Attitudes and the words we use
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Attention to language and its use is fundamental to an understanding of how attitudes are formed, structured, defended, communicated and (not least) measured. Yet, as I shall show in this chapter, the relationship between linguistic expressions of attitude and hypothesised mental states is not straightforward. It may be diffi cult to identify those forms of verbal expression that appear to tell us something signifi cant about what people are thinking, as opposed to those drawn apparently more mindlessly from a repertoire of conventional arguments. I shall be arguing that our ability to understand verbal expressions of attitude cannot depend on an observed correspondence between the words used and the speaker’s mental states, which by defi nition are not directly observable, but rather on the commitments implied by such acts of expression within a social context. A common misconception is that, whereas beliefs can be correct or incorrect, attitudes are merely preferences to which no truth value can be attached. Attitudinal agreements and disagreements, as we shall see, have profound signifi cance for social relationships, precisely because they refl ect shared or contested claims about something other than the mental states of the individuals concerned.