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Davidson’s Challenge

‘We have many vocabularies for describing nature when we regard it as mindless, and we have a mentalistic vocabulary for describing thought and intentional action; what we lack is a way of describing what is in between\citep[p.\ 11]{Davidson:1999ju}
Why suppose there is any role for philosophers rather than scientists? Part of the answer is provided by Donald Davidson.
The question is how humans come to know about objects, words, thoughts and other things. In pursuing this question we have to consider minds where the knowledge is neither clearly present nor obviously absent. This is challenging because both commonsense and theoretical tools for describing minds are generally designed for characterising fully developed adults.

‘if you want to describe what is going on in the head of the child when it has a few words which it utters in appropriate situations, you will fail for lack of the right sort of words of your own.

‘We have many vocabularies for describing nature when we regard it as mindless, and we have a mentalistic vocabulary for describing thought and intentional action; what we lack is a way of describing what is in between

(Davidson 1999, p. 11)

I love this: Davidson says we will fail. So encouraging. But why will we fail?
Is he suggesting the issue is merely terminological? Not quite ...
So this is the challenge. We are describing something which is neither mindless nor involving full-blown thought and action. And, as Davidson observes, we lack a way of describing what is in between.
The question about the origins of mind is in part a philosophical question because answering it will require new conceptual tools.
This challenge is one that we will face again and again.
What does Davidson have in mind? Let me introduce what I’ll call the ‘Uncomplicated Account of Minds and Actions’.

Uncomplicated Account of Minds and Actions

For any given proposition [There’s a spider behind the book] and any given human [Wy] ...

1. Either Wy believes that there’s a spider behind the book, or she does not.

2. Either Wy can act for the reason that there is, or seems to be, a spider behind the book (where this is her reason for acting), or else she cannot.

3. The first alternatives of (1) and (2) are either both true or both false.

\subsection{Uncomplicated Account of Minds and Actions} For any given proposition [There’s a spider behind the book] and any given human [Wy] ... \begin{enumerate} \item Either Wy believes that there’s a spider behind the book, or she does not. \item Either Wy can act for the reason that there is, or seems to be, a spider behind the book, or else she cannot. \item The first alternatives of (1) and (2) are either both true or both false. \end{enumerate}
The Uncomplicated Account could be elaborated to take into account the fact that how people act depends on attitudes other than belief. For example, much may depend on whether Wy likes, or fears, spiders.
Philosophers have done much of this elaboration, building on the Uncomplicated Account by identifying features of belief adding attitudes like desire and intention as well as fear and pride.
But there is a fundamental problem with the Uncomplicated Account, one that probably can’t be fixed by elaborating it with further attitudes. The problem is that, as we will see in a moment, there are cases in which (2) turns out to be wrong and the connection between (1) and (2) breaks down.
If we want to understand what is going on in the head of an infant who is in the process of developing capacities for knowledge, we will have to fundamentally revise the Uncomplicated Account.