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Davidson on Believers

Can Non-Linguistic Creatures Have Propositional Attitudes?

Adina Roskies

Donald Davidson has argued that only language-users can have propositional at- Author
titudes. His strongest argument in support of this claim is one that links having
propositional attitudes to language via a concept of belief. Here I consider various
Adina Roskies
possible interpretations of this argument, looking first at the canonical conception
adina.l.roskies@dartmouth.edu
of a concept of belief from the Theory of Mind literature, then at a weaker notion
of the concept of belief corresponding to a conception of objective reality, and fi - Dartmouth College
nally at an intermediate notion involving the ability to attribute mental states. I Hanover, NH, U.S.A.
argue that under each of these various interpretations, analysis and appeal to em-
pirical evidence from developmental and comparative psychology shows the Dav- Commentator
idsonian argument to be unsound. Only on a reading of the argument that slides
between different interpretations of concept of belief are all the premises true, Ulrike Pompe-Alama
but in that case the argument is invalid. I conclude that Davidson doesnt provide ulrike.pompe-alama@philo.uni-
sufficient reason to deny that non-linguistic creatures can have propositional atti- stuttgart.de
tudes. Universitt Stuttgart
Stuttgart, Germany
Keywords
Belief | Capacity | Concept | False belief test | Language | Non-linguistic | Pro- Editors
positional attitudes | Rationality | Thought | Truth
Thomas Metzinger
metzinger@uni-mainz.de
Johannes Gutenberg-Universitt
Mainz, Germany

Jennifer M. Windt
jennifer.windt@monash.edu
Monash University
Melbourne, Australia

1 Introduction

More often than not, great divides have been other claims about the uniqueness of humans
postulated between humans and other animals: have been shown to be untrue or only half-true.
it has variously been maintained that only hu- Recently, in response to philosophical and em-
mans have souls; that only humans laugh; that pirical work, there has there been significant
only humans play; that only humans are ra- political pushback. For example, the Great Ape
tional. The status of these claims is not merely Project (http://www.projetogap.org.br/en/)
of theoretical interest: human exceptionalism aims to establish great apes as persons with re-
has long been used to justify or discount arbit- cognized legal rights. Whether we should stand
rary and often inhumane treatment of animals, behind such a project or other less ambitious ef-
including the abuses perpetrated in factory forts to treat animals as entities with moral
farms and the devastation of habitats for hu- worth depends at least in part on what kind of
man gain. While the issue of the soul is beyond capacities they have, both cognitive and affect-
empirical confirmation or disconfirmation, many ive.
Roskies, A. (2015). Davidson on Believers - Can Non-Linguistic Creatures Have Propositional Attitudes?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 33(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570337 1 | 16
www.open-mind.net

Here I combat a philosophically prominent having language is an enabling condition for


claim of human uniqueness: Donald Davidsons having propositional attitudes. Since only hu-
famous argument that only humans can think. mans have language, it follows that only hu-
In the light of the complex cognitive activities mans have propositional attitudes.2 Thus, his
of which animals are clearly capable, one might main argument against animal thought is:
think this patently untrue. However, Davidson
means by this not that animals have no cognit- P1 If something has propositional attitudes,
ive capacities at all, but that nonhuman anim- then it has language.
als cannot have beliefs, desires, and other pro- P2 Animals dont have language.
positional attitudes. What the thesis does is set C Animals dont have propositional attitudes.
animal cognition apart from human cognition as
a different natural kind, due to radically differ- The logic here is unassailable: if P1 and
ent representation schemes (see also arguments P2 can be established then the conclusion that
in Malcolm 1972). This is not a straw man, but animals lack propositional attitudes follows.
an interesting and challenging thesis. In critic- For Davidson, having language is having the
ally evaluating the arguments Davidson ability to speak (1984, p. 167, 2001a, p. 99),
provides in light of empirical evidence from de- to express ones thoughts, and to understand
velopmental psychology and ethology, insight the speech and propositional attitudes of oth-
can be gained into the nature of the relation- ers. It is generally accepted that nonhuman
ship between thought and language. Despite its animals dont have this ability, despite some
prima facie plausibility, I conclude that in light evidence that certain birds and higher mam-
of contemporary studies from human and an- mals have some nontrivial linguistic abilities
imal cognition, arguments for restricting pro- (Kaminski et al. 2004; Pepperberg 2000; Sav-
positional attitudes to humans fail.1 The im- age-Rumbaugh 1986). Therefore, we will grant
plications of this result could be far-reach- P2.3 The success of this argument denying
ing. Language as a cognitive ability has held a propositional attitudes to nonhumans there-
special status in analytic philosophy, where it is fore rests on the ability to establish P1,
often assumed to be foundational to thought namely the claim that having propositional at-
and cognition. Rethinking the role of language titudes requires language. In this paper I con-
as a cognitive newcomer and possibly in large sider the various avenues by which Davidson
part a cognitive overlay resting atop a toolbox tries to establish P1, for his arguments make
of already-powerful cognitive abilities may lead contact with a broad range of research con-
us to rethink a number of fundamental issues in cerning mind and language, and serve as a
philosophy, as well as to reconsider our cognit- good guide to attempts to link propositional
ive and ethical relationship to the rest of the attitudes to language. I begin by situating
natural world. This critique of Davidson is illus- Davidsons arguments in his larger theoretical
trative of Dennetts caution: context, and raise a few methodological wor-
ries about his approach. I then briefly con-
[p]hilosophy of psychology driven by the sider some of his minor arguments, before
concerns of philosophy of language does turning to his strongest argument linking pro-
not fall happily into place. (Dennett positional attitudes to language. I argue that
1987b, p. 204) on the most plausible consistent readings of
2 Davidson equates thought with propositional attitudes. He famously
The various arguments Davidson supplies for expresses his denial of propositional attitudes to nonhuman animals
thinking that humans are unique in having pro- as the claim that animals cant think. See Davidson (2001a). Here I
focus upon arguments found in his 1975 paper Thought and Talk,
positional attitudes all rest upon the idea that and his later paper Rational Animals.
3 Another reason for focusing on P1 rather than is that finding
1 However, some very interesting and very recent (currently unpub- counterexamples to P2 will at most make room to usher specific spe-
lished) work by Susan Carey calls into question the interpretation of cies into the thought-capable fold, but will not challenge Davidsons
some of the extant pro-propositional attitude empirical work. argument directly.

