Monthly Archives: January 2015

Some Brief Thoughts on (Semantic) Holism

I haven’t posted a blog entry for months, mostly because I have no idea what to write for my next entry. However, this time I do know what i’m going to write for this entry, but it’s going to be very brief. It’s more or less about my personal research about (semantic) Holism. Specifically, it’s the view that the semantic content of some belief is determined by it’s relation to the web of beliefs that it’s a part of. I’m in the stage where I’m asking myself a question that could be problematic for Holism.

In particular, the question is whether or not the phenomenon of contradictory beliefs (i.e. cognitive dissonance) poses a problem for Holism. This is where I need to introduce my distinction between interpersonal contradictory beliefs and intrapersonal contradictory beliefs are important. Interpersonal contradictory beliefs  are about contrary beliefs existing in different minds. So, belief that P and belief that not-P exist independently in different minds. Based on my superficial reading of Ned Block’s encyclopedic article about Holism, a large portion of the debate about Holism is about interpersonal contradictory beliefs posing a problem of making generalizations about psychology. Intrapersonal contradictory beliefs are contrary beliefs within a single mind. So belief that P and belief that not P exist within the same web of belief inside someone’s mind. In the light of this distinction, my question is really whether or not the phenomenon of intrapersonal contradictory beliefs poses a problem for Holism.

What motivates my suspicion that contradictory beliefs constitute a problem for Holism is the following. Suppose that inside someone’s mind there are two beliefs: belief that P and belief that not-P. Both beliefs possess meaning contrary to one another, so they cannot be semantically related to each other in the way that the concept “ancestor” is semantically related to “descendant”. However, according to Holism, a content of a belief is determined by it’s relation to the web of beliefs. If the belief that P is related to the rest of the beliefs that include the belief not-P, how can its content be determined by them?

I’m assuming that (intrapersonal) contradictory beliefs cannot determine each other’s meaning within a web of belief, but this is a huge assumption on my part. I’m also assuming that consistency is one of the requirements for beliefs to determine each other’s content, but this too is a huge assumption that could be faulty. Perhaps Holism does not require consistency as one of the conditions for beliefs to determine each other’s content. But, If Holism cannot account for contradictory beliefs, then I think this flies in the face of empirical psychology. After all, Cognitive Dissonance is one very well known phenomena when one becomes aware of one’s contradictory beliefs. Nonetheless, I can’t exactly know for sure until I do some further research. I am worried that given my ignorance and inexperience, my suspicion about holism maybe misguided. It would be nice if anyone could provide a helpful and constructive feedback.