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Individualism and the Mental - Tyler Burge Summary Burge argues that the content of a subjects mental states

constitutively depend not only on her internal physical constitution and history, but also on her relationship to her linguistic community. The argument proceeds by way of a counterexample, which has three steps: 1. A subject has a wide variety of intentional attitudes whose contents include the concept of arthritis. For example, she correctly thinks she has arthritis in her joints; that arthritiss symptoms include pain and stiffness in the joints; etc. However, she is unaware that arthritis only afflicts the joints, and mistakenly thinks that she has arthritis in her thigh. Thus, our subject displays a large degree of competence in using the concept of arthritis, but as a result of partial understanding, misapplies the concept in some cases. 2. Suppose a counterfactual situation in which the subject undergoes the very same physical and non-intentional mental history, but lives in a community in which arthritis applies to various rheumatoid ailments, including the one in her thigh. 3. According to Burge, in the counterfactual case, it is not possible to attribute attitudes employing the concept of arthritis. Instead, she has lots of beliefs about tharthritis, a different ailment including the one causing the pain in her thigh. Therefore, our subjects mental states differ in the two situations despite there being no difference in her physical make-up or causal history. The only difference was in the social context. This implies that social context partially determines meaning. Burge argues that this argument applies very widely. Reinterpretation Much of section III of the paper is spent defending a literal interpretation of step 1 of the thought experiment, as opposed to a reinterpretation to the effect that the subject does not actually have thoughts containing the concept of arthritis. 1. Burge argues that interpreting the subject as having beliefs about tharthritis would be problematic because there are no recognised standards governing the application of the concept. It isnt clear in what cases the concept would be applied correctly and in what cases it would be applied incorrectly, which is simply to say, it isnt exactly clear what the content of the concept is. 2. Reinterpretation does not take into account what typically happens when people with partial understanding of concepts are corrected when they mis-use them. They usually exhibit deference, and amend their use.

3. Reinterpretation would not join up in the right way with the other intentional attitudes a subject has about his arthritis; for example, the fear that one has it in his thigh. I think we also want to be careful to preserve the possibility of error in applying concepts. If we take charity too far, then we just end up with a situation in which disagreements between people come down to disagreements about language, rather than disagreements about the world. Davidson says that in order to even get interpretation off the ground, we need to interpret a subject as being largely correct in his beliefs. But attributing false beliefs about arthritis in somebodys thigh does not seem to result in a subject being uninterpretable. Burge seems to allow that individuals can strike out on our own to fashion our own idiolects, but in a large class of cases we defer to our community to fix the content of our concepts. A speakers own willingness to submit his statements and beliefs to the arbitration of an authority, e.g. a dictionary, is supposed to guard against the idea that a speaker himself means something different by a concept of which his usage diverges. This may even be taken up by the inferentialist to maintain a substantial part of his position? One might argue, that the fact that arthritis is an inflammation of he joints is so fundamental to the identity of the concept, that not accepting it implies that one has not indeed mastered the concept. So one might routinely identify gout as arthritis and still have the concept. Or, for example, one might plausibly mistakenly identify kumquats as oranges and still be said to have the concept of an orange, but could one also classify bananas as oranges, and still be said to have the concept of an orange? Full Understanding Burge argues in Section II.c that the thought experiment applies to belief contents that are fully understood by running the thought experiment in reverse. Somebody who fully understands the concept of arthritis is imagined to live in a linguistic community that only uses tharthritis. He is told he has arthritis in high thigh by his counterfactual factual doctor, and he accepts the change. In the counterfactual case, we should accept he believes he has tharthritis all along. Does this work? Imagine there is an island somewhere with a lone Robinson Crusoe like inhabitant who is disposed to make the same inferential leaps as the arthritis sufferer in Burges example who fully understands the concept of arthritis. Similarly, imagine he is connected to his own arthritis in an identical way, feeling analogous pains, and describing them as effects of his arthritis. If Burge is correct, this Crusoe character cannot have any thoughts about arthritis because he is absent of the social determinant of his content. Indeed, if Burge is right about how widely his argument applies, there would be a great many beliefs that would intuitively ascribe to this Crusoe type character that are not sanctioned because the appropriate social context is lacking. In Burges example, the person who apparently has full understanding of arthritis gives in when corrected by his doctor without argument. I wonder if

Burge conflates correct application with full understanding? Would his argument be anymore plausible if the distinction was made clear? Individualist accounts of the Mental Burge takes his thought experiment to count against certain individualist views of the mental. First, Cartesianism, because the argument implies that ones mental contents can exceed ones capacity for introspection. Second, functionalism. Burges Headline Claims Changes to a thinkers social context alone can affect the content of his beliefs. It would seem to imply that it is possible not to understand the contents of ones own thoughts. For how can one understand a thought that employs a concept one does not understand. It is possible to employ a concept in thought with only a partial understanding of that concept.