Roskies, A. (2015). Davidson on Believers - Can Non-Linguistic Creatures Have Propositional Attitudes?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 33(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570337 2 | 16
www.open-mind.net

his arguments, one or another premise can be ments that stem from his interpretationist
empirically falsified. I conclude by considering philosophy.5 In general, interpretationist
how to proceed to better understand the strategies answer the following three questions
nature and limitations of animal thought. simultaneously: In virtue of what does a
creature have propositional attitudes?,
2 Initial considerations which propositional attitudes do they have?
and when is one justified in attributing these
2.1 Propositional attitudes attitudes to a creature? According to inter-
pretationism, a creature has propositional at-
A creature is said to have a propositional atti- titudes in virtue of being interpretable; the
tude when she stands in some appropriate rela- most coherent, charitable interpretation that
tion (i.e., hoping, wanting, fearing, believing, accurately (or accurately enough) predicts be-
etc.) to a proposition.4 What propositional atti- havior is the justified interpretation; and the
tudes are, and who may enjoy them, may well contents of that interpretation serve to de-
be influenced by what one takes propositions to termine the contents of the creatures proposi-
be. For instance, a skeptic about propositions tional attitudes. As Byrne puts it, in an inter-
may deny that anyone has propositional atti- pretationist strategy, there is no gap between
tudes in the above sense. For our purposes it is our best judgments of a subjects beliefs and
not necessary to resolve questions about the desires and the truth about the subjects be-
nature of propositions, provided that we accept liefs and desires, (1998). Thus, if a creatures
that humans can (and do) have propositional behavior can be accurately predicted or ex-
attitudesmeaning that there is something plained by an attribution of beliefs and desires
proposition-like to which a thinker can be ap- in conjunction with the assumption of ration-
propriately related, whether this be a sentence ality, we are justified in attributing proposi-
(Fodor 1978), a set of possible worlds (Lewis tional attitudes to the creature.
1979; Stalnaker 1984), or a state of affairs (Mar- Davidsons strongest arguments for why
cus 1990). What remains to be determined is thought requires language are motivated by
whether appropriate relations to proposition- his interpretationism. On a strict interpreta-
like entities can be supported in non-linguistic tionist view, meaning does not exist without
creatures. interpretation; so if a system is uninterpreted,
it lacks contentful states. Davidson believes
2.2 Methodological attitudes that language is a prerequisite for entering the
world of interpretation. If no language, then
Davidsons arguments are offered in the con- no interpretation, so no content. But let us
text of his larger theoretical commitments to consider, from an interpretationist stance, why
the nature of mind and meaning, commit- one might think that language is a prerequis-
4 Some have argued that there is no account of what a proposition ite for interpretation.
is that is both coherent and satisfies the various criteria that pro- One might think that Davidson is moved
positions are traditionally supposed to satisfy (that tradition
stemming initially from Frege). See e.g., Dennett (1987a), and by the idea that only linguistic behavior can be
Churchland (1981). It is unfortunate, but true, that if our notion interpreted. However, this cannot be Davidsons
of a proposition is fundamentally incoherent, and no compromises
can be reached on the criteria propositions must satisfy, then
position. If it were, Davidsons approach to pro-
there is no such thing as a proposition. A fortiori, we cant stand positional attitude attribution would be at odds
in any meaningful relation to propositions, so we lack proposi - with his own interpretive strategy for attribut-
tional attitudes. Such is the position of some eliminativists. Oth-
ers have compromised on the demands put on propositions. ing content to mental states. The basic idea of
Quine, for instance, while being no friend of abstract entities Davidsons interpretationism is that in ascribing
such as propositions as usually conceived, found sentences to be
less ontologically troublesome stand-ins for them, and held that content to another persons mental states, we
to have a propositional attitude is to stand in some relevant rela -
tion to an eternal sentencethereby still satisfying our philo - 5 In the literature, interpretationism is often used interchangeably with
sophical intuitions about the role of propositional attitudes in ex- interpretivism. Since interpretivism is more commonly used to de-
planations of human thought and behavior. note a strategy of legal interpretation, I will use interpretationism here.

Roskies, A. (2015). Davidson on Believers - Can Non-Linguistic Creatures Have Propositional Attitudes?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 33(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570337 3 | 16
www.open-mind.net

