Arguments for Holism about Beliefs

  • Michael Esfeld
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 298)


Beginning with Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”, the main arguments for holism about beliefs are considered. Three forms of this holism are distinguished: holism about (a) confirmation, (b) justification, and (c) meaning, i.e., semantic holism. It is suggested that (a) is best construed along the lines of the second type of the general conception of holism set out in the first chapter; (b) and (c), by contrast, can be construed along the lines of both types of this conception. I shall not be concerned with (b). As regards (a), I endorse Quine’s confirmation holism in “Two Dogmas”. However, I do not approve of Quine’s step to (c), because it presupposes verificationism [2.1]. I then go into the argument for semantic holism that bases itself on the conditions for the interpretation of persons. This argument on its own is neither necessary nor sufficient to establish semantic holism [2.2]. Therefore, the focus of this chapter is on the direct argument for semantic holism, namely inferential role semantics. The tasks for such a semantics are set out. Furthermore, the major objection against such a semantics is considered, i.e., that it does not allow for shared beliefs [2.3]. The strategy to counter this objection pursued here is to conceive inferential role as role in a social, linguistic community. In elaborating on this strategy, I base myself on Brandom’s “Making It Explicit” and follow Brandom in grounding an inferential role semantics on a normative pragmatics. According to this pragmatics, “meaning” is a normative notion; nonetheless, a descriptive theory of meaning is possible: In ascribing beliefs to a person, one describes the commitments that the person in question undertakes [2.4].


Belief State Perceptual Belief Linguistic Community Inferential Role Observation Sentence 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Esfeld
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.University of KonstanzGermany
  2. 2.University of HertfordshireEngland

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