Attitudes de se and de me

Abstract

In sentences of the type “S believes that he/she/it is Φ” the pronoun occurring within the scope of the verb ‘believes’ in such sentences is sometimes used anaphorically to refer to the subject of belief S. I shall argue that when the pronoun is being used in this anaphoric way, the whole sentence is not always functioning as a device for attributing to the subject S an indexical, indeed first-personal belief—what I shall call a belief de me. In other words, to use terminology first introduced by Lewis and now universally accepted, I argue that ascription or attribution de se does not always report an attitude de me. I also argue, however, that in those cases in which no belief de me is reported, the belief state reported is nonetheless at least sometimes itself de se. In other words, and crudely put, there is belief de se which is not belief de me.

I argue this via a critique (§§ 1 and 2) of Cappelen and Dever (The Inessential Indexical, Oxford, 2013), who have, quite rightly, attacked the idea of essential indexicality as this has come to be understood in the literature. I also show (§ 3) that essential indexicality in this sense is not actually what Perry was claiming in his well-known paper of 1979. I conclude by drawing out the implications of the idea that there is belief de se which is not de me, particularly for the idea of explicit, first-personal thinking (having an ‘I’-thought).

Introduction1

Consider sentences of the type “S believes that he/she/it is Φ.”2 Sometimes, although not always,3 the pronoun occurring within the scope of the verb ‘believes’ in such sentences is used anaphorically to refer to the subject of belief itself, namely, S. In this paper, I argue that when the pronoun is being used in this anaphoric way, the whole sentence is not always functioning as a device for attributing to the subject S4 an indexical, indeed first-personal5 belief—what I shall call a belief de me. In other words, to use the grammatically dubious6 terminology first introduced by Lewis and now universally accepted, I argue that ascription or attribution de se7 does not always report an attitude de me. I also argue for a more radical thesis: in those cases in which no belief de me is reported, the belief state reported is nonetheless at least sometimes itself de se.8 I put both claims together in the following crude slogan: there is belief de se which is not belief de me. There are forms of belief which must, if one is to capture their intentional structure perspicuously, be characterised as a matter of a subject’s believing that he, she or it is thus and so. Yet these forms of belief are not always cases in which the subject thinks to itself, i.e., mentally judges, or believes, “I am thus and so.”

The claim that attribution de se of belief is not necessarily or always attribution of belief de me runs counter to an almost universally held conviction. Writers from Castañeda and Lewis through McGinn and Price to recent writers such as Herman Cappelen, Josh Dever and Ofra Magidor all believe that, barring certain exceptional cases when it is used to report a standard belief de dicto, a sentence of the form “S believes that he, she or it is Φ” reports a belief de me. Thus, Castañeda claims that when a third person pronoun occurs in a psychologically intensional context and refers “through referring back to the expression” which occupies subject position of the psychological verb, it is “used to attribute first-person references to” this expression’s referent. (Castañeda 1968, p.90) Importantly, Cappelen, Dever and Magidor are all critics of a thesis which has arisen from the work of Castañeda, Lewis and Perry, is endorsed by McGinn and Price and, as we shall see, presupposes the conviction that as a rule attributions de se attribute belief de me—a so-called first person thought. This is the thesis of essential indexicality, at least as it has come to be understood. As the name suggests, the origins of the thesis lie in Perry’s well-known paper “The Problem of the Essential Indexical,” published in 1979. What is the thesis of essential indexicality which so many ascribe to Perry? In 1983 McGinn claims that

… indexical concepts are ineliminable because without them agency would be impossible: when I imagine myself divested of indexical thoughts, employing only centreless mental representations, I eo ipso imagine myself deprived of the power to act. (McGinn 1983, p.104)

Almost 30 years later we find Huw Price similarly claiming that

(i)n his well-known paper ‘The Problem of the Essential Indexical’ … John Perry points out that action depends on indexical beliefs. In addition to “impersonal” or “third-personal” information about her environment, an agent needs “situated” or “first-personal” information—information about the “I, here and now” of her situation. (Price 2007, p.1)

One could adduce passages from many other authors, all claiming something similar. The thesis of essential indexicality as understood by McGinn and Price, a thesis frequently attributed to Perry, is both widespread and comfortable. As Cappelen and Dever point out, little effort is made either to clarify or to justify the thesis and its significance. Most regard it as sufficient simply to direct the reader to Perry and Lewis.

This is surprising because if one takes McGinn and Price at their word, i.e., takes what they say quite literally, then the thesis of essential indexicality appears at best unclear, arguably false and at worst incoherent. No doubt when John Perry moves from looking for the shopper who is making a mess to re-arranging the items in his shopping trolley, he does so because he has suddenly and quite explicitly realised, “I am the shopper who is making a mess,” “I am making a mess,” etc. But it is surely not generally true that agents undergo such episodes when acting. Nor can McGinn and Price be claiming merely that the capacity for such explicit indexical, in particular, first-personal thought is essential. No mere capacity for indexical, in particular, first-personal thought could be essential for the exercise of agency since no mere capacity for anything could be essential for the exercise of another capacity. Cappelen and Dever are right when they say that throughout the literature no one has clarified, much less properly justified, just what they so readily endorse. The thesis of essential indexicality must first be reconstructed before it can be meaningfully assessed.

§ 1: Cappelen and Dever on the Generation, Explanation and Justification of Action

Cappelen and Dever reconstruct the thesis of essential indexicality in the following way. They begin with the following kind of explanation and/or justification—what they call a rationalisation—of behaviour (p.36):

  • Belief: François is about to be shot.

  • Desire: François not be shot.

  • Belief: If François ducks under the table, François will not be shot.

  • Action: François ducks under the table. (Adapted from Cappelen and Dever, p. 36)

Cappelen and Dever call this an impersonal action explanation or impersonal action rationalisation (IAR), this because the contents of the beliefs and desires at issue involve nothing first-personal or indexical. As such, these beliefs and desires, while obviously those of François, are ones which others could also have. And precisely because these beliefs and desires are impersonal in this sense, François is not mentioned as the subject of belief and desire since their being his is not constitutive of their identity; they can, after all, be had by anyone.

