Discussion On Bence Nanay’s Critique Of The Belief Desire Model

In this paper, I am going to give one of Bence Nanay’s critique of the belief desire model. I will further discuss extensively whether his perceptual based account has met the challenge he posed against the belief desire model by giving sufficient examples.

I will first begin by explaining the argument made by Davidson about the belief desire model. Davidson’s contention is that we rationalize an action by specifying the person’s intention, we specify that a person did something because he desired such and such and believed that by doing s, they would bring about what they desired. When Davidson talks about intention, he mainly mean intentional actions. They are intentional because to have an intention is to have a reason. Our reasons for an action are based on our pro attitudes: mental state we are in when we are acting to explain a reason for an action you must know the pro attitude, which include (wants, desires, morals, urges, views, aesthetic principles and economic prejudices). Knowing that action is of the pro attitude kind causes a primary reason, because primary reasons are composed of belief and desires, they do not themselves refer to distinct entities such as acts of will. In asking why a person did such and such, we want to be given a reason that not only justifies their action but tells us for which reason he actually did it, for he might have had the justificatory reason and acted. The belief desire model states that our pro attitude motivates us to convert sensory input to motor output.

Davidson wants to explain that if you stand up from your bed and go to the bathroom, you have to know the pro attitude which is an urge and you have to believe that or know the action of that kind. The primary reason is the cause of our actions. For all our actions there is a casual explanation, for all actions there is a rational cause, a cause that is reasonable, logical, consistent and coherent. A question of the mind that is as general as it gets: what mediates between sensory input and motor output? An answer made by the belief desire model is that our beliefs and desires mediate between the two. Here is a sufficient example to explain this claim, when you look out of the window and see that it is raining outside. You form a belief that it is raining outside, you then have a belief not to get wet and this together with my further belief that the best way to avoid getting wet is by carrying an umbrella. This intention then triggers my action of taking my umbrella. On this model, it is beliefs and desires that mediate between sensory input and motor output. This is the belief desire model. It has been subjected to various attacks. What is strange here is that animals and infants who cannot speak perceive and perform actions, should we assume then that each time they perform a perceptually guided action, they go through the appropriate beliefs and desires. This would according to Bence Nanay over intellectualize the mind. To further argue this claim most of our actions are likely the same as animals. When we tie our shoelaces or brush our teeth, these actions are unlikely to be mediated by propositional attitudes like beliefs and desires: there various alternatives to the belief desire model when it comes to what mediate between sensory input and motor output. Nanay argues that the belief desire model fails to give a holistic picture of the mind. He based his claim on the icing and cake argument. He states that there are two approaches to understanding the human mind. Firstly we take our sophisticated, highly intellectual, rational and linguistic mental capabilities to be pragmatic and try to understand how minds work by focusing on them.

Another way of understanding the human mind is by emphasizing the continuity between human and animal minds, it focuses on the simpler mental capabilities that non-human animals also possess: those mental processes that make it possible for us to perform actins successfully example would be to put food in the mouth or to get around without bumping into things. The aim here is to show that the vast majority of what happens in our minds is similar to the mental processes of animals. Our complex, sophisticated ideas can be described as the icing of the cake. Although the icing is what makes the cake look good. We should try to understand the cake without the icing, meaning we should understand those simple mental capacities that we share with animals first before focusing on the uniquely distinct capacities. The human mind, like the mind of non-human animals has been selected for allowing us to perform actions successfully and the vast majority of our actions could be performed without perceptual guidance. The claim here is that the mental state that mediate between sensory input and motor output is the building block of the human mind. He calls mental state of this kind pragmatic representation. Nanay argues that pragmatic representation mediate between sensory input and motor input. It is pragmatic representation that makes it for you to pick up something from the floor or pick up an apple. Pragmatic representation are at first approximation, the representational component of the immediate mental antecedent of action. They can be said to be of genuine perceptual state. The immediate mental antecedents of action are what make actions genuine actions. In space of beliefs and desires, Nanay introduces a special kind of mental state. He calls this special kind of mental state. Pragmatic representation are perceptual state, arising in response to sensory stimulation and they are the cognitive component of the immediate mental antecedent of action. Although necessary for the performance of an action, pragmatic representation are not sufficient. A conative function/component that moves to act is also necessary. Nanay does not discuss the conative component in detail, so it is kind of hard to tell how this component compares to desires. Pragmatic representation are often said not to be accessible to introspection and they tell us about action properties the representation of which is necessary for the performance of an action. Action properties are often said to be fairly mundane, such as the size of an object as it relates to one’s capacity to lift it, and the location of an object as it relates to the agent who interacts with it. Action properties are relational properties ascribed to an outside entity. Pragmatic representation can be said to have a lot in common with beliefs. Firstly they are representational states, states that represent the world as being some way. They also have accuracy conditions and content. Unlike beliefs, they lack linguistic, rational, and syntactic structure. If one conceives of propositions as syntactically structured, then pragmatic representations also lack propositional content.

