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Mind Readings with Nicole Rathgeb

At the next Mind Readings, scheduled for June 8, 12 o'clock noon, we will be discussing a new paper by dr. Nicole Rathgeb entitled How would you answer this question? Can dispositional analyses of belief account for first-person authority? Dr. Rathgeb, who is a visiting research fellow at the University of Hertfordshire, will be present at the online session and will provide a brief overview at the beginning of the session.


In the 20th century, several philosophers have advocated the theory that beliefs (and certain other mental phenomena) are dispositions (Ramsey 1926, Braithwaite 1933, Ryle 1949, Price 1969, De Sousa 1971, Barcan Marcus 1990, Cohen 1992, Rudder Baker 1995). This position was most famously advocated by Gilbert Ryle, according to whom ascriptions of beliefs are roughly equivalent to conjunctions of hypothetical statements of the form ‘If condition c were fulfilled, subject S would display behaviour b’ (Ryle 1949). One fundamental problem with dispositional analyses of beliefs is that they do not seem to be compatible with first-person authority about belief or, more generally, with the asymmetry between first-personal and third-personal statements of beliefs: People seem somehow to have a special access to their own beliefs or a unique capacity to state what their own beliefs are, which is missing in the case of their behavioural dispositions. To be sure, there are cases in which people may be said to be mistaken about their own beliefs, but any claim to this effect would demand an explanation (pertaining, e.g. to the unconscious, or to subconscious or repressed beliefs). As to their dispositions, on the other hand, it is perfectly normal for people to be wrong about them. A person may think that they would always defend their partner when the latter is unfairly criticised, but then, when the situation actually occurs, they are unable to bring themselves to step into the breach for them. Similarly, they may take themselves to be particularly patient (i.e. to have the disposition to stay relaxed in the face of delays, obtuseness and the like), when in fact they lose their temper quite easily. In this paper, I will try to show that it is possible to defend certain versions of the dispositional account of belief against this objection. The appearance to the contrary rests upon, on the one hand, a misconception of what first-person authority amounts to, and, on the other hand, a failure to take into account the logic of the relevant dispositional statements.

Please e-mail if you are interested in joining the online session. Notice that this will be a read-ahead session.

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