The notion of impersonal action explanation or rationalisation permits Cappelen and Dever to formulate what they claim to be the core thesis of essential indexicality. They rightly point out that “the source of much of the fascination with indexicality throughout philosophy” (pp.37-38) lies in the idea that there is an essential connection between indexicality and agency.9 This presumed essential connection they formulate as the Impersonal Incompleteness Claim or IIC: Impersonal action rationalisations and explanations “…are necessarily incomplete because of a missing indexical component.” (p.37)

Right from the outset we must note an unexplained feature of the IIC which might at first sight seem unimportant. McGinn and Price construe indexicality as essential in the generation or causation of action. McGinn, for example, claims that indexical concepts, hence beliefs and desires involving these concepts, are essential to agency itself, not to the explanation or rationalisation of agency. Yet the IIC speaks only of the explanation or rationalisation of agency. Why do Cappelen and Dever put the IIC in this way? Because this way of putting things better reflects how Perry proceeds in his original article. With regard to Perry’s well-known example of his making a mess in the supermarket, Cappelen and Dever write, “The claim Perry makes about this and the related scenarios is most naturally read as a claim about the opacity of explanation contexts.” (p.32) But if this is so, then, as Cappelen and Dever themselves recognise, “… it’s surprising to find Perry summarizing his view in [this] way,” (p.34) namely, as about the opacity of explanation contexts, hence about the explanation and rationalisation of action. After all, proponents of essential indexicality, Perry included, all agree that “the allegedly distinctive feature of indexicals goes beyond not being substitutable in explanation contexts.” (p.34)

This surprise reflects a failure to understand what Perry is actually doing. It is possible to understand the thesis of essential indexicality in a fashion which keeps everything strictly at the level of explanation and rationalisation rather than locating it in the generation or causation of action. Thereby, of course, one avoids the IIC. For example, one might claim the following: an impersonal action explanation or rationalisation is incomplete because it fails to attribute certain belief states to the agent which anyone who had these belief states themselves would have to attribute in indexical, indeed first personal terms. It is crucial to note that this way of conceiving the connection between indexicality and agency, although a close relative of the IIC, is nonetheless distinct from it. Crucially, as I argue in § 3, it better captures what Perry is in fact gesturing towards in his article from 1979, as opposed to how he has been interpreted by McGinn, Price and indeed by Cappelen and Dever. Cappelen and Dever do not, however, appreciate this and so they can only feel surprise. That on p.38 they unpack the IIC by quoting the passage from McGinn for a second time shows that we are indeed to understand the IIC as at least entailing what McGinn and Price claim. The thesis which Cappelen and Dever want to show to be unfounded, the thesis which they no less than anyone else attribute to Perry, straightforwardly asserts the following: an impersonal action explanation or rationalisation is incomplete because it fails to mention certain key states of belief and desire involved in the generation of action, which states are indexical.

Now if the IIC, thus understood, is true, then, in the explanation or rationalisation of François’ behaviour the only missing indexical component which would render the rationalisation or explanation complete is a personal, indeed first-personal one. Clearly, it is precisely because they have their eye on this particular kind of allegedly missing indexical component that Cappelen and Dever speak of impersonal rather than non-indexical action explanations or rationalisations. In this case, then, the IIC comes to the claim that impersonal action rationalisations and explanations are necessarily incomplete because of failure to attribute a first-personal component.10 The allegedly missing first-personal component could be provided in the following way:

  • Belief: François is about to be shot.

  • Desire: François not be shot.

  • Belief: If François ducks under the table, François will not be shot.

  • Belief: I am François.

  • Belief: I am about to be shot. (inferred)

  • Desire: I not be shot. (inferred)

  • Belief: If I duck under the table, I will not be shot. (inferred)

  • Action: I duck under the table. (Adapted from Cappelen and Dever, p.36)

But the point of François’ indexical, indeed first personal belief “I am François” is simply to permit conversion of the impersonal characterisations of François’ causally relevant beliefs and desires into the indexical, indeed first-personal forms allegedly required for the generation of action. We thus get the following core explanation and rationalisation, from which the indexical identity belief falls out as redundant because it has done whatever work was needed to be done to generate from impersonal belief states anyone could have the causally relevant indexical, indeed first-personal belief states:

  • Belief: I am about to be shot.

  • Desire: I not be shot.

  • Belief: If I duck under the table, I will not be shot.

  • Action: I duck under the table.

Here, the sentences used to articulate the content of François’ psychological states are ones which François himself either does in fact or would or could use to articulate these contents, for which reason, of course, they are indexical, indeed first-personal. In this sense, the explanation or rationalisation is undertaken from the perspective of François himself. It is, however, possible to give an explanation or rationalisation of François’ behaviour which is not impersonal in the sense defined above yet also not undertaken from the perspective of François himself. Someone who does not identify with François might explain or rationalise François’ action in the following third person terms:

  • François believes: He is about to be shot.

  • François desires: He not be shot.

  • François believes: If he ducks under the table, he will not be shot.

  • Action: François ducks under the table.

Note that now the subject of belief must be specified since this is required simply in order to ensure that the pronoun ‘he’ refers to the right object, namely, François, in the right way, namely, anaphorically. Only if this is ensured will the right content be attributed. Note, however, that the truth of the IIC imposes a certain understanding of what this third person anaphoric construction accomplishes. For its truth entails that insofar as this third person, anaphorically formulated explanation or rationalisation is complete, this is because and only because the beliefs it attributes by means of the anaphoric construction are in fact indexical, specifically, first-personal. In other words, the IIC presupposes that insofar as such an explanation or rationalisation is complete, this is because the anaphoric construction is serving as a device for attributing what are in fact indexical, specifically first-personal psychological states. The IIC thus rests upon the assumption that attributions de se of belief are attributions of belief de me.

Now Cappelen and Dever, as much as they regard the IIC as false and seek positively to demonstrate that there are no good reasons for endorsing it, themselves accept this assumption. This explains why, having rejected the IIC as false or at least unfounded, they reject any suggestion that impersonal action explanations or rationalisations are incomplete. As far as explaining or rationalising why François ducks under the table is concerned, it suffices entirely to attribute to François the structure of belief and desire illustrated above, namely:

  • Belief: François is about to be shot.

  • Desire: François not be shot.

  • Belief: If François ducks under the table, François will not be shot.

According to Cappelen and Dever, nothing more needs to be added by way of belief and desire in order to arrive at the explanandum or justificandum:

  • Action: François ducks under the table.

Cappelen and Dever recognise what considerations incline one to reject this suggestion—considerations which, when combined with the assumption that attributions de se of belief are attributions of belief de me, lead straight to the IIC. One might well “wonder why it is the case that “when you and I both apprehend the thought that I am about to be attacked by a bear, we behave differently” (Perry 1977, p.494).” (p.49) Clearly, two agents can have all the same impersonal and non-indexical beliefs and desires yet act differently. In such cases there must surely be a difference in beliefs and desires between the two agents and this difference must be a difference in beliefs and desires which are not impersonal and non-indexical since ex hypothesi the two agents have the same impersonal or non-indexical beliefs and desires. Given, therefore, that attributions de se of belief attribute beliefs de me, the beliefs which differ must be, at least in the kind of case in which I am about to be attacked by a bear, first-personal, hence indexical. This line of reasoning takes us directly to the IIC.

