What are beliefs?: Patricia S. Churchland and Paul M. Churchland
Beliefs, according to the tradition in philosophy, are states of mind that have the property of being about things – things in the world, as well as abstract things, events in the past and things only imagined. A central problem is to explain how physical states of the brain can be about things; that is, what it is for brain states to represent. This is a puzzle not only for beliefs, but also for mental states more generally, such as fears, desires, and goals. In analytic philosophy, the main focus has been on language as the model for beliefs and for the relations among various kinds of beliefs. Although the linguistic approach produced some useful logical distinctions, little progress was made in solving the central representational problem. A newer approach starts from the perspective of the brain and its capacity for adaptive behavior. The basic aim is to address aboutness in terms of complex causal and mapping relations between the brain and world, as well as among brain states themselves, which result in the brain’s capacity to represent things.