I ran into my old macroeconomics professor at the Daily Grind today. It’s a tactical mistake, but I’m both too literal and too vain to substitute “I’m a bum” for “I’m working on my thesis.” So for the sake of my self-respect, I need to get better at my pitch. Here’s the first draft:
I’m trying to defend Daniel Dennett’s theory of how we attribute beliefs and desires to other people. He says we attribute beliefs and desires by assuming people are fairly rational. To start off with, we assume people want what they need to survive: they want food, water, shelter, they want to avoid things that are dangerous. We also assume that people know about obvious features of their environment. The reason we attribute those beliefs and desires is so that we can predict people’s behavior. This also works by assuming that people are rational. If you’ve I’ll predict that you do whatever is rational to satisfy your desires given what you believe. That’s the basic outline, and it’s pretty plausible at first. The first real problem is that Dennet isn’t very detailed. He gives us this story that works for the obvious cases: you think I believe there’s food in the refrigerator, so you think I’ll open the fridge when I’m hungry. But, if you know me, you might also think I believe the war in Iraq is hopeless or that the theory of relativity is true. It’s hard to see how you get from the obvious beliefs all the way to the really complicated ones. The other big problem is defining rationality, because it’s a very slippery concept, and also because it really seems that people do irrational things: they smoke or they play the lottery, maybe. Or they think we’re winning the Iraq war.
I know they’ll stop me before I get through all that, but whaddya think? Is it comprehensible? Do I sound like I’m wasting a year of my life?