How beliefs make a difference
Sterrett, Susan G. How beliefs make a difference (Ph.D. diss. University of Pittsburgh, 1999.)
How are beliefs efficacious? One answer is: via rational intentional action. But there are other ways that beliefs are efficacious. This dissertation examines these other ways, and sketches an answer to the question of how beliefs are efficacious that takes into account how beliefs are involved in the full range of behavioral disciplines, from psychophysiology and cognition to social and economic phenomena. The account of how beliefs are efficacious I propose draws on work on active accounts of perception. I develop an account based on a proposal sketched by the cognitive scientist Ulrich Neisser. Neisser sketched an active account of perception, on which dynamic anticipatory schemata direct an organism's exploration and action, and are in turn revised as a result of exploration and action. This notion of schema has roots in nineteenth century neurophysiology and in Frederick Bartlett's subsequent work on memory. Neisser appealed to it to unite what he thought was right about information-processing accounts of perception with what he thought was right about ecological accounts of perception. The point that we must anticipate in order to perceive has been recognized by philosophers in the form of the "theory-ladenness of observation." I extend the concept of anticipatory schema to include its role in social perception and social interaction; the concept of anticipatory schema provides a more interactive account of the role of expectations in the maintenance and existence of social institutions, and can be used to enrich the account of convention David Lewis provided. I also show that the concept of rational expectations, which explains the neutrality of money in terms of the efficacy of anticipatory expectations, is compatible with the proposed account of how beliefs are efficacious. I discuss how the proposal accounts for the three main modes by which beliefs can be efficacious: (i) via their role in causing intentional action, (ii) via their role in causing economic phenomena and the existence and maintenance of social institutions, and (iii) via their role in causing unintentional physiological responses, including anticipatory physiological responses that can enable perception, cause involuntary actions and give rise to the placebo effect.
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