Evidently, those who pursue this line of thought are assuming that if two agents display different behaviours, then they have different beliefs or desires. Or, as Cappelen and Dever put it, they are assuming that “when two agents have the same belief-desire sets, they perform the same action.” (p.52) More accurately, they are assuming that when two agents have the same belief-desire sets, they perform the same action ceteris paribus since for some external reason an agent might fail to perform an action towards which he or she is psychologically disposed, e.g., just as the agent is about to act, the agent is struck dead by a bolt of lightning. Cappelen and Dever rightly accept this assumption—see p.52. On the basis, however, of its ineliminable ceteris paribus character they claim that this assumption does not entitle one to conclude that when agents with the same impersonal belief/desire sets behave differently, the difference in behaviour must be due to a difference in belief and desire, hence a difference in indexical or first-personal belief and desire. This yields their strategy for showing that an impersonal action explanation or rationalisation of the kind just indicated is or can be complete: One must show that there can be some other difference between agents which explains the difference in behaviour.

What, then, do they think this difference would or could be in the following scenario?:

  • Belief: François is about to be attacked by a bear.

  • Desire: François not be attacked by the bear.

  • Belief: If François climbs into the tree and Dilip calls for help, François will not be attacked by the bear.

  • Action: François climbs into the tree and Dilip calls for help.

Evidently, François and Dilip could and indeed do equally hold these impersonal beliefs and desires. Yet the behaviour of each is different: François climbs into the tree and Dilip calls for help, thereby together saving François from the bear. What could the difference between them be which explains the behavioural difference if not a difference in further belief?

Cappelen and Dever open their attempt to answer this question with the following move: in cases like that of François and Dilip,

actions will differ but not what we are rationally motivated to do. Someone other than François, e.g., Dilip, can be rationally motivated to perform the action that François climb into the tree. (p.52)

At first sight, talk of Dilip’s being rationally motivated to perform the action that François climb into the tree seems odd. Cappelen and Dever appear, however, to believe that to perform an action is always simply to make it the case that p, i.e., to so affect the world that the proposition that p becomes true. This makes the claim that someone other than François, precisely Dilip, might be rationally motivated to perform the action that François climb into the tree less odd. Cappelen and Dever now go on to claim that even though Dilip might be no less rationally motivated to make it the case that François climb into the tree,

Dilip just can’t perform the action. François can perform it, so he does. François is, like Dilip, rationally motivated to perform the action that Dilip call for help. But François can’t perform that act. So François climbs into a tree and Dilip calls for help. (p.52)

Why, one will ask, can François not perform the action Dilip performs, namely make it the case that Dilip calls for help? And why can Dilip not make it the case that François climbs into a tree. Each, say Cappelen and Dever, is subject to “various physical or psychological constraints” which limit the range of actions he can perform. More generally,

a given agent has an “action inventory”: a range of actions that he can perform. An agent constantly seeks to match his intentions with his action inventory, and when he finds a match, action occurs. When there’s no match, the intention idles, and doesn’t motivate or rationalize action. … (O)nly certain actions result because only certain actions were available in the first place. (p.50)

It seems, then, that although the beliefs and desires of each agent cause an intention to do what the other does, because this intention does not match up with a doable action—what Cappelen and Dever call an actionable content—, it neither causes nor makes rational any action.

Cappelen and Dever make clear that this process of matching is not to be understood as something done consciously. Rather, it occurs at the sub-personal level:

(N)o one has to “look” to see if there’s a match, … hence no one has to “think about available actions” in any way, let alone a first-person way. The actions have already been “thought about” by the time they emerge as potential actions (and thought about just as … third-person [actions of the form] “that p”); all that remains is to see if the actions are among the things that can be done. (p.51)

Obviously, if the agent had to think about available actions in a first-person way, then we would have reinstated essential indexicality. But right from the outset this is ruled out because, properly understood, the matching process involves no thinking at all.

Clearly, if this story suffices as an account of the explanatory difference between François and Dilip, then Cappelen and Dever can maintain that their completely impersonal action explanation and rationalisation is complete. But is it really satisfactory? There seem to be two kinds of fundamental flaw in the account. Firstly, it seems internally incoherent. Secondly, it seems to involve a kind of category mistake, that is, it does not really speak to the question which needs to be addressed.

In at least four respects, the account seems internally incoherent:

  1. Cappelen and Dever have claimed that in the case of François and Dilip (and, for that matter, anyone else who happens to hold the beliefs these two agents hold) the one can be rationally motivated to do what the other does without actually doing it. Yet the story they tell of action-inventories, matching and the like entails that the intention to do what the other does finds no matching actionable content and so, as they themselves say, does not motivate anything—see p.50, cited above. So doing what the other does is not rationally motivated after all. Is this not an outright contradiction which one can only avoid by maintaining that while beliefs and desires can motivate an action, the intention they cause can fail to do so?

  2. Having an intention surely entails having a motivation of which distinctively self-conscious beings like François and Dilip could be aware. It is, however, phenomenologically and intuitively clear that François and Dilip have no motivation to do what the other does in any sense which would involve either actual or potential awareness of themselves as having this motivation.

  3. According to Cappelen and Dever belief and desire combine to generate intentions to act which then “hit the “action center,” … a big switchboard with a bunch of available actions” in order to determine whether the potential actions which the intentions constitute “are among the things that can be done.” (p.51) Clearly, the actions available in the action inventory or action centre cannot themselves determined by belief and desire since they are that with which the intentions to act are compared to determine whether they can be realised. If, however, this is so, then for any action that a be F in the action centre, if b = a, then the action that b be F is also in the action centre. Moreover, these must be different actions since according to Cappelen and Dever to act is to make it the case that such and such a proposition is true and the proposition that a is F is not the proposition that b is F. Trivially, however, there are infinitely many co-referential terms of the form “The object at 〈x, y 〉” since there are infinitely many frames of reference. So there must be infinitely many actions in the action inventory or action centre. But surely there can be no process of sorting through a chronically infinite number of possible actions in order to determine whether an intention to act generated by belief and desire is “among the things that can be done.” (p.51)

  4. What hits “the “action center” and is compared with “a bunch of available actions” in order to determine whether it can be done is an intention to act. So on this picture of them, intentions are formed prior to determining whether they can be realised. Surely, however, one only forms an intention if one believes that one can act upon it or at least if one does not believe that one cannot act upon it. There is no further question to be resolved once intentions have been formed; it remains only to act. Naturally, one could discover that one cannot in fact do what one intended to do. But one discovers this by doing and failing. And this cannot be what Cappelen and Dever mean by the matching process since the matching process cannot be identical with behaviour if different matching processes are to explain different behaviours.

