions.
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