assume that that person is rational, and we ality, construed in this way. Building on this
ascribe content to her utterances, behaviors, view of rationality promises to enable us to
and mental states in such a way as to maximize posit criteria or hallmarks for minimally ra-
the coherence of that persons beliefs and de- tional behavior that are independent of lan-
sires in light of her behavior. Undeniably, there guage, yet also to concede that some rational
is a class of behaviors that humans have and behaviors are linguistically dependent, and thus
animals lack, namely linguistic behaviors. How- unique to humans. Indeed, one might think that
ever, both humans and animals share a wide a good way to assess rationality would be to see
range of non-linguistic behaviors that admit of to what extent an animals behavior is predict-
interpretation. On the face of it, those behaviors able or explicable with reference to survival re-
provide ample evidence upon which to base at- quirements and common sense beliefdesire psy-
tributions of mental content, and Davidson him- chology. A wide range of animal behaviors cer-
self would not refuse to attribute propositional tainly seem apt for explanation with reference
attitudes to a silent person. However, Davidson to the rational interplay of ecologically-relevant
pointedly refuses to apply a straightforward in- propositional attitudes. If one thinks that apt-
terpretationist strategy to non-linguistic anim- ness for explanation in terms of rationality is
als. To avoid arbitrariness, an independent ar- sufficient evidence for rationality, and accepts,
gument is needed to privilege language over as Davidson does, that rationality rests on the
other behaviors. interplay of propositional attitudes, then we
Perhaps Davidson believes that rationality have ample evidence that animals have proposi-
is impossible without language. If we cannot at- tional attitudes, rather than that they do not.
tribute rationality to a creature, the interpreta- Davidson, however, obviously thinks that
tionist strategy does not apply. More than a few the reasons to deny animals propositional atti-
people have argued that animals are not ra- tudes supersede reasons to attribute rationality
tional, yet there is reason to believe, under to them; he applies modus tollens to my modus
some plausible construals of rationality, that ponens. Since he denies that animals have pro-
they are. To hold that rationality presupposes positional attitudes, and he thinks rationality
language commits one to a narrow view of ra- requires propositional attitudes, he denies that
tionality, already colored by a linguistic bias. animals are rational. We are led to very differ-
Such a view implicitly begs the question in ent conclusions about the nature of animals
which we are interested. Admittedly, what ra- mental lives depending upon whether we take
tionality is is a vexed question in philosophy, ourselves to be more justified in attributing ra-
and determining whether a creature is rational tional behavior to them or in refusing to attrib-
falls prey to the same holistic problems as de- ute to them propositional attitudes. Because the
termining whether it has propositional atti- questions of propositional attitudes and of ra-
tudes. A theory of rationality predicated upon a tionality are both equally troubling and closely
conception of practical reason instead of upon linked, arguments against animal thought based
linguistic manipulation appears to be more on assumptions about rationality are not com-
neutral. There is abundant evidence for practic- pelling.
ally rational behavior in the animal world. After Thus, we have as yet failed to find ample
all, animals of all stripes are here now because reason to refuse to apply the basic interpreta-
they have been evolutionary successful, and to tionist strategy to non-linguistic animal beha-
have succeeded requires in some nontrivial sense vior. Perhaps Davidson thinks that, in the ab-
that goals are achieved by instrumental beha- sence of language, we have insufficient evidence
vior.6 All animals exhibit some degree of ration- for attributing propositional attitudes to anim-
6 Decision theory, for instance, gives us one model of rationality. Inter- als. Perhaps it is because Davidson thinks that
estingly, in many ecological studies of foraging behavior that use de- having the gift of tongues is both necessary
cision theory to assess animal choice, animal behavior is found not to
just be adaptive, but optimal. For example, animal foraging decisions
and sufficient for having propositional attitudes
approach optimality. See e.g., Stephens & Krebs (1986). (1984, p. 156, 2001a, p. 104), he views language
Roskies, A. (2015). Davidson on Believers - Can Non-Linguistic Creatures Have Propositional Attitudes?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 33(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570337 4 | 16
www.open-mind.net

possession as the evidential criterion for proposi- one is a realist about thought, it is not the evid-
tional attitude attribution. He consequently ential question, but rather the question of the
denies that we can be justified in attributing grounds of possibility for having propositional
propositional attitudes to creatures on the basis attitudes that should be of primary interest.
of non-linguistic behavior. Language gives the The Davidsonian mix of interpretationism and
radical interpreter the green light: evidence of realism creates an uneasy tension, for while he
linguistic behavior licenses application of the tends toward realism about belief, he often
radical interpretive strategy. seems to think the metaphysical and epistemo-
Even if we grant that language is the best logical construals of the question amount to the
evidence for propositional attitudes, we should same thing: a creature has propositional atti-
be immediately suspicious of the presumption tudes if we ought to interpret him as having
that the only evidence relevant for deciding them. I suspect that this collapsing of the issues
whether something has propositional attitudes accounts for Davidsons view that the question
is the presence of a necessary and sufficient con- of whether a creature has propositional atti-
dition for having them. In normal empirical in- tudes is closely tied to the evidential question of
quiry, criteria that are necessary and sufficient what evidence is relevant for deciding whether
are rarely the only ones that qualify as evidence something has propositional attitudes.
for assessing empirical claims. For instance, a There is, as fard as I can tell, a lack of a
rash may be relevant evidence for determining substantive argument for requiring that a
whether a person has Lyme disease, despite the creature has language to be a candidate for in-
fact that not all people with rashes have Lyme terpretation, as well as for holding that only the
disease, and not all people with Lyme have presence of language provides sufficient evidence
rashes. Might there not be evidence highly in- for attributing propositional attitudes. Thus,
dicative of whether a creature has propositional neither the interpretationist strategy itself, nor
attitudes, despite the fact that the evidence is Davidsons concerns about evidential warrant
not decisive? Reasonable, predictable behavior justify the position that only language-speaking
is surely a clear source of evidence for the exist- creatures can be candidates for propositional at-
ence of propositional attitudes, despite the fact titudes. Now let us turn to the specific argu-
that it only provides defeasible reasons for ments Davidson offers for denying animals pro-
thinking they exist. positional attitudes: the reasons he offers for
Furthermore, unlike instrumentalists like holding that language is necessary for thought.
Dennett, Davidson seems to favor the idea that
beliefs are real; his anomolous monism posits a 3 Minor arguments
physical-causal substrate for mental states, al-
beit one that exempts psychology from being Why might someone think that language is ne-
reduced to physical laws.7 One might think, cessary for having propositional attitudes? A
nonetheless, that it would be reasonable for a common reason for supposing that language is
realist to accept the possibility that beliefs in- necessary for thought is that one is in the grip
volve some internal representational structures, of a picture about the nature of thought
and that there could therefore be other types of namely that thought is a type of language, or is
reliable evidence besides linguistic evidence for linguistic or language-like. If propositions are
the presence of propositional attitudes. Thus, linguistic entities, then creatures that lack the
Davidsons exclusive focus on language is in capacity for linguistic representation might well
tension with his realist leanings. Furthermore, if be unable to represent propositions and thus be
unable to hold an attitude toward a proposi-
7 The debate about propositional attitudes, language, and capacity for
thought has implications beyond philosophy of mind to ethics. As tion. However, since there are competing ac-
Davidson himself noted, personal and sub personal levels of descrip- counts of what propositions actually are, several
tion refer to different logical subjects, and thus Davidsons argument
has implications for the possibility of attributing personhood to an-
of which see them as non-linguistic in nature,
imals. See again, http://www.projetogap.org.br/en/. the intuitive language-like characteristics of pro-
Roskies, A. (2015). Davidson on Believers - Can Non-Linguistic Creatures Have Propositional Attitudes?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 33(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570337 5 | 16
www.open-mind.net