But these four kinds of potential internal coherence are not the truly fundamental problem with the attempt Cappelen and Dever make to find an explanatory difference between François and Dilip which is not a matter of belief. For in fact this exercise in speculative cognitive psychology answers the wrong question. At best, the account constitutes a hypothesis about how the explanatory difference between François and Dilip is sub-personally realised or implemented but it does not tell us what this difference is. In this sense, the account involves a kind of category mistake. When Cappelen and Dever claim that although “Dilip can be rationally motivated to perform the action that François climb into the tree … “, “he just can’t perform the action” (p.52), what sense of ‘cannot’, hence of ‘can’, are they operating with? The action that François climb into the tree is not in Dilip’s action centre. That is, it is not an actionable content for him. But

(w)hat constitutes actionable content for an agent will depend on the kinds of sensory inputs the agent has—for example, whether he moves around the world only with smell and taste or using sonar and sounds. It will depend on the agent’s physical setup: whether he has fingers, claws, a trunk, wings, feet, fins, etc. It will depend on whether the agent’s skills include steering cars out of skids or balancing plates on poles, and whether the agent’s casual (sic.) reach includes having employees publish Kripke’s manuscripts. (p.5l)

So an actionable content is simply a function of what an agent can physically do. In other words, the sense of ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ with which Cappelen and Dever operate is that of bodily or physical ability and inability. But this is not the right sense of ‘can’ and ‘cannot’, the one actually operative in the case of François and Dilip. After all, the action that François climb into the tree may well be in Dilip’s action centre in a purely bodily or physical sense. That is, Dilip may well be able to move François to climb into the tree. Similarly, François may well be able to move Dilip to call for help. But neither do these things because they cannot do them rationally: from the perspective of ensuring that François not be attacked by a bear, it is better that Dilip call for help rather than encourage François to climb into the tree and that François climb into the tree rather than encourage Dilip to call for help. If, however, difference in behaviour is due to what different agents can and cannot rationally do, then we must explain it in terms of differences in belief. But in the case at issue, the agents have, ex hypothesi, the same non-indexical and impersonal beliefs. So what accounts for the difference in their behaviour is a difference in beliefs which are not impersonal or not non-indexical

Crucially, this argument against the claims of Cappelen and Dever reflects a deeper point about the explanation, rationalisation and generation of action. Whatever the issue is precisely which has thus far gone by the name of essential indexicality, it concerns the rationality of action. Action is essentially subject to standards of rationality such that psychological states do not merely cause it, they do so either intelligibly or unintelligibly. Whatever impersonal beliefs and desires different agents share, their individual situations may obviously differ in such a way that different courses of action are rational for them. So the only way in which impersonal beliefs can causally generate action in rational or intelligible ways, such that they rationalise action, is via certain mediating beliefs which embody awareness of each individual’s particular situation. Since two different agents with the same impersonal beliefs can find themselves in situations sufficiently different to determine that different courses of action are rational for them, the beliefs which mediate between their common impersonal beliefs and action and constitute awareness of each agent’s different situation, cannot be impersonal. They must be non-impersonal.

Should, however, we also conclude that these mediating beliefs must be non-non-indexical, i.e., indexical, indeed, in cases such as that of François and Dilip, first-personal? In other words, were those who endorse essential indexicality right all along? Cappelen and Dever have failed in their attempt to show that one can uphold the elementary principle of folk-psychology that “when two agents have the same belief/desire sets,” they “ceteris paribus … act the same” (p.52) without having also to acknowledge that, in cases such as that of François and Dilip, differences in behaviour are due to differences in belief which are not impersonal and non-indexical. Nonetheless, they are right to be suspicious of the thesis of essential indexicality, understood as the IIC.11

If, however, they are right, then we seem to face a dilemma. On the one hand, the attempt made by Cappelen and Dever to show that one does not need anything more than impersonal beliefs in adequate explanations or rationalisations has failed. In the generation of action, non-impersonal beliefs have an essential role to play, hence must be attributed in an adequate explanation or rationalisation. On the other hand, it is false to maintain, in the manner of the IIC, that indexical, in particular, first-personal beliefs must play a role.

There are two possible solutions to this apparent dilemma. Both rest on rejecting an assumption which forces one to move from the conclusion of the argument against Cappelen and Dever, namely, that non-impersonal beliefs are essential, to the claim that indexical, more precisely, (first-)personal beliefs are essential—in effect, to the IIC. This assumption, which is endorsed no less by Cappelen and Dever than by the targets of their critique, is that beliefs attributed de se, if they are not, as in exceptional cases they can be, de dicto, are always beliefs de me. Or to put the assumption in a slightly cruder way, beliefs de se are always beliefs de me. The first way of rejecting this assumption is implicit in the conception of belief Perry develops in his articles on Frege on demonstratives (1977), on the essential indexical (1979) and on belief and acceptance (1980). This conception permits one to formulate that close relative of the IIC introduced above which, be it noted, does not claim that first-personal thought is involved in the generation of action. Yet on this conception not all belief is impersonal. So room is left for the claim that in the generation of action more than impersonal belief is and must be involved. I discuss the details of this in § 3 below.

The second way of rejecting this assumption is more straightforward: It claims that there just are forms of belief and indeed intentionality generally whose intentional structure is exactly captured by the third-personal anaphoric construction. So they are not first-personal; to put the point in the misleading language of de se, they are forms of intentionality which are not simply attributable de se but themselves de se. I will consider this possibility in the next section.

§ 2: A Case of Essential Anaphora

Are there cases of agency, or at least of purposive behaviour, in which belief states de se are and must be involved which cannot plausibly be de me, i.e., first-personal? Consider the following example:

  • S sees: A large, aggressive dog is charging towards it.

  • S desires: It not be attacked.

  • S believes: If it runs into the house, it will not be attacked.12

  • Action: S runs into the house.

The assumption here is, of course, that S is another dog or some other kind of animal incapable of attitudes de me. That there are such animals, on the one hand capable of a diverse range of intentional states and experiences, on the other unable to think to themselves, “I am thus and so,” is surely a plausible assumption. Given this assumption, this case contrasts with that of François and Dilip, in which it is at least conceivable that the anaphoric construction reports an actual attitude de me. Yet although we cannot regard S as either actually having, or even being capable of having, a first-person thought, the anaphoric construction is just as essential here as it is in the previous case and it is so for precisely the same reasons. How so?

