Are there belief-dependent properties? More specifically, does having a belief that a is F suffice to confer any properties whatsoever to a? If you were a certain kind of idealist, you would think that such a belief sufficed to confer the property of being F to a’s. If you weren’t an idealist, but nonetheless bought into certain kinds of relational accounts about belief, then you would think that the belief in question at least conferred to a’s the property of being believed. As I’ve argued in “Unicorns and Monitoring Theories of Consciousness” there are no such properties and this spells bad news for various theories of consciousness. Here’s Dennett on belief dependent properties. And snakes:
(1) Many people (wrongly) believe that snakes are slimy.
This is a fact about people, but also about snakes. That is to say,
(2) Snakes are believed by many to be slimy.
This is a property that snakes have, and it is about as important a property as their scaliness. For instance, it is an important ecological fact about snakes that many people believe them to be slimy; if it were not so, snakes would certainly be more numerous in certain ecological niches than they are, for many people try to get rid of things they think to be slimy. The ecological relevance of this fact about snakes does not “reduce” to a conjunction of cases of particular snakes being mistakenly believed to be slimy by particular people; many a snake has met an untimely end (thanks to snake traps or poison, say) as a result of someone’s general belief about snakes, without ever having slithered into rapport with its killer. So the relation snakes bear to anyone who believes in general that snakes are slimy is a relation we have reason to want to express in our theories. So too is the relation any particular snake (in virtue of its snakehood) bears to such a believer. (From “Beyond Belief” in The Intentional Stance pp. 176-177.)
I guess I’m not seeing what it is about snakes an anti-relationalist about belief would be missing out on here. Suppose one were to affirm that
(3) Snakes get killed.
(4) People have snakes-are-slimy beliefs.
Couldn’t I cite causal relations between the entities described in (3) and (4) without also having to admit the truth of
(5) There exists such a property of snakes as being-believed-to-be-slimy
I don’t see why not. What hinges on this? Well, first and foremost, various theories of consciousness are going to be in trouble, like those that hold that being a conscious state is being a represented state and those that hold that being a phenomenal property is being a represented property. Also, I got to write something called “Snakes on a Brain”.
Fig 1. Samuel L. Jackson regards mutha-f$%&*#g snakes as existing independently of his mutha-f$%&*#g mind.