The Belief-Desire Model of Action Explanation Reconsidered: Thoughts on Bittner

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reasons, action, Rüdiger Bittner, intentions, belief-desire model

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The belief-desire model of action explanation is deeply ingrained in multiple disciplines. There is reason to think that it is a cultural artifact. But is there an alternative? In this discussion, I will consider the radical critique of this action explanation model by Rüdiger Bittner, which argues that the model appeals to dubious mental entities, and argues for a model of reasons as responses to states or events. Instead, for Bittner, agents are reason-selectors—selecting the states or events to respond to and selecting the ones the agent is disposed to respond to. By getting rid of the explanatory role of beliefs, this model runs into difficulties over errors usually attributed to false beliefs. These can be resolved by expanding the notion of dispositions to cover the case of false belief. But this suggests that the belief-reason model serves to divide the category of dispositions in an arbitrary or culturally specific way.

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Philosophy of the Social Sciences, v. 48, issue 3, p. 290-308