Any truly complete and adequate explanation of S’s behaviour, namely, its running into the house, must involve a characterisation of S’s perceptual experience which accounts for why S engages in this behaviour and not another. If, however, instead of using the pronoun ‘it’ anaphorically, we use a non-indexical singular term to refer to S in our characterisation of the content of its perceptual experience, then we fail to distinguish the experience from an experience anyone or anything else might have. We have characterised the intentional content of S’s experience as if the experience were an impersonal one, hence an experience with a content anyone could have. Consequently, we have not fully characterised or captured the causal role and efficacy of S’s perceptual experience, to the point where we can explain why S runs into the house rather than doing something else.

But nor may we use an indexical singular term. The first person pronoun is already ruled out because ex hypothesi S is not capable of first person thought. In any case the first person could only be used without referring to the wrong individual if the content of S’s perceptual experience were characterisable oratio recta, in some perceptual analogue of direct speech. But the characterisation “S sees, “A large, aggressive dog is charging towards me”” is surely only intelligible as a perverse way of putting what is better put by using some indirect form, e.g., “S sees a large, aggressive dog charging towards it” or “S sees that a large, aggressive dog is charging towards it.”

Nor will it do to characterise the content of S’s perceptual experience by using some kind of demonstratively indexical phrase. In other words, it will not do to characterise it as a matter of S’s seeing a large, aggressive dog charging towards this dog (or the dog here or this dog here). Firstly, this characterisation only enables full explanation of S’s behaviour in conjunction with the further claim that this dog (or the dog here or this dog here) is S. And an explainer can surely only know this further claim by understanding S’s behaviour, which involves identifying the perceptual experience involved in generating it. In short, the claim “S sees a large, aggressive dog charging towards this dog and this dog is S” presupposes knowledge of S as seeing a large, aggressive dog is charging towards it. Secondly and more importantly, such non-first personal indexical characterisations, no less than any non-indexical characterisation, fail to distinguish S’s experience from a perceptual experience anyone or anything could have. Precisely for this reason one needs to add to the explanation the identity claim that this dog (or the dog here or this dog here) is S. So all non-first personal indexical characterisations must also fail to capture fully the causal role and efficacy of S’s experience. The problem with non-first personal indexical singular terms is in fact no different from the problem with non-indexical singular terms. The only indexical, indeed the only singular term which avoids this problem is the first-personal pronoun. But this attributes to S a capacity for first-personal awareness of which S is not capable.

So neither non-indexical nor indexical singular terms will do. With this we see a crucial point: the problem of accurately capturing the causal role and efficacy of S’s experience has nothing to do with the limitations of non-indexical singular terms as opposed to indexical ones, or of impersonal singular terms as opposed to first-personal ones. The problem has to do with singular terms as such. Take any conception one likes of how a singular term refers. Perhaps it refers to something x by standing in the right causal relations to x. Perhaps it refers to x in virtue of x’s satisfying some sufficiently individuating definite description.13 Finally, perhaps it refers to x in virtue of some general rule of the kind characteristic of indexicals, e.g., “‘I’ refers to x iff x is its speaker,” “‘here’ refers to x iff x is a region close to its speaker in referring to which the speaker has an interest,” etc. Even so, a singular term possesses a linguistic meaning which permits it refer to something off its own bat, without borrowing its referential properties from any other singular term occurring in the context of utterance. In this sense, and of course in this sense only, I want to say that a singular term accomplishes reference to something by representing it. Just this is the problem to which the example of S the dog is pointing: any characterisation of the content of S’s experience which refers to S by representing S will either under-describe S’s experience by failing to capture its distinctive causal role; or mis-describe it as something it neither is nor can be, namely, first-personal. (To put things in a slogan: We must allow reference without representation.)

Of course, all this is grounded in and explained by a lesson already drawn for the case of François and Dilip. What Cappelen and Dever call impersonal intentional states and experiences only determine that such and such actions are rationally performed in such and such circumstances. But the generation of action must culminate in an action which the agent will rationally perform in its particular, actual circumstances. Similarly, the explanation or rationalisation of action must culminate in the description of an action which the agent will rationally perform in its particular, actual circumstances. So the agent must at least have, or be described as at least having, non-impersonal cognitive states and experiences which constitute awareness that its actual circumstances are such and such. Such non-impersonal cognitions have, however, simply because they are non-impersonal, contents such that only the agent can have them. So there are only two options for the explanation and rationalisation of action. Either one uses the only singular term which captures this feature of their content, namely, a first-personal pronoun. Or one uses a third-personal pronoun anaphorically. The case of S the dog shows, however, that the first option attributes too much. So only the second option remains—essential anaphora, in which a term refers to something without representing it. In other words, the case of S the dog demonstrates that agency and purposive behaviour generally requires merely non-impersonal intentionality, not first-personal intentionality. One can only think that it requires the latter if one assumes that non-impersonal intentionality is eo ipso personal, that is, if one assumes that attitudes de se are attitudes de me.14

Why, then, is this assumption so widely made, from Castañeda and Lewis through McGinn and Price to Cappelen and Dever as well as Magidor? Presumably because not to assume it would leave us precisely with essential anaphora and essential anaphora contradicts the view that an intentional state or experience is (always) an attitude towards, hence a genuine relation of the subject to, an intentional object which constitutes the content of the state or experience.15 This view leads to the assumption that, in effect, there is no reference without representation and that therefore the third-person anaphoric construction is merely a device for attributing to another what are in reality indexical, indeed first-personal attitudes. For if intentionality attributed de se is always intentionality de me, then its intentional content can be articulated, hence individuated, by means of a free-standing sentence. This permits one in turn to construe a state or experience with this content as a relation to what the free-standing sentence articulates. Of course, sometimes this sentence must be indexical, indeed first personal and what it articulates or expresses must be what Perry calls a relativised proposition.16 Even so, it is a free-standing sentence and so one can retain the idea that all intentional states and experiences are attitudes towards, hence relations to, something. But the price of this is commitment to the IIC. And Cappelen and Dever are right in their claim that essential indexicality in the sense defined by the IIC is at best false and at worst incoherent.

§ 3: What was Perry actually claiming?

This invidious situation might now lead one to ask whether there is any way of retaining the idea that belief is a relation to an object which avoids commitment to the IIC, this because it rests on a rather more sophisticated assumption than that beliefs attributed de se are eo ipso beliefs de me, yet preserves some intrinsic connection to indexicality and in particular to the first person. With this we come to the issue briefly raised above as to whether Perry, whose paper launched the career of essential indexicality, really was maintaining what subsequent writers, up to and including Cappelen and Dever, have understood him to be maintaining. As we shall see, Perry is not maintaining the IIC but rather that close relative which was also briefly introduced above. Across at least three papers—Perry 1977, Perry 1979 and in particular Perry 1980—Perry develops a conception of the nature and structure of belief which permits him to avoid the IIC while preserving the standard conception that belief is a relation to an object of belief. In effect, it permits him to steer a course between essential anaphora and essential indexicality as this latter has come to be understood.

