Homomorphism Theory and the Mental Attitudes

OK, so I have been distracted the last few days with thoughts about Berkely and the relationship of God to quantum mechanics, but today I have to get back to work on my consciousness stuff…April will be here before you know it, and I have still got to turn this into a powerpoint presentaion!

 So, before my ADD kicked in I was addressing Josh and Rosenthal’s response to my question about the difference between conscious pains and conscious thoughts that resukts in one being qualitative while the other isn’t. Their response is that the difference between the two cases is the result of the difference between the kind of property that one attributes to onself. I argued that they still haven’t told me why one isn’t like anything at all for the creature and that it is inconsistent with Rosenthal’s view about the emotions.

However, even if one is not moved by the above considerations, a closer look at Rosenthal’s account of thought and its relation to speech reveals something which closely resembles his homomorphism theory of the sensory qualities. He may be right that we cannot give a hommorphism theory for the content of beliefs, but we may be able to give one for the mental attitudes themselves.

On Rosenthal’s view there is a tight connection between thought and language. So for him thoughts consist in taking some mental attitude towards some propositional content. These thoughts are expressed in speech acts that (most often) have the same propositional content and an illocutionary force that matches the mental attitude of the thought. So, for example, if I think ‘it’s snowing’ (that is, if I believe that it is snowing) I can express that by saying ‘it’s snowing’ and my speech act has assertive illocutionary force that matches the mental attitude of the thought. This is in general true for him. As he says,

When a speech act expresses an intentional state, not only are the contents of both the state and the speech act the same; the speech act and the thought also have the same force. Both, that is, will involve suspecting, denying, wondering, affirming, doubting, and the like. Whenever a speech act expresses an intentional state, the illocutionary force of the speech act corresponds to the mental attitude of that intentional state. (p. 286)

So there are families of mental attitude among which similarities and differences will hold. So believing will be more like suspecting than it will be like wondering.

What are we to say about the actual homomorphism to perceptible properties? Is there any set of properties that the mental attitudes are homomorphic to? That is, is there a set of properties that have similarities and differences which resemble and differ in a way that preserves the similarities and differences between the mental attitudes? This is important since we need a way to specify the attitudes apart from their qualitative component. As I have suggested beofe we can hypothesize that the homomorphic properties are the illocutionary forces of speech acts.

So the differences between beliefs that p and desires that p are homomorphic to the differences between the illocutionary force of the utterance of some linguistic item in the process of expressing the belief or desire. Rosenthal’s overall view even suggests this. For instance he says,

It is arguable that speech acts inherit their intentionality from mental states by being a part of an overall causal network that involves those mental states…If so, then not only is the intentionality of speech acts due to their causal connections with thoughts; the intentionality of mental states themselves consists, in part, in the causal relations those states bear to speech acts. (p97)

Thus there are no relevant difference between these kinds of states. We are left wanting an explanation for why it is that one kind of thought results in there being something that it is like for me to have the conscious experience while in the case of the other kind of thought this is denied. Now perhaps there is an another worked out theory of the qualitative properties that could be able to supply a satisfying answer to this question; but I have not seen it. I am doubtful that one can be given.


5 thoughts on “Homomorphism Theory and the Mental Attitudes

  1. Hey man. Sorry for dropping in and out like this!

    So maybe Rosenthal is committed to there being something it’s like to be a conscious believer, but not that there’s a difference in what it’s like to believe P as opposed to Q.

    Another issue here is that the attitudes might be dispositionally individuated; that is, believing that P is being disposed to do x, y, z… So maybe self ascribing a dispositional property does not result in there being something it’s like for the subject, while ascribing an occurent property (seeing red, etc.) does. So, in the sensory case, I am aware of myself as being in a occurent state (or state with properties individuated occurently) and thus there is something it’s like for me; while, in the thought case, I am aware of myself as being in a dispositional state (or state with properties individuated dispostionally).

    Just a thought.


  2. No worries Josh, feel free to drop in and out as much as you want! 🙂

    I would rather put it this way: he is committed to there be something that it is like to have a conscious belief, but not that there is a difference between believing P as opposed to Q. So, as I argue, the qualitative component is constitutive of the mental attitude itself; it is not part part of the content of what is believed…So on my view all beliefs share their ‘what-its-likeness’ and differ in this respect from all desires (just like all seeings of red are similar to each other and dissimilar to all seeings of green…

    I agree that there may be this difference with respect to dispositions, but I (nor Rosenthal) think that beliefs are all dispositions, so I don’t think I need to worry about this objection (though you are right that it means my argument will not work on someone like Rocco…)

  3. Richard: You say that “believing will be more like suspecting than it will be like wondering.” Maybe, though I have doubts that you can generalize for all or even most mental attitudes. But suppose you can; what does the homomorphism-theory approach to the mental attitudes over the observation that intentional states with each mental attitude are expressed verbally by speech acts with corresponding illocutionary forces? All the best,


  4. Hi David, thanks very much for the comment. Sorry to be so slow in getting to it, but you know what kind of week I have been having!

    If thoughts have a qualitative aspect, as i think that they do, and as i think you should think they do too, then we will need some way to identify them other than their conscious phenomenal properties. Just as in the sensory case we need to be able to identify an unconscious pain. We cannot do it in the normal way (i.e. by is conscious phenomenal property), we thus identify it by its location in the quality space which is homomorphic to the perceptible property. You argue that we can’t do that for the content of a thought, and I agree. I think we will end up with something like Devitt’s view for mental content. some mental content will be conceptual role/holistically given and other contents will be determined by world-mind causal relations.

    The mental attitudes on the other hand do seem like the kinds of things we could give a homomorphism theory for. The mental attitude ‘belief’, say, would be the thing that was more like suspecting than wondering (and etc). When this mental attitude is conscious we pick it out with respect to a certain ‘cognitive quality’, if you will, which I have called ‘conviction’. When one consciously believes that p one feels convinced that p is true. P has the quality of certainty (though this of course comes in degrees). But when beliefs occur unconsciously there is nothing that it is like to have them. So how do we identify them? We do so by locating them in a quality space which is homomorphic to the set of illocutionary forces of speech acts.

    So the observation that metal attitudes are expressed in speech acts with a corresponding illocutionary force is meant to provide evidence that there are these two sets of properties that have this homomorphic relationship.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s