In response to problems surrounding the ascription of beliefs, Daniel Dennett developed his essay True Believers, where he outlined an intentionalist theory. My intent in this paper is to explain his ideas and defend on of his presuppositions, namely, that most of what people believe is true. First I will briefly explain intentionalism and point out why Dennett feels that his syst3em is so useful. Then I will explain the necessary pretension that most beliefs ascribed are true and explain the validity of that position in greater detail.
With a more concise explanation it will then become clear that Dennetts position is not as implausible as it may seem. With both Identity and Functionalist theories in the mainstream, Dennett attempts to provide a better explanation of the mid- one which is neither too rigid nor too broad. Dennetts method involves two main parts, the first being attribution of particular beliefs X would have in its given situation. The possible attributed beliefs are notably quite a bit greater in volume than the somewhat fleeing metaphysical or cosmological ones, which immediately spring to mind.
Not only do these beliefs include every minor detail our X may have stored in memory, but also every desire they may have, such as the desire to eat if they are hungry (founded upon the desire to satisfy their hunger and the belief that eating will ease that desire). Secondly, it must be assumed that our subject is what Dennett calls a rational agent.. Meaning, simply that X will act upon some internal connection between its beliefs and desires.
That faculty of reason does not need be as developed as in the Vulcan sense, but must show some connection between beliefs and desires along the lines of desires based on beliefs and action based on desires. Moreover, one could not begin to try and predict the behaviour of an irrational being unless it is on the basis of why it is acting irrationally or why it is broken. Through this stance Dennett can treat almost any given subject as an intentional one, down to the beanbag chair, which has the desire to mould itself to my body when I sit on it.
However, it is the subject of another paper to distinguish between subjects, which truly possess belief, and those that do not. Previously I have described the necessary premise that most ascribed beliefs must be true, and now I will attempt to defend the validity of that point. Dennett, makes his own argument in this case immediately. Foremost, beliefs included in this statement include so many minute details which the question of whether people believe them or not seems meaningless.
One could go on for hours merely describing themselves, without delving into the hotly debated issues of whether abortion is right or wrong. Although questionable beliefs are the most active in our minds they are not the most numerous. Secondly, Dennett defends himself be describing false beliefs as being rooted in true ones. Case in point, if one falsely believes that the home team lost the game last night, that belief may be based on the fact that a friend had misinformed him, though s/he believed that friend often read the newspaper in the morning, paid attention to the sports page, and had no reason to lie.
Our subject would hardly believe the friend if they were known liar. Even a grander question such as whether there is a God or not may, at least initially, be rooted in the belief that ones parents are always right and if those who are always right tell you that God does not exist, solid deductive reasoning leads to atheism. Here I will suggest that even those false beliefs are regarded as truths which would still provide a rational motivation for action- keeping Dennetts thesis sound.