Speaking of belief states for which the anaphoric construction is required, Perry claims that “(w)e use sentences with indexicals or relativized propositions to individuate [such belief states], for the purposes of classifying believers in ways useful for explanation and prediction.”17 (Perry 2000, p.39) Note that taken at face value this claim is false: at no point do I use an indexical sentence to attribute to S the perceptual experience of seeing a large dog charging aggressively towards it, or the belief that a large dog is charging aggressively towards it. I just think or say, “S sees a large dog charging aggressively towards it” or “S believes that a large dog is charging aggressively towards it.” Perry, however, does not intend what he says here to be taken at face value. He goes on to say,

(B)elief states individuated in this [indexical] way enter into our common sense theory about human behavior and more sophisticated theor//ies emerging from it. We expect all good-hearted people in that state which leads them to say “I am making a mess” to examine their grocery carts, no matter what belief they have in virtue of being in that state. [Note this: “no matter what belief they have in virtue of being in that state”] That we individuate belief states in this way doubtless has something to do with the fact that one criterion for being in the states we postulate, at least for articulate sincere adults, is being disposed to utter the indexical sentence in question. (Perry 2000, pp.39-40)

This makes clear that Perry is not denying that I can individuate the perceptual experience and belief of S the dog in the completely third-personal, impersonal manner indicated. What, however, he is saying is that this anaphoric construction is merely a convenient device for attributing something whose real structure is perspicuously captured by appeal to the notion of an indexical sentence and a relativised proposition. For the belief state one seeks to characterise is perspicuously depicted as a belief state which, were it had by an articulate sincere adult, would dispose this latter to utter a corresponding indexical and in particular first personal sentence. The dog S is, of course, not an articulate sincere adult nor is it capable of English. Yet the perceptual and belief states it finds itself in are certainly such that were they had by someone capable of English and sincere, i.e., concerned to articulate what he or she sees and believes, this person would be disposed to assert the indexical, indeed first-personal sentences, “I see a large dog charging aggressively towards me,” “I believe that a large dog is charging aggressively towards me” and indeed “A large dog is charging aggressively towards me.”

Evidently, if this is acceptable, then Perry can reply to Cappelen and Dever. He can rightly respond that what he meant by essential indexicality, as opposed to what so many have subsequently assumed him to mean, was not the IIC.18 He would agree with those who endorse the IIC to this extent: impersonal action rationalisations and explanations are necessarily incomplete. He would not, however, maintain that this is because of a missing attribution of an indexical belief state. Rather, what such impersonal action explanations and rationalisations lack is the attribution of a belief state which is such that, if one had this belief state oneself and were a sincere and competent speaker of English seeking to explain or justify the action in question, this belief state would dispose one to utter an appropriate indexical, indeed first-personal sentence by way of characterisation of its content. Clearly, this entails that in the component missing from impersonal action explanations and rationalisations either the anaphoric construction is used (if explanation or rationalisation is undertaken by someone who does not take themselves to be identical with the agent) or the first person is used (if explanation or rationalisation is undertaken by someone who does take themselves to be identical with the agent).

Note the accomplishment of Perry’s response: firstly, because it gives no more status to the anaphoric construction than that of being a means of characterising, from the perspective of those who take themselves to be other than the agent, a certain belief state,19 it does not rule out from the outset the standard understanding of belief as an attitude towards, hence a relation to something. Yet secondly, it has characterised the intentional structure of the belief state captured by the missing component in a way which does not entail that this belief state is quite literally indexical and first personal, i.e., a case of explicitly thinking to oneself, “I am thus and so.” So it has avoided commitment to the IIC, which is, as we have seen, is only coherent if understood as the false claim that the belief state captured by the missing component is a case of explicitly thinking to oneself, “I am thus and so.” Thirdly, while avoiding commitment to the IIC, it has nonetheless implicated indexical, indeed first-personal sentences in the characterisation of the belief state captured by the missing component. In this sense, then, there is an essential connection between agency, the explanation and rationalisation of agency and indexicality. Moreover, essential indexicality in this sense not only does not rule out the standard understanding of belief as an attitude towards to something, it positively preserves it. Fourthly and finally, this response permits Perry to accommodate the possibility that non-linguistic beings such as S the dog have the kind of belief state captured by the missing component.

But as Perry himself recognises, his position requires further justification. Depending on who the explainers and rationalisers, i.e., justifiers, of action take themselves to be, they must use either the third person anaphoric construction or the first person in the characterisation of that component which is missing from impersonal action explanations and rationalisations. So far, so good. But in order to maintain his position, Perry must ensure that the anaphoric construction is nothing more than a device used by explainers or rationalisers of action for characterising, the perspective of those who take themselves to be other than the agent, this belief state. In other words, Perry must show the counterfactually dispositional characterisation of the belief state to have ontological priority over the anaphoric construction wielded in explanation or rationalisation of an agent’s action by explainers and rationalisers who do not identify with the agent.20 This ontological priority cannot be simply assumed.

Nor can one justify it by appeal to the following biconditional:

S believes that it is Φ if and only if S finds itself in a belief state which, were it had by someone capable of English and sincere, i.e., concerned to articulate what he or she believes, would lead this person to assert the sentence, “I am Φ.”

As true as this biconditional no doubt is, and as much as Perry must presuppose its truth, it merely coordinates the third person anaphoric construction with the counterfactually dispositional characterisation. It licenses no conclusion as to whether the right hand side has priority over the left hand side as far as perspicuously capturing the nature and structure of S’s belief state is concerned. Perry must therefore provide an account of the structure of belief which explains why the right hand side has priority or, alternatively put, why the left hand side is merely a convenient way of attributing what is more accurately captured by the right hand side.

Just this constitutes the significance of Perry’s doctrine of acceptance.21 According to Perry,

To accept a sentence S is to be in a belief state that would distinguish such speakers who would think and utter S from those who would not. Thus my conception allows an animal or preverbal child to be meaningfully said to accept a sentence. (Perry 2000, p.45)

Now Perry claims that acceptance in this sense

… is not belief and not analyzable in terms of belief; rather, it is an important component of belief. … One has a belief by accepting a sentence. (Perry 2000, p.45)

Note what Perry is claiming here: acceptance is literally part of belief, in the sense that it is that by means of which we believe. Evidently, Perry is seeking to provide an account of the very structure or nature of belief, and he is doing so by appeal to what he calls the acceptance of a sentence. But what exactly is the proposed ontology of belief?