positions does not settle the question (Lewis (see Fodor 1975), for instance, thinks that a
1979; Stalnaker 1984). creature must have a language of thought to
In several places Davidson gestures at re- have propositional attitudes, but he holds that
lated arguments for denying non-linguistic it need not be able to speak or understand a
creatures propositional attitudes (1984, p. 156, public language to have a language of thought.
2001a, p. 98). These stem from an implicit com- Even if claims about definite content and opa-
mitment to propositional attitudes having cer- city were true, that is, if Fodor is right, David-
tain characteristics that only languages possess. son has erred in thinking that thought requires
For instance, Davidson claims that proposi- an external as opposed to an internal language.
tional attitudes have definite content, and that If animals have a language of thought, they are
only things expressed in language have definite non-language-using believers.
content. Drawing on the discussion of Malcolm
(1972) before him, he gives an example of a dog 4 Davidsons Master Argument
chasing a cat up a tree. Like Malcolm, he notes
that we cannot attribute to the dog the thought The above minor arguments dont play a central
that the cat ran up the maple, as opposed to role in Davidsons support of P1. The strongest
that the cat ran up the tree. If there is no par- support for the crucial premise is found in what I
ticular thought we can attribute to the dog, will call his Master Argument.9 The Master Argu-
then the dog hasnt had a thought with definite ment puts psychological restrictions on what it is
content, and so hasnt had a propositional atti- to be an interpreter, and it supports the claim that
tude. Davidson elsewhere claims that proposi- one cannot have propositional attitudes without
tional attitudes are opaque8, and that language language. If the Master Argument succeeds, then
accounts for their opacity (Davidson 2001a, p. Davidsons arguments for denying that animals
97). Although these claims can be combatted have propositional attitudes is compelling. But, as
directly, I will not pursue those arguments here. I shall argue, the Master Argument ultimately
Both the definite content claim and the opacity fails, and thus also fails to support the denial of
claim lose their teeth when it is recognized that propositional attitudes to animals.
they take the following form: According to Davidsons interpretationism,
having beliefs entails being an interpreter. The
P1 Propositional attitudes have a property, p basic idea of the Master Argument is that pos-
P2 Language has property p sessing certain concepts is a prerequisite for be-
C Therefore, language is necessary for proposi- ing an interpreter, and that an organism must
tional attitudes have language in order to have these concepts. 10
9 Davidson nowhere presents his Master Argument in this precise
This argument is fallaciousit would only form. I reconstruct the logical form of his argument from Thought
be valid if nothing but language had property p. and Talk and Rational Animals.
10 This ought to be distinguished from the idea that having proposi-
But no such argument is on offer. It is worth tional thought requires having some concepts, and that the contents
noting, moreover, that whether propositional at- that can be entertained by a creature in propositional thought are
constrained by the set of concepts that the creature possesses. This
titudes have the property p in question is itself view, held by a variety of thinkers from Frege to Fodor, stems from
contentiousdo all our beliefs have definite the belief that the propositions to which a thinker stands in relation
content? Finally, even if having property p were in having a propositional attitude are complex entities composed of
concepts. But then the question of whether animals have proposi-
somehow constitutive of thought, and to have p tional thought can be recast as the question of whether animals have
thought had to be linguistic, this would still not concepts. If, additionally, one combined this view of the cognitive
structure of propositions with a view according to which concept
entail that a creature with beliefs and desires possession requires language, one would have an argument for why
must have language in Davidsons sense. Fodor language is necessary for propositional thought. However, whether
concept possession requires language is a question that depends,
8 Substitution of co-reffering terms in opaque contexts may not pre- among other things, on what concepts are. Whether the vehicles of
serve truth. Such is the case with propositional attitudes. Thus, thought are language-like, as I argued earlier, is orthogonal to the is-
while it is true that Lois Lane believes Superman is a hero, it may sue of whether an organism possesses the capacity to speak or under-
be false that she believes Clark Kent is a hero, despite the fact stand speech. Therefore Davidsons argument cannot rest on the
that Clark Kent is identical to Superman. nature of concepts.

Roskies, A. (2015). Davidson on Believers - Can Non-Linguistic Creatures Have Propositional Attitudes?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 33(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570337 6 | 16
www.open-mind.net

Davidsons position differs from the more or how one takes it to be, or that belief can come
widely-held view that having some concepts is apart from reality. On a deflationary view, then,
required for having propositional thought, by having the concept of belief is rather like having
supposing that there are specific concepts that a the concept of an objective reality. Finally, we
creature must possess in order to have proposi- might consider an intermediate notion of the
tional thought. The Master Argument links concept of belief that involves the ability to at-
thought to language by way of higher-order tribute representational mental states to oneself
thoughts. Specifically, Davidson suggests that a and others, without satisfying all the constraints
concept of belief is a prerequisite for proposi- that a robust conception must meet. Which, if
tional attitudes, and that a concept of belief is any, of these conceptions of concept of belief is
unavailable without language. Here is David- important for Davidsons argument linking belief
sons Master Argument: to language?

M1 If S has propositional attitudes, then S has 4.1 The robust conception of belief
beliefs.
M2 If S has beliefs, then S has a concept of be- The robust conception of belief became import-
lief. ant in developmental psychology in the context
M3 If S has a concept of belief, then S has lan- of concerns about Theory of Mind: having a no-
guage. tion of false belief was taken to be diagnostic of
MC If S has propositional attitudes, then S has a mature TOM, and, according to many re-
language. searchers in the field, only develops in humans
at around four years of age (Saxe et al. 2004;
The argument is clearly valid. But is it Wellman et al. 2001; Wimmer & Perner 1983).
sound? However, requiring a concept of belief in the ro-
M1 is plausible; it just highlights Davidsons bust sense seems too demanding a condition for
view that beliefs are a fundamental propositional having propositional attitudes. While we might
attitude, and that to have any propositional atti- plausibly doubt whether prelinguistic infants
tudes at all, a creature must have some beliefs. really have propositional attitudes, it is hard to
M2 and M3, the remaining premises, are interest- deny that young children who have already ac-
ing, but their meaning is unclear, for they contain quired a sophisticated facility with language
a clause that needs to be unpacked: what exactly have propositional attitudes. Children of two
is a concept of belief? Let us distinguish three and three, for instance, clearly refer to objects
different conceptions of a concept of belief, in the world using language, and they readily
varying in stringency. One conception of the express their desires (I want the green
concept of belief is robust, in which the concept of monkey!), beliefs (I think the ball is under
belief is the fully articulated belief-concept that is the bed), as well as fears and other proposi-
taken to be definitive of a mature theory of mind. tional attitudes. They understand others, refer
On this robust view, having a concept of belief is to their own and others mental states, and
an epistemologically-rich notion that entails hav- communicate effectively. We typically and with
ing an ability to pass the false belief test. That great conviction attribute propositional atti-
is, it is criterial for having the concept of belief tudes to children of these ages. Nonetheless, ac-
that one has the ability to attribute to others a cording to most developmental psychologists
mental representation of the world that may differ (See e.g., Perner et al. 1987; Call et al. 1999;
from the way the world is, as well as a recognition http://youtu.be/8hLubgpY2_w), until the age
of the perceptual circumstances that would en- of four (two years after they develop consider-
gender false representations. In contrast, a defla- able language abilities) children lack a concept
tionary conception of what it is to have the of belief in the robust sense.11 And if so, we
concept of belief merely requires an understand- 11 Kristen Andrews takes autistic subjects to be counterexamples to David-
ing that the world is distinct from how it appears sons view, which would also argue against M2. (Andrews 2002).

