• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!


Beliefs and Desires in Social Understanding

Page history last edited by philosophyofsocialcognition 15 years, 6 months ago

Beliefs and Desires in Social Understanding



Humans function in a highly social environment and this requires that we have the ability to understand a variety of different social relationships.  Beliefs and desires are the basic elements to folk psychology, and it is where one would start from in the basic understanding of rational agents in a social setting.



Belief and desire pairs are the building blocks to any kind of mind-reading EMPATHY (See also empathy, basic and reenactive).  This foundation can be recognized if we break down thought process; beliefs are what individuals hold to be true premises and propositions, desires are the wants and needs people aim for.  The combination of both promotes action from a rational individual because he wants something.  How then do beliefs and desires contribute so critically in social environments people encounter everyday?


FOLK PSYCHOLOGY (see also folk psychology as a theory) is an intuitive theory that models the way in which rational agents interpret one another.  The ability to predict and explain another person’s behaviour requires that person X in question is rational.  This is necessary because, according to simulation theory, people in general are very similar to each other – through a sense of self-awareness, we reflect the fact that X is human as well and will feel the same emotions that we would under the same circumstances.  To make this leap of faith on judging X’s character requires that we at least know X is sane, rational and driven by common sense.



Also critical to FOLK PSYCHOLOGY are belief and desires.  The ability to predict and explain actions requires that they are backed by belief and desire pairs; when rational agent X makes an action C with intent, one must assume that he had his reasons to do so.  The reason is from his own desire for a particular outcome to take place, thus he believes in action C, which will provoke the outcome.  All rational actions therefore begin from a belief and desire pair.  Because we try our best in understanding actions through folk psychology, it creates a normalizing effect in these behaviours that we interpret – even if they may be perceived as erratic and irrational by others observing the same behaviour.   



In a common social setting that people encounter on a daily basis, mindreading (predicting and explaining other people’s behaviours) is a critical skill.  Rational agents require the ability to step into another person’s shoes and EMPATHIZE (see also empathy, basic and re enactive) for their emotions and thoughts, at least to a certain degree, to be able to function optimally in society.  The inability to do so can be observed in autistic individuals; their condition can be known as some sort of mind – blindness of others.  Thus, the ability to read minds starts from the recognition that we are dealing with a rational agent; then to be able to understand his point of view one must know that he is coming from a belief and desire thought process that all rational agents begin with.  Moreover, humans can function together with such ease because we can communicate our beliefs and desires to one another.  We pick up signals in facial expressions, voice tones and many other things that further help us in deciphering another individual’s feelings so we can relate to them.  


- Clarence Chan, University of Toronto

Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.