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Suppose you believe that the ice on your local pond is thinner than it looks. Very likely you will decide not to skate today. If you happen to be a humanitarian sort, you will warn others as well. You might even contact the local authorities and demand that they put up a sign forbidding anyone from going out there until the condition of the ice improves. Each of these actions would be entirely natural, and, in many circumstances, predictable. Readers may recognize this hypothetical as a gloss on an example deployed by the philosopher Gilbert Ryle in his clever demonstration that to believe a proposition p means not simply to have a particular state of mind concerning p but also to have a disposition toward a particular set of actions that are consistent with p. Even critics who consider “disposition” the wrong concept concede that Ryle is on to something: when we speak of “belief,” we are invoking a far more complicated set of concepts than simply an evaluation of the likelihood that p is true.
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