Roskies, A. (2015). Davidson on Believers - Can Non-Linguistic Creatures Have Propositional Attitudes?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 33(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570337 7 | 16
www.open-mind.net

make ordinary propositional attributions to states to have determinate content we must inter-
children well before they possess the robust act with another being in order to triangulate
concept of belief. Thus, M2 is false.12 and thus make determinate the referents of our
Not all psychologists agree that a robust thoughts. Nothing in this picture requires that an
concept of belief doesnt develop until about interpreter have a robust concept of belief as op-
four years of age. Some have argued that the posed to a more deflationary one.
methods used in many of the classic false belief
studies rely too much on language or on inhibit- 4.2 The deflationary conception of belief
ory control, and that tests other than the classic
false belief test are sufficient for demonstrating In line with the idea that Davidson has a more
understanding of false beliefs. For instance, a deflationary view in mind, in both Thought
recent study suggests that children have a and Talk and Rational Animals he mentions
concept of belief at far earlier ages than previ- a different criterion for having a belief, which he
ously thoughtearlier, in fact, than the devel- also thinks links the possession of language to
opment of language (Onishi & Baillargeon 2005; the ability to have propositional attitudes. This
Baillargeon et al. 2010; Caron 2009). However, is the criterion of possessing a concept of ob-
if this is so, then M3 is false, for the robust con- jective truth. Davidsons argument for language
ception of belief does not depend on having lan- via the criterion of objective truth is as follows:
guage. This version of the Master Argument de-
pends upon a tight connection between compet- O1 In order to have propositional attitudes, one
ence in the false-belief task and belief. On one must have beliefs.
conception of what evidence is sufficient to re- O2 In order to have beliefs, one must have a
flect performance on the false-belief task, M2 is concept of objective truth.
false, and on another conception, M3 is false. O3 In order to have a concept of objective
Either way, the Master Argument is empirically truth, one must have language.
refuted, and the robust conception of the OC Propositional attitudes require language.
concept of belief fails to link language posses-
sion and propositional attitudes.13 The logic here is again unproblematic, but
Davidson may well be unperturbed, for unpacking the premises is not. At times David-
there is no textual evidence that he means to im- son seems to equate the concept of objective
plicate the robust conception of belief when he truth with that of belief. I take this as evidence
claims the concept of belief is necessary for having that he intends the concept of belief in the
beliefs. After all, from the standpoint of his rad- Master Argument in its most deflationary inter-
ical interpreter, one can only be a believer in vir- pretation: as an understanding that how the
tue of interpreting others, but it is unclear why world is can come apart from how one takes the
the possibility of such interpretation should rest world to be. Given this interpretation one could
upon a grasp of others mental states being beliefs believe that the concept of objective truth co-
in this robust sense, rather then in some weaker occurs with that of belief, or that the cognitive
sense. In The Second Person (1992), for in- conditions that make possible the concept of be-
stance, Davidson argues that for our mental lief are the same as those that make possible
12 In addition, at ages far younger than those at which children pass
the concept of objective truth. In any case,
the false-belief task, they act as interpreters, in Davidsons sense. Davidson sees a tight connection between the
Any parent knows that their children interpret speech well before notions of belief and objectivity.
they are speakers, and long before the age at which they pass the
false-belief task. So if interpretation is central to having proposi- How are we to understand the concept of
tional attitudes, it doesnt require a robust theory of mind. objective truth in O2 and O3? If Davidson
13 Of course, Onishi and Baillergeons interpretation is subject to refut-
ation. Should their findings (they developed a nonverbal task that means it to be a metasemantic concept, such as
suggest that infants much younger than previously supposed repres- having a Tarskian definition of truth, or an un-
ent others mental states, such as goals, perceptions and beliefs.) re-
flect something like proto-beliefs rather than full-blown propositional
derstanding that truth applies to propositions,
attitude-sustaining beliefs, M3 would not be falsified. and so on, then it would be almost assured that
Roskies, A. (2015). Davidson on Believers - Can Non-Linguistic Creatures Have Propositional Attitudes?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 33(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570337 8 | 16
www.open-mind.net

