Assertion and false-belief attribution
The ability to attribute false-beliefs to others — the hallmark of a representational theory of mind — has been shown to be reliant on linguistic ability, specifically on competence in sentential complementation after verbs of communication and cognition such as ‘say that’ and ‘think that’. The reason commonly put forward for this is that these structures provide a representational format which enables the child to think about another’s thoughts. The paper offers an alternative explanation. Drawing on the work of the philosophers Michael Dummett and Robert Brandom, it argues that the available data better fits an account that grounds the notion of representation in the commitments undertaken by asserters. The competence in sentential complementation that precedes false-belief attribution is viewed as a result of the child developing a meta-awareness of the syntactic forms employed in assertion. This meta-awareness gives the child access to discourse about the commitments undertaken by speakers and the consequences of these for their behaviour. This understanding constitutes the child’s grasp of the representational nature of discourse and thought. The paper thus offers an illocutionary account of theory-of-mind development.
Keywords: sentential complementation, Robert Brandom, declarative mood, assertion, false belief, Michael Dummett, discursive commitment, theory of mind
Published online: 09 April 2010
Cited by 2 other publications
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