A clue lies in what Perry now goes on to say. He claims that

confusing acceptance with belief has wreaked havoc in the philosophy of belief, in the philosophy of mind, and in metaphysics generally. It requires that we see what is believed, and so what is true and false, on the model of what is accepted; belief is thus treated as a relation to a sentence or sentence-like entity. … We want what is believed to classify belief states for purposes of explaining thought and action—the proper role of what is accepted—while at the same time being objectively true or false, the common objects of belief for different persons at different times. (Perry 2000, p.46)

Perry is insisting here that we not use the concept of what is believed to account for both the causal or functional, or indeed inferential role of belief and the character of belief as having a content which is either true or false, hence makes the belief either true or false, a content which different subjects can believe at different times. This intimates two things. Firstly, Perry thinks that the lessons he drew in his account of the difficulties Frege encounters in dealing with demonstrative or indexical speech, specifically, assertion, can and must also be drawn for belief. Secondly, he thinks that the key to applying these lessons to the concept of belief is the idea that inherent to the very structure of belief is precisely the acceptance of a sentence. Belief is an intentional state, mental judgement an occurrent mental event, in which the subject accepts a sentence, thereby or perhaps better therein finding itself in a state or event which has a propositional content and disposes the subject to certain behaviours, including, of course, the utterance of the sentence accepted (in appropriate circumstances).

Note that this conception of belief permits one to distinguish what is believed from what is accepted. So what is believed need no longer be conceived as isomorphic in its structure to what is accepted. In particular, it need no longer be a proposition in Frege’s sense. What is believed, says Perry,

is not a sentence, nor a sentence meaning, nor one of Frege’s thoughts—an abstract object with a sentencelike structure. It is rather, as Russell thought, a complex of objects and properties22—objects and properties which are part of the world, not part of the mind (except in rare instances). (Perry 2000, p.45)

Meanwhile the causal or functional, in part indeed inferential properties of belief can be assigned to the dimension of acceptance. What is accepted thus determines the rational role of the belief—what one might call, in deference to Frege, its cognitive and practical value. In summary, we may say that to believe that a is Φ is to be in a belief state whose propositional content is true if and only if a is Φ23 by accepting the sentence “a is Φ.” Evidently, the second occurrence of the singular term ‘a’ is completely extensional, so the directedness of the belief state out into the world can be conceived in Russellian rather than Fregean terms. That is, room is left for a conception of propositional content as Russellian rather than Fregean.

One virtue of this account of the structure of belief is its ability to resolve problems of indexical, in particular, first-personal thought. In particular, one does not have to regard first-personal belief in the manner of Frege, namely, as a matter of grasping private thoughts inaccessible to others. This is indeed the principal reason why Perry recommends it. But for current purposes its primary virtue is more specific. To accept a sentence just is to be in a belief state which, were the believer capable of the relevant language and sincere, i.e., concerned to articulate what it believes, would dispose it to assert the sentence. So if acceptance is a component of belief, then one may indeed give ontological priority to the right hand side of the biconditional given above. In other words, one may regard S’s belief that it is Φ as perspicuously captured by characterisation of it as a belief state which, were S capable of English and concerned to articulate what it believes, would dispose S to assert the sentence, “I am Φ.” The characterisation of this belief in the anaphoric terms appropriate for attributors who do take themselves to be identical with S turns out to be merely a convenient device for what is more clumsily but also more accurately put in the aforesaid counterfactually dispositional terms. The non-dispositional anaphoric construction and, for that matter, the equally non-dispositional first-person characterisation which would be appropriate did an attributor take himself, herself or itself to be S24 do not get at the actual structure of S’s belief state. Perry is now able to justify the accomplishments noted above of his response to Cappelen and Dever: on the one hand, he can preserve the standard understanding of belief as an attitude towards, hence a relation to something and indeed establishes an intrinsic link between agency, the explanation and rationalisation of agency and indexicality. Yet on the other he can both avoid commitment to the IIC and accommodate non-linguistic and pre-linguistic beings.

There is, however, something wrong with Perry’s account of the structure of belief. The problem lies in the condition that an individual who accepts a sentence must be sincere,25 i.e., concerned to articulate the content of the belief state which, given sincerity and the capacity to speak the relevant language, disposes the individual to utter the sentence accepted. This condition is clearly essential since without it the individual could conceivably be not disposed to utter the sentence which articulates what it believes. Indeed, if this condition is not fulfilled, an individual might be disposed to assert something which entails the falsity of what it believes. The concern, however, to articulate (or indeed, as the case may be, to conceal) the content of belief clearly implicates potential knowledge of what this content is. And knowledge of this content of belief cannot be gained by ascertaining what sentence the belief state with this content disposes one to utter since, as the possibility of insincerity shows, determining this presupposes knowledge of this content. If, therefore, as the requirement of sincerity tacitly concedes, I must know what sentence a given belief state disposes me to utter in order to articulate its content, I cannot regard the belief state as defined by the fact that, given a concern to articulate its content, it would dispose me to utter this sentence. In other words, so little does the counterfactually dispositional characterisation of belief have ontological priority over the non-dispositional that things are in fact the other way around: ontologically speaking, what comes first is the non-dispositional characterisation.

If this is so, then Perry has not succeeded in his attempt to give priority to his counterfactually dispositional concept of belief over the non-dispositional one, which takes attributions de se of belief as potentially capturing the actual nature and structure of belief rather than being just a convenient façon de parler. Indeed, Perry will have failed at a more fundamental level: his counterfactually dispositional characterisation of belief presupposes and implements a crucial recommendation of his paper of 1977 “Frege on Demonstratives”. In this paper, Perry had argued that in order to solve the problem which indexicals constitute for the philosophy of language and mind, one must break with Frege’s identification of the ‘thought’ (Gedanke) and the ‘sense’ (Sinn) of a sentence with one another. The former, understood as the proposition expressed by a sentence, constitutes the truth-conditional dimension of assertion or belief—what is asserted or what is believed—; the latter constitutes, as so-called cognitive or practical value, the causal or functional role of assertion or belief. What, however, the critique of Perry’s account of belief in counterfactually dispositional terms shows is that one cannot do this. Frege was in fact following a sound instinct when he identified the truth-conditional and the causal or functional dimensions of thought and talk. Given this, it follows that the only way to deal with the problem which Perry describes as the problem of the essential indexical but is in fact the problem of essential anaphora is to reject the assumption that in all cases belief is a relation to some object of belief, understood as something individuable in terms of a free standing sentence.

Conclusion: Implications and Speculations

In conclusion, I shall draw out the possible significance of giving up the idea that all belief, hence all intentional states and experiences are relations of a subject to some object of belief or, more generally put, to some entity which constitutes intentional content. In particular, I will speculate on some of the potential advantages to be had by giving up this idea and accepting that there are belief states whose structure is perspicuously captured by the anaphoric construction “S believes that it is Φ.”

