Monday, 4 October 2010

Introducing: Felicity Conditions

Beliefs, and desires are widely regarded as examples of propositional attitudes; relational mental states connecting a person to a proposition. Examples of propositions include: “It is raining outside”, and “I will leave work at 2pm”. Examples of propositional attitudes include: believing that it is raining outside, and desiring that I will leave work at 2pm. As their name suggests, propositional attitudes are typically conceived of as being made up of two components: a proposition, which may either be true or false, and an attitude or mode of entertaining that proposition. I have reservations about the claim that beliefs and desires always involve relations between persons and propositions. I hold that on at least some occasions, they may involve relations between persons and actual objects or states of affairs. However, I will not argue for that conclusion here. Instead, I will simply adopt the standard philosophical practice of describing beliefs and desires as propositional attitudes.

Let us say that the proposition, “I will leave work at 2pm” is true just in case I do leave work at 2pm, and false otherwise. According to the standard view, I may both believe that I will leave work at 2pm and desire that I will leave work at 2pm. Thus, both beliefs and desires are attitudes that may be taken towards a proposition—i.e., a truth-value bearing item. However, while the belief that I will leave work at 2pm is ordinarily deemed true when the proposition, “I will leave work at 2pm”, is true, and ordinarily deemed false when the aforementioned proposition is false; the desire that I will leave work at 2pm is not ordinarily deemed true when the proposition “I will leave work at 2pm” is true, nor is it ordinarily deemed false when the aforementioned proposition is false. In fact, the categories of truth and falsity are not ordinarily taken to have application to desires.

If the preceding observation regarding desires is right, then it does not follow from the fact that the content of a propositional attitude (which we are, for the purposes of the present blog post, assuming to be a proposition) has a truth-value that the attitude itself has a truth-value. We may accommodate this claim by distinguishing between the correctness-conditions of the propositional content of a propositional attitude and the correctness-conditions of the attitude itself. Hence, we may say that while the propositional content of a desire has truth-conditions, the desire itself does not. In this regard, desires differ from beliefs, since both the propositional content of a belief and the belief itself may be true or false.

In order to avoid confusion, it would be helpful to have different terms to refer to the correctness-conditions of the content of a propositional attitude and the correctness-conditions of the attitude itself. Since we are assuming that the content of all propositional attitudes are propositions, and since all propositions have truth-conditions, let us refer to the correctness-conditions of the propositional content of a propositional attitude as the truth-conditions of the propositional attitude. Moreover, let us refer to the correctness-conditions of the attitude itself as the felicity-conditions of the propositional attitude. The distinction between truth-conditions and felicity-conditions will provide us with the theoretical machinery we need to characterise the aforementioned contrast between beliefs and desires; namely, that although both beliefs and desires have truth-value bearing propositional content, only the former is ordinarily conceived of as being either true or false. We may say that in the case of beliefs, the felicity-conditions of the attitude are identical to the truth-conditions of the attitude's propositional content. Thus, not only is the propositional content of the belief true or false, but so is the belief itself.

It is not part of our ordinary linguistic practice to talk about the propositional content of a propositional attitude. The notion of propositional content is a theoretical one. Hence, it seems plausible that when we ordinarily talk about beliefs being true or false, we have their felicity-conditions (i.e., the correctness-conditions of the attitude) in mind. This assumption would also go some way towards explaining why we do not ordinarily conceive of desires as being true or false. While the propositional content of a desire has a truth-value, the desire itself does not. Thus, the felicity-conditions of a desire—if it has felicity-conditions at all—are not identical to the truth-conditions of its propositional content. Since our ordinary intuitions about which propositional attitudes have a truth-value track the propositional attitude's felicity-conditions (rather than the truth-conditions of its propositional content), the fact that the felicity-conditions of desire are not identical to the truth-conditions of its propositional content would explain why we do not ordinarily conceive of desires as true or false.

To recap, we have distinguished between the truth-conditions of a propositional attitude and the felicity-conditions of a propositional attitude. The former, we have identified with the correctness-conditions of the propositional content of a propositional attitude and the latter we have identified with the correctness-conditions of the attitude itself. Moreover, we noted that our ordinary intuitions about which propositional attitudes are true or false seem to correspond with the felicity-conditions of a propositional attitude, rather than with the truth-conditions of its propositional content.

2 comments:

cleverphilosophyblogname said...

Hi,
If I follow, a belief's truth-conditions (a species of attitude correctness-conditions) piggyback on the truth conditions of its propositional content, while a desire's felicity conditions are sui-generis correctness-conditions.

However, what would you say about the relations between beliefs and pro-attitudes (e.g., admiration for Richard Nixon). If I come to believe that RN is undermining the constitutions, then how does this or can this have an inferential impact on my admiration? Is it that part of the correctness conditions of pro-attitudes (admiring RN) have to be inferential commitments to beliefs about RN (that he loves the Constitution).
But if we admit that the pro-attitude is partly constituted by an inferential connection to a belief which may affirm a proposition that is true or false, why not, for at least certain robust, "thick" pro-attitudes like admiration and loathing (and not, say, desiring a drink of water) that they have correctness-conditions of the propositional content of a propositional attitude? That is, cut out the middle man--the belief.

Also, when you say "I have reservations about the claim that beliefs and desires always involve relations between persons and propositions. I hold that on at least some occasions, they may involve relations between persons and actual objects or states of affairs." I wholeheartedly agree.

It seems you're back after a long hiatus. I hope you continue some more.
Eric

AVERY ARCHER said...

Thanks for the feedback, Eric. I had not given much thought to the attitude of admiration, so I'm thankful you called it to my attention.

First off, by way of response to your question, the distinction that is most salient to my project is one between theoretical and practical propositional attitudes. Complications aside, the former refers to propositional attitudes that feature in belief-yielding normative transitions and the latter refers to propositional attitudes that feature in intention-yielding normative transitions. Moreover, the distinction between theoretical and practical propositional attitudes does not map unto the distinction between pro-attitudes and whatever the relevant comparison class to pro-attitudes is supposed to be. For example, while desire (which is typically conceived of as a type of "pro-attitude") is a practical propositional attitude, I am inclined to think that admiration (which many would also regard as a "pro-attitude") is a theoretical propositional attitude. Hence, there is nothing in my view that commits me to saying that the felicity-conditions of admiration, if it has felicity-conditions at all, are different from the truth-conditions of its propositional content. I am only really interested in making this claim about practical propositional attitudes.