Knowledge Before Belief with Jonathan Phillips

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An enormous amount of research in philosophy and cognitive science has been devoted to belief representation in theory of mind, or the capacity we have to figure out what other people believe. Because of all this focus on belief, one might be tempted to think that belief is one of the most basic theory of mind capacities we have. But is that really what the evidence shows? Jonathan and his coauthors argue that it doesn’t show that at all. Instead, they argue that it’s actually the capacity to figure out what others know—rather than what they believe—that’s the more basic capacity.

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Paper Quotes

Since the 1970’s, research has explored belief attribution in a way that brings together numerous areas of cognitive science. Our understanding of belief representation has benefitted from a huge set of interdisciplinary discoveries from developmental studies, cognitive neuroscience, primate cognition, experimental philosophy, and beyond. The result of this empirical ferment has been extraordinary, giving us lots of insight into the nature of belief representation.

We hope this paper serves as a call to arms for cognitive scientists to join researchers who have already begun to do the same for knowledge representation. Our hope is that we can marshal the same set of tools and use them to get a deeper understanding of the nature of knowledge. In doing so, we may gain better insight into the kind of representation that may— at an even more fundamental level— allow us to make sense of others’ minds.