One important advantage lies in the possibility of giving an account of what it is to have, in the clearly graphic and explicit way in which John Perry realises that he is the shopper making a mess, a first person thought. It is indeed remarkable that although the first person has been much discussed, no analysis or explication has been given of what it is explicitly to think, “I am thus and so.” Perhaps this is because, as I will now suggest, any such analysis or explication must take the de se seriously, as something which is not simply a device for attributing belief which, when it is not as it sometimes can be, de dicto, is only ever de me. One thing is clear: whatever one says about the anaphoric construction with which attributions de se are accomplished, one must acknowledge there to be a conceptual connection with explicit, first-personal thinking. So if one wants to maintain that there is such a thing as belief de se which is not de me, it is incumbent upon one to show that there is nonetheless some intimate connection. After all, in some sense, S’s believing or thinking (in the sense of mentally judging), “I am Φ,” implies or implicates S’s believing that it is Φ. We need to explain this, in other words, to set belief de me in proper conceptual relation to belief de se.

So what is happening to Perry when, in the supermarket, he suddenly realises, “I am the shopper who is making a mess” (or perhaps more simply, “I am making a mess”), thereupon shifting from looking for the shopper who is making a mess to re-arranging items in his shopping trolley? Any adequate analysis or explication of this is obviously subject to at least two conditions of adequacy: firstly, it must capture the causal role of Perry’s explicit, first-personal thinking since it is, after all, intimately involved in his change of behaviour. Secondly and relatedly, it must plausibly account for how Perry could acquire the standing belief that he is the shopper making a mess (or more simply, that he is making a mess) through this realisation. In particular, we must give an account of explicit, first-personal thinking which does not entail that the subject of such thinking is already in such standing belief-states, as if its explicit first-personal thinking were, as it sometimes can be, merely the making explicit of belief states it is already in.

As the core component of such an account I suggest the following hypothesis: the episode of explicit, first-personal thinking which Perry undergoes in the supermarket is a matter of his imagining that he is asserting that he is the shopper who is making a mess (or that he is making a mess, etc.). In general, to undergo an episode of explicit, first-personal thinking (in the sense of mentally judging), “I am Φ,” is to imagine that one is asserting that one is Φ. Of course, by imagining here I do not mean that strictly discursive sense in which one constructs a certain hypothetical story—as when Hilary Putnam calls upon his readers to imagine that in some very distant part of the universe there were a planet Twin Earth exactly like Earth except that what English speakers there call water is in fact XYZ. I mean the kind of imagining in which one imagines what it would be like for such and such to be the case.26 That these are two different senses is shown by the fact that I can imagine in the first sense that I am dead only to discover that I cannot imagine my being dead in the second sense.

Clearly, any account of explicit, first-personal thinking based on this core component presupposes that belief and, more generally, attitudes de se are possible which are not eo ipso attitudes de me. If this were not so, then the account would obviously be viciously circular. Furthermore, any such account directly entails a dependence of explicit, first-personal thinking on linguistic competence. This is plausible since there is surely a very strong intuition that non-linguistic beings such as dogs and cats cannot literally think to themselves, “I am Φ.” And because it implicates linguistic competence, this account also explains the phenomenological observation that thinking to oneself takes place in some language or another—that indeed it is, as Plato and others have observed, the dialogue of the soul with itself. Any such account is also able to explain the phenomenological observation because it creates a conceptual link between the discursive and the perceptual. To imagine in the sense intended here is, after all, to imagine not in the sense of conceiving such and such to be the case but to imagine what it would be like for such and such to be the case—to imagine in a sense which implicates one’s imagining oneself perceiving. The account thereby shows itself to be decidedly anti-Cartesian since it is essential to Descartes’ conception of the self-conscious self that perception and therefore also imagination be capacities it merely contingently possesses. Moreover, this anti-Cartesianism is also an anti-computationalism since the Cartesian and the computationalist, for all their differences, agree that a purely discursive intelligence is possible.

Now it would not be correct to object to the idea that an episode of explicit, first-personal thinking (in the sense of mentally judging), “I am Φ,” involves imagining oneself asserting that one is Φ on the grounds that to imagine is to fantasise, hence cannot imply or implicate actually believing that one is Φ. For it is just false that to imagine is always only to fantasise. In other words, there can be ‘serious’ imagining. Yet although imagining can sometimes be ‘serious’, it is obviously not necessarily so. We must therefore explain what it is for such imagining to be ‘serious’ and we must do so in a way which satisfies the condition of adequacy outlined above with regard to Perry’s explicitly thinking to himself, “I am the shopper who is making a mess.” Only if such an explanation can be given will the account be able to set belief de me in clear conceptual relation to belief de se—this by showing how, concretely, the former is founded in the latter.

How, then, under what conditions, can imagining oneself asserting be ‘serious’, such that a sufficiently strong inferential relation from a subject’s thinking (in the sense of mentally judging), “I am Φ,” to its believing that it is Φ is preserved? One way in which the imagining at issue might be ‘serious’ would be when the episode of imagining oneself to be asserting is caused by the relevant belief. It is perfectly possible that a subject might imagine itself to be asserting such and such in virtue of believing such and such. So a case of explicitly thinking to oneself, “I am Φ,” in a sense (mental judgement) which entails that the subject believes that it is Φ, might be one in which the subject imagines itself asserting that it is Φ in virtue of believing that it is Φ. This will not, however, deal with the kind of explicit, first personal thinking which Perry undergoes in the supermarket. Perry realises that he is the shopper who is making a mess, that he is making a mess, etc. In other words, he acquires the belief as a result of the episode of explicit, first personal thinking rather than the other way around. How is this to be understood?

I suggest the following general pattern of analysis or explication for this kind of case: to think explicitly to oneself, “I am Φ,” in the sense of realising, i.e., coming to believe that one is Φ, is (a) to imagine oneself asserting, “I am Φ”; and (b) to do so under conditions which lead one to grasp the content of the assertion one imagines oneself to be performing as explaining why one is not succeeding in one’s current behaviour. For indeed Perry’s whole behaviour prior to his realisation is based on the assumption that he is not the shopper making a mess. The reason for this assumption is clear enough: when he first sees the trail of sugar extending out before him, he knows that there is a shopper who is making a mess and this shopper is someone who has gone before him along the aisle precisely because the trail of sugar extends out before him. Since, however, he has forgotten or at least not taken into consideration that he has himself gone before along the aisle, he assumes that someone else must be making the mess. The behaviour he bases upon this assumption is, however, unsuccessful and eventually shows itself to be such. So his imagining that he is asserting that he is the shopper making a mess does take place under conