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Secondary belief content, what is it good for?


Some use the need to explain communication, agreement, and disagreement to argue for two-dimensional conceptions of belief content. One prominent defender of an account of this sort is David Chalmers. Chalmers claims that beliefs have two kinds of content. The second dimension of belief content, which is tied to what beliefs pick out in the actual world, is supposed to help explain communication, agreement, and dis agreement. I argue that it does not. Since the need to explain these phenomena is the main stated motivation for the addition of the second dimension of belief content, my arguments also undermine the motivation for Chalmers’ two-dimensional account of belief content and theories like it.

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  1. Chalmers also uses phrases such as ‘notional content’ and ‘epistemic content’ to pick out this kind of content.

  2. Chalmers also uses phrases such as ‘relational content’ and ‘subjunctive content’ to pick out this kind of content.

  3. Secondary content may have crucial roles to play in the analysis of linguistic content (e.g. the content of modal and counterfactual claims), but since my focus is secondary mental content (e.g. the contents of attitudes like beliefs) and what roles this secondary mental content can play, these questions concerning linguistic content are not relevant to the present discussion.

  4. For a clear discussion of some of the difficulties involved in claiming that belief content is both perspectival and shared between agents, see Weber (2013).

  5. This case is reminiscent of Kripke’s puzzling Pierre case as Chalmers (2002) discusses it. The main difference is that the Pierre case is an intrapersonal case, in which the beliefs involved are held by the same agent, whereas this case is interpersonal.

  6. In ‘Propositions and Attitude Ascriptions: A Fregean Account’ Chalmers (2011, 603) talks about what he calls enriched propositions, a kind of structured two-dimensional semantic value associated with beliefs that captures both their secondary and primary content (Chalmers 2011, 599–601). Since differences in primary content will imply differences in enriched content, agents will not often have beliefs with the same enriched content. Chalmers (2011, 602) admits that this fine-grainedness might be thought of as a cost to his view. Again, Chalmers (2011, 602, 619–620) falls back on secondary content to diffuse this concern. Though it is true that different agents’ beliefs will not often share their enriched content, they will at least share one kind of content, secondary content.


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Thanks to Daniel Nolan, Frank Jackson, David Chalmers, Alan Hájek, Clare Due, Erick Llamas, Daniel Stoljar, Luke Roelofs, Melissa Ebbers, Philip Pettit, Ben Blumson, Donald Nordblom, and an audience at the 2016 Australasian Association of Philosophy conference at Monash University for helpful discussion about the material in this paper.

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Sandgren, A. Secondary belief content, what is it good for?. Philos Stud 175, 1467–1476 (2018).

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  • Mental content
  • Two-dimensionalism
  • David Chalmers
  • Reference