Holism as Revision of the Cartesian Tradition

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


In this chapter, I start considering the broader implications of holism about beliefs and social holism for the philosophy of mind. The outlined holism about beliefs and social holism amount to a revision of the Cartesian tradition in epistemology. Two features of this tradition are relevant in this context: (a) a representational semantics including a representational realism and (b) the thesis of internalism or epistemic self-sufficiency of belief states [4.1]. As regards (a), it is shown how the proposed holism paves the way for a direct realism in contrast to a representational realism [4.2]. As regards (b), it is examined to what extent the proposed holism implies externalism as an alternative to epistemic self-sufficiency of belief states. According to this holism, the content of belief states depends on the social and the physical environment. In particular, social holism is a social externalism. It can moreover accommodate externalism with respect to singular thoughts and a type of direct reference. However, as far as an externalism such as the one of Putnam in “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’” is concerned, I argue that there is a tension between social holism and this externalism. For, according to social holism, beliefs are individuated by social practices instead of features of the physical environment. Features of the physical environment of which the speakers may be ignorant can contribute to the individuation of their beliefs only on the basis of a stipulation of the community to that effect. Consequently, the relation between beliefs and the world has to be established from within these practices [4.3].


Belief State Intentional Object Perceptual Belief Physical Thing Direct Realism 
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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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