Belief & Desire : The Standard Model of Intentional Action — Critique and Defence

Abstract: The scheme of concepts we employ in daily life to explain intentional behaviour form a belief-desire model (BD model), in which motivating states are sorted into two suitably broad categories. The BD model embeds a philosophy of action, i.e. a set of assumptions about the ontology of motivation with subsequent restrictions on psychologising and norms of practical reason. A comprehensive critique of those assumptions and implications is offered in this work, and various criticisms of the model are met. The model’s predictive and explanatory value exploits realistic notions of beliefs and desires as inner states underlying behavioural patterns. It is argued that the popular explication that beliefs and desires differ in their “direction of fit” is insufficient and inescapably normative. Essential to the model is the causal role given to desires. ‘Desire’ is therefore focussed. A dispositional and functional characterisation of desires is compatible with an eliminative view of dispositions. These views taken together do not exclude regarding desires as causes. Desires have propositional content. Content is a feature of desire’s dispositionality, and thereby causally relevant. This functional characterisation of content allows for non-linguistic content. The phenomenal conception of desire is criticised and diagnosed. A theme defended in various ways throughout the work is that desires mostly are unknown to agents and that the agent is in a less privileged position when it comes to analysis of his own motivational states, than e.g. people close to him. There are formal and empirical reasons to be pessimistic about agents’ abilities to make reliable predictions about their own intentional behaviour. The BD model’s concept of ‘intention’ is discussed and compared with non-reductive views of intentions (which are criticised). Criticisms of the common view that David Hume defends a BD model are presented, but it is argued that the BD interpretation of Hume is plausible, although this reading requires important qualifications in order to preserve internal consistency. The BD model leaves room for focussing attention, making foregrounded practical judgements, higher order desiring and other activities affecting one’s decision process. However, these various forms of deliberation in many cases are overrated. Three suggested norms of internal structural rationality are criticised in favour of simple Humean instrumentalism about practical reason. That position implies that criticism of other people’s ultimate ends is not a matter of internal rationality, but an inevitably social practice; it is dependent upon our concern for others, our view of their social roles and our own intrinsic desires.