one could not grasp the concept of truth So triangulation also fails as a mechanism for
without language. It would explain the prima constructing the concept of objectivity. Non-
facie plausibility of the Objective Truth version etheless, Davidsons emphasis on triangulation
of the Master Argument. However, if we adopt strongly suggests that by objective truth he is
that reading of objective truth, O2 would be referring to the appearance/reality distinction.
false, for people certainly have propositional at- This interpretation is further strengthened
titudes even if they never become philosophers, by taking seriously the fact that Davidson
and even if they never have an inkling about thinks the concepts of belief and truth are
metasemantic notions. closely linked (1984). As mentioned earlier, hav-
Another clue about what Davidson means ing the concept of objective truth is nothing
by objective truth comes from his emphasis on other than understanding that how the world is
triangulation. Davidson thinks we need to inter- can come apart from how one takes the world
act with another person in order to come to see to be. What evidence do we have that language
the world as external to usin order to develop is required for this?
a notion of objectivity. By linguistically triangu-
lating on an object with another, we are forced 4.3 Surprise
to recognize that object as part of an objective
reality. Davidson illustrates this view in The As further evidence that Davidson intends a de-
second person: flationary view of the concepts of belief and ob-
jective truth, we can turn to another formula-
Belief, intention, and the other proposi- tion of the Master Argument. In his most forth-
tional attitudes are all social in that they right explication of what he means by concept
are states a creature cannot be in without of belief, he suggests that there is a behavioral
having the concept of intersubjective mark that is coextensive with having such a
truth, and this is a concept one cannot concept: surprise.
have without sharing, and knowing that
one shares, a world, and a way of thinking In order to have any propositional attitude
about the world, with someone else. at all, it is necessary to have the concept
(2001b, p. 121) of a belief, to have a belief about some be-
lief. But what is required in order to have
However, there are two fundamental problems the concept of a belief? Here I turn for
with using triangulation as an argument for the help to the phenomenon of surprise, since
necessity of language for thought. First, there is I think that surprise requires the concept
nothing apparent about triangulation that re- of belief. (Davidson 2001a, p. 104)
quires spoken language as opposed to some
other sort of joint interaction or non-linguistic The willingness to consider some sort of non-
communication. It is, indeed, difficult to see linguistic behavior as relevant to the question
why language as opposed to action would be of whether a creature has propositional atti-
operative in developing a notion of a world ex- tudes is a methodological breakthrough, for it
ternal to ourselves. So triangulation fails to provides an avenue independent of language
show that language is necessary for thought. for assessing whether an animal has the re-
Second, it is difficult to see how triangulation quisite cognitive machinery to be a believer.
could itself suffice for a notion of objectivity. In Davidson maintains that the ability to be sur-
order for me to triangulate with another, I must prised is diagnostic of having the concept of
first see the other as part of the external world, belief. It indicates recognition that ones own
as opposed to an element in my mentality. As mental representation fails to conform to that
long as the other is merely a part of the way I which it represents, and as such it constitutes
take things to be, it cannot fulfil the role of the necessary and sufficient evidence of the
second person (see for example, Roskies 2011). concept of belief.
Roskies, A. (2015). Davidson on Believers - Can Non-Linguistic Creatures Have Propositional Attitudes?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 33(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570337 9 | 16
www.open-mind.net

Following this intuition, we can amend Wynn and colleagues demonstrated that infants
Davidsons Master Argument to incorporate can do simple arithmetic (Wynn 1992). She
this insight: showed infants as young as five months a toy,
and placed it behind a screen. Then she showed
S1 If S has propositional attitudes, then S has them another toy and also placed it behind the
beliefs. screen. The screen was then lowered, revealing
S2 If S has beliefs, S has a concept of belief. either two toys (the expected outcome), or only
S3 S has a concept of belief iff S has the capa- one toy. Infants looked longer at the unexpected
city for surprise. outcome. The same paradigm was used with dif-
S4 If S has the capacity for surprise, S has lan- ferent numerical combinations, demonstrating
guage. that for numerosity up to three, infants can do
SC Propositional attitudes require language. simple addition and subtraction, and are sur-
prised when what is revealed behind the screen
The idea that surprise goes hand-in-hand does not comply with their expectations. Signi-
with the concept of belief is not implausible: if ficantly, this robust effect, which is due to sur-
surprise issues from the recognition that ones prise, precedes the development of language by
belief about how the world is fails to correspond more than a year.
with the way the world is, then surprise is good Davidson might reply that it is not actu-
evidence for the concept of belief. Moreover, be- ally possessing language, but rather possessing
cause this idea does not have implications for the capacity for language that is important for
the ability to attribute propositional attitudes surprise, and thus for the concept of belief.
to others in an operative sense, it suggests that Maybe, even though they cannot yet speak, in-
the interpretation of concept of belief that fants possess a language faculty, which, imma-
Davidson favors is a deflationary interpretation: ture as it may be, is sufficient to support sur-
one that involves appreciation of the appear- prise. However, this attempt to patch the argu-
ance/reality distinction, or, as discussed above, ment also fails. The VELM is used frequently in
the concept of objective truth. Thus, S2 takes studies with nonhuman primates, and while
the deflationary interpretation of the concept of they never develop language nor seem to have a
belief, and for the argument to be valid, S3 capacity for natural language, they too exhibit
must also take that interpretation. surprise when their expectations are violated
Unfortunately for this version of the argu- (Hauser 2000; Hauser et al. 1996). So, it seems,
ment, S4 is false. There is clear and abundant language is not a requirement for surprise, nor
empirical evidence that the ability to be sur- is surprise evidence for the presence of or capa-
prised at the mismatch between the world and city for language.
ones own representation of the world is inde- The empirical studies of developmental
pendent of language (Dupoux 2001; Feigenson psychologists and primatologists undermine the
et al. 2002; Hauser & Carey 1998; Santos et al. Surprise version of the Master Argument: sur-
2002; Wynn 1992). Take, for example, an in- prise does not depend upon having language.
valuable tool in the developmental psycholo- Moreover, if premises S2 and S3 are trueif the
gists toolkit: the violation of expectancy look- capacity for surprise is evidence of the concept
ing method (V) for testing infants. Many stud- of belief, and if propositional attitudes depend
ies performed on pre-linguistic human infants upon possession of the concept of beliefthen
employ this paradigm in order to explore what propositional attitudes do not depend upon lan-
an infant knows. The idea is simple: infants look guage.
longer at stimuli that fail to correspond with Let us briefly revisit the Objective Truth
their expectations. This method has been used version of the Master Argument. I have argued
to determine, among other things, that infants that only a deflationary notion of objective
have an innate (or very early developing) truth is a candidate interpretation for the argu-
concept of number. In now classic experiments, ment. I have also suggested that this is the only
Roskies, A. (2015). Davidson on Believers - Can Non-Linguistic Creatures Have Propositional Attitudes?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 33(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570337 10 | 16
www.open-mind.net