Nanay’s proposal is that pragmatic representations should replace beliefs and desires as the basic building block of our mind. For examples, when we explain how I tied my shoelaces we can just appeal to my perception of, say, the size, weight and spatial location of the shoelaces. Pragmatic representation do not have syntactic structure: in this sense, they are not propositional and some philosophers may not like this characterization of perception. Actions are intended by Nanay to be different from both adaptive behaviors such as reflexes and from movement. Nanay take himself to follow philosophical tradition in supposing that the difference between an action and a movement is that there is a mental state type, call it M that makes actions, actions. If our bodily movement is triggered by M, It is an action, it is not an action. So actions differ from movement because they are triggered, guided or accompanied by a mental state.

As said before the belief desire model fails to give a holistic picture of the mind. Things are going to get interesting moving forward. Let’s say you take something you want to take, you can explain that thing from an antropolitivism, that means the way that phenomenon is written to human being. You can give a cultural explanation, you can also give a chemical explanation. If you have an account that explains anything from all the perspective in which that phenomenon can be explained from, that account is said to give a holistic picture. Holistic means complete and whole. What Nanay is saying is that the belief desire model only gives maybe half or quarter but not a whole picture of how the mind can be explained. This is antecedent because we can explain the human mind from two main perspectives. The first perspective is to take what distinguish us from other animals, which is basically mental cognitive and linguistic capacities. We can talk, we can think, argue and so forth. We have this intellectual capacity and explain the human mind. The second perspective is to look at what is common between human beings and every other animal, explain that, then you can move forward to explaining things that we have which they have. According to Nanay, philosopher are often motivated to take the first perspective because they feel like the human mind is special, the human mind is different. Different because it can remember concepts, of language and intellectual capacity. So it is significantly different from all the minds. it is different from a goats mind, cat and dog mind because of this intellectual capacity and so philosophers are motivated to want to explain the human mind in that perspective.

The main point the belief desire model raise is why are we acting? It mainly because of the desires, high intellectual things which we have. Obviously we cannot explain animal actions by saying it is rational. You can’t say they have a desire or belief. Those are linguistic component that animals don’t have. So Nanay is saying, it is better to explain the human mind from this second perspective which is looking at the commonality between animal life and human life, look at the common factor between them and explain it. Whereas the belief desire model, Davidson and the other guys are saying that this is the human mind and that is the animal mind, so they create a distinction between the two. Nanay is saying look at the common factor between human minds and animal minds. It gives you a window of how the mind works.

The belief desire model on the other hand is saying forget the common factor. What makes the human mind special, which the animal mind lacks and that is what Davidson have tried to explain. So what is Nanay’s argument? We don’t have any reason to accept that, the mind is the mind because of its linguistic capacities. You can for example imagine a community of the dumb and deff, just imagine that they don’t have contact with the outside world. Would their mind be any different from ours? I don’t think so. Now let us suppose that they are also blind. Their mind won’t be any different from ours that is what Nanay is trying to achieve from his perceptual based model. Our minds are not different from those of animals. Furthermore if pragmatic representations are not perceptual state then we have the same thing that is happening in the belief desire model but if they are perceptual state then there is no induction. Everything happens within your perceptual state. Everything happens in accordance to perception. Now the challenge is this, if pragmatic representation are perceptual state then we should not be able to act.

13 January 2020
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