To Zac and Larisa: Second order thoughts is totally the standard locution for this issue, thank you for pointing this out. I may or may not feel like making the distinction in the future but if I do it will be in an informed way that I will credit you folks with.
Zac: (I'm paraphrasing) "Exactly what you said, only more clear."
Me: Thank you.
Larisa: "mainly my response to your specific question is that i'm don't think that your mom, when entertaining the thought you describe about her dog and her husband, was expressing a belief at all."
Me: I agree with you on a technical front that the imagining that she had wasn't properly a belief, but I think it is confusing enough to be addressed. Especially as her mental state of emotionally embracing an idea that she does not endorse as true does not seem to have a single term that could describe it. So if some people would reject this mental state because it was too belief-like than I have motivation to tackle this "problem".(see my summation point)
Liam: "There's an easier parallel argument to be made replacing beliefs with behavior. For example, it is quite common for behavioral economists and decision theorists to openly admit to engaging in 'irrational' behavior of all sorts. There is evidence that such laxity leads to better decisions, e.g. http://
Try thinking about beliefs such as your mother's as just another bit of behavior, which like all behavior has consequences in terms of health, happiness, etc. A behavior can be optimal even if its reasons are not apparent to an observer, including the agent herself."
Me: This is a very good point, especially in reference to that bit of research. There is a sort of dual self understanding at work where there is the unreflected experience and the self critical experience which may very well be profitable for me to think about.
Winfield: "You shouldn't conflate the products of instrumental reasoning and emotional rationalizing, they seem two entirely separate realms of information and decisions. That is, when reasoning about a dead loved one, you should probably use different systems of thought to determine how you feel about them and the instrumental reality of their remains.
To project the memory of a loved one into a warm, imaginary place is not the same as to deny the physics of what they've left behind."
Me: I see your point here Winfield, but I am imagining an interlocutor (that may not exist given the responses here) who has not only made that conflation but is dedicated to it. And what I was thinking is that I could perhaps build an instrumental reasoning argument that would, in effect, undo the conflation.
Me in summation: Thanks everyone for your input. And based on that input I'm not sure this is an actual issue for anyone, and I may have a straw man in my head with whom I have been arguing.