notion of the concept of objective truth that beliefs involves self-reflection: perhaps being a
meshes with the arguments Davidson raises re- believer requires being able to think of oneself
garding belief and surprise. Thus, having a as a believer, and thus requires the concept of
concept of objective truth is having a concept belief. This amounts to the claim that beliefs
that the way the world is can come apart from cannot be held non-reflectively. Since we clearly
how one takes it to be. If this is correct, then do have beliefs that we do not have beliefs
the Objective Truth version of the Master Argu- about, what is at issue is not the actuality of
ment is false. having beliefs about beliefs, but the possibility
In Wynns looking-time studies discussed or capacity to do so. However, while there are
above, the child has clearly developed expecta- arguments that the ability to think about one-
tions of what lies behind the screen, and must self as a believer is required for a rich construal
somehow represent this to herself. When the of theoretical rationality (see Bermdez 2003,
screen is lowered and the child sees what is be- Ch. 7), there is no clear argument why such re-
hind the screen, there must be some sense in flective ability should be constitutive of having
which correspondence with the expectation or beliefs. Indeed, it seems like the ability to be-
lack of correspondence is noted, and in which lieve things about ones beliefs would require
the data coming in from the senses is privileged that one could believe things, so that belief is
over the internal representation. This is, in es- conceptually prior to self-reflection. In any case,
sence, what it is to recognize that beliefs about self-reflection is not Davidsons stated reason
the world can come apart from the way the for thinking that the concept of belief is import-
world is. Clearly this sort of grasp of reality ant for having beliefs.
does not depend upon language: pre-linguistic The other reason to hold that having be-
infants and non-linguistic animals possess it. lief requires having a concept of belief under the
One can easily imagine how violation of expect- intermediate conception links the ability to at-
ation can be instantiated in a system with ima- tribute mental states to others with having the
gistic thought. The languageless child need only concept of belief. Thus there are two different
conjure up an image of the objects behind the strengths of intermediate interpretations to con-
screen and compare this with the visual scene sider. According to the less demanding inter-
before him. As long as the child privileges the pretation, a concept of belief is required in or-
sensory information over the mental representa- der to attribute contentful states to other
tion, we might say that he has a concept of creatures; whereas the more demanding inter-
reality and of the belief/reality distinction. In pretation holds that a concept of belief is re-
summary, then, language is not required for a quired to attribute propositional attitudes to
concept of objective truth. others: one must be an interpreter, not just an
interpretee.
4.4 The intermediate conception of belief We can discount the less demanding of
these interpretations for the purpose of this ar-
We have ruled out both the robust and weakest gument linking thought to language,14 because if
notions of concept of belief as candidate no- M2 (If S has beliefs, then S has a concept of
tions for a successful interpretation of David- belief) is interpreted in this way, then M3, the
sons argument linking belief to language. Per- claim that language is required for a concept of
haps an intermediate notion can do the job. belief, read in this way, is false. There is grow-
This notion involves the ability to attribute rep- ing evidence that non-language-using animals
resentational states to oneself and others; it is are able to attribute representational states to
less sophisticated than that required to pass the other animals. One compelling illustration of
false-belief task, but more complex than the re- this comes from (Hare et al. 2000), who show
cognition of an appearance/reality distinction.
One potential reason why representational- 14 We ought to reject this interpretation for the purposes of Davidsons
argument, despite the fact that we may ultimately agree with it as a
state attribution may be important for having necessary condition for having propositional thought.

Roskies, A. (2015). Davidson on Believers - Can Non-Linguistic Creatures Have Propositional Attitudes?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 33(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570337 11 | 16
www.open-mind.net

that subordinate rhesus monkeys only approach aimed at representing objective truth, but in-
food in the presence of a dominant male when stead as attitudes with propositional contents
they know that the male is unable to see the that provide information regarding motivation
food (interestingly, dominant males appear not to act (2011a). Lurz characterizes this as a kind
to care whether or not a subordinate male sees of beliefdesire attribution. Baillargeons data
food, pointing to yet a further level of sophistic- proves relevant here too, for her results are best
ation in the cognitive processes of non-linguistic explained by taking the infants in her study as
animals). Thus, if it is the case that to believe postulating representational mental states of the
requires having the ability to attribute content- actor in order to predict her behavior; violation
ful mental states to others, then it is not the of their expectation causes them to look longer.
case that believing requires language. Indeed, Thus, without imputing these infants some un-
recent work on non-human primate theory of derstanding of others representational mental
mind suggests that monkeys and chimpanzees states, we would be unable to account for this
have a theory of mind that represents goal data. However, in this case M3 would then be
states and distinguishes between knowledge and false, for the linguistic abilities of fifteen-month-
ignorance of other agents (the presence and ab- old infants typically are minimalcertainly not
sence of contentful mental representations), of the sophistication we would expect would be
even if it fails to account for misrepresentation necessary to linguistically encode a belief-
(Call & Tomasello 2008; Kaminski et al. 2008; concept. While the evidence that bears on this
Marticorena et al. 2011). Although they may case is perhaps the least well-established, and
have a less articulated theory of mind than we this study involves infants at an age when they
do, we may nonetheless adequately characterize are poised to develop language, the burden of
their representational system with mental-state proof is shifted to the person who wants to ar-
terms (Butterfill & Apperly 2013; Marticorena gue that language is necessary for a concept of
et al. 2011). belief. That burden is not discharged: Davidson
What remains is the notion that the abil- lacks a positive argument for why this relatively
ity to attribute beliefs qua propositional atti- demanding notion of attributing content to oth-
tudes to others is necessary for having beliefs. ers is the one required for an organism to be a
That is, not only must they attribute mental believer.
states to others, but those mental states must
possess the characteristics of beliefs. Remember 5 Beyond interpretationism
that we have already discounted the robust no-
tion of belief as too demanding, so what is ne- Davidson argues that language is required for
cessary is not that animals have a notion of thought. His Master Argument posits that hav-
false belief per se, but rather that they have a ing a concept of belief is a necessary intermedi-
notion of a belief as a representational mental ary for having propositional attitudes, and that
state that can play a role in behavioral explana- language is necessary for having a concept of
tion or prediction. So far there is no compelling belief. Of the various conceptions of concept of
evidence that nonhuman animals have this, con- belief that might play a role in Davidsons ar-
sistent with the possibility that such a repres- gument, the robust conception is too strong,
entational ability as this may indeed require and empirically falsified. While the robust con-
language, or at least some sophisticated ability ception may require language, we attribute pro-
to symbolize abstractions and predicate them of positional attitudes before children are clearly
objects. Whether this is so is ultimately an em- in possession of such concepts. Davidsons ex-
pirical question. However, at least some philo- amples and arguments support only deflation-
sophers think monkeys may be able to do this. ary interpretations of the concept of belief and
As Lurz characterizes the above studies, anim- the associated concept of objective truth: those
als do have the ability to represent proposi- that involve distinguishing between appearance
tional mental states in othersnot as attitudes and reality, or those that involve attributing
Roskies, A. (2015). Davidson on Believers - Can Non-Linguistic Creatures Have Propositional Attitudes?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 33(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570337 12 | 16
www.open-mind.net

mental content. However, as numerous studies complex representational abilities 2) the unique
in developmental and comparative psychology elements of linguistic competence and what
have shown, the deflationary conception is one they may or may not make possible vis--vis
that many creatures without language enjoy. thought. In an example of the first, Proust
Even an intermediate conception does not seem (1999); see also this collection) provides an illu-
to play the role Davidsons argument requires, minating philosophical discussion of structured
for the ability to attribute mental content does non-linguistic representational abilities (or
not require language, and neither does the abil- structured competences) and how they could
ity to attribute to others representational men- make possible objective representations. Struc-
tal states, though here the evidence is less clear. tured representations as such could form the
Davidsons arguments seem compelling because building blocks of propositional attitudes. Ber-
their plausibility relies upon a slide between less mudez argues for abilities and for certain logical
and more demanding conceptions of the concept limitations on both the inferential and repres-
of belief. For instance, a weak conception of entational abilities of non-linguistic representers
concept of belief in M2 and a robust one in (Bermdez 2003). Whether such limitations ne-
M3 yields an argument with apparently true cessarily obtain is a matter of dispute (Lurz
premises, but because the argument equivocates 2007).
on concept of belief, the argument is invalid. When considering how linguistic abilities
This analysis, as well as an appreciation of the could augment thought, it is useful to identify
methodological considerations for using non-lin- elements of language that could contribute to
guistic behavior as evidence of propositional at- representational complexity even if present
titudes, supports the view that some mental without all the components of language. For ex-
states of non-linguistic animals can aptly be ample, Clark suggests that the human language-
classified as propositional attitudes. like ability to use symbols to represent abstract
In empirical circles it seems to be taken objects allows us to objectify our own thoughts
for granted that at least some non-linguistic an- and operate upon them (2000). Depending on
imals have mental states best described as pro- what things can be symbolized, this could make
positional attitudes. But this acceptance is possible metacognition or higher-order thought
merely the first step in a larger project. For ex- that might not otherwise be possible. Thus, the
ample, even if there is good reason to think that ability to represent symbolically can influence
non-linguistic creatures have propositional atti- the kinds and complexity of reasoning available
tudes, how they could have these remains to be to a creature, even if that creature is not lin-
elucidated. That is, what is the nature of the guistic in Davidsons sense. Symbolic capacities
representational resources available to them? are necessary but not sufficient for linguistic
And given these representational resources, competence, and could be present even when
what sorts of contents are they capable of rep- language is not. And if mere use of symbols is
resenting? What kinds of reasoning and infer- taken to be sufficient for language, then some
ence could such representations support? What nonhuman primates are capable of language and
are the cognitive limitations necessitated by thus again can have propositional attitudes. In-
their representational architectures? One can deed, it is clear that some nonhuman primates
begin addressing these fascinating questions em- can be trained to use abstract symbols, even if
pirically either at the functional psychological they do not do so naturally. Boysen and col-
level or at the level of representation, and from leagues, for example, relate how nave chimps
either level one can work toward answering fail to learn to make second-order generaliza-
questions about the other. tions about object classification, but those
Instead of thinking that language itself is trained to associate objects with symbols (for
what makes complex, structured, or proposi- relations of same and different) are able to
tional thought possible, we should consider: 1) succeed on a second-order classification task
how non-linguistic capacities could underlie (Thompson et al. 1997). These interesting res-
Roskies, A. (2015). Davidson on Believers - Can Non-Linguistic Creatures Have Propositional Attitudes?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 33(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570337 13 | 16
www.open-mind.net

ults give causal punch to the notion that sym- propositional attitudes, but rather to elucidate
bolic objectification is a prerequisite for higher- the scope of these attitudes and understand-
level or abstract thought, and help to explain ing the ways in which they may be limited by
the competences that appear to come along limitations in representational resources. In the
with linguistic abilities. most exciting work, the philosophical and psy-
Focusing less on the vehicles and more on chological projects come together. This interdis-
the ways in which they can be exploited, Fitch ciplinary approach takes seriously evolutionary
and colleagues argue that recursion, which is a relationships and has a more nuanced view of
core element of natural language processing, can the human beings place among other anim-
only operate on symbolic structures subject to als. The arguments that result will be of great
rules, and that neither rules nor the objects on interest to philosophers of language and mind,
which they operate can exist without language- as well as to those interested in ethical issues
like representations (Hauser et al. 2002). If so, that transcend academia. And while they may
one might expect that forms of reasoning that vindicate a certain kind of human exceptional-
rely on recursion may only be possible for ism, they may also articulate our place on a
creatures that also possess linguistic capacities. spectrum that will ultimately lead to a more in-
Thus, use of symbols and recursive rules are two tegrated and humane picture of our place in
candidates that could help explain the different the world.
representational capacities of linguistic and non-
linguistic creatures.

6 Conclusion

Here I have argued that Davidsons arguments


that nonlinguistic creatures lack thought are
either unsound or invalid. While this negative
project does not allow us to conclude that they
have propositional attitudes or thoughts, it
makes room for positive arguments that will
take advantage of recent and future empirical
work on animal cognition and on the nature of
nonlinguistic representations and their role in
cognitive processing, as well as for novel negat-
ive arguments that might set limits on the capa-
cities of nonlinguistic creatures. Much current
research in animal cognition focuses on whether
animals have theory of mind paralleling that of
humans (Marticorena et al. 2011), or metacog-
nition (Bermdez 2003; Carruthers 2008; Lurz
2007, 2011a, 2011b; Proust 2010). One might
therefore think that the debate has not pro-
gressed much since Davidson asked the question
about whether animals can have a concept
of belief. But Davidsons interest in these ques-
tions was narrow, driven by his interpretation-
ism and the view that these states are necessary
for being an interpreter and thus for possessing
mental content. In contrast, contemporary re-
search does not aim to disprove the existence of
Roskies, A. (2015). Davidson on Believers - Can Non-Linguistic Creatures Have Propositional Attitudes?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 33(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570337 14 | 16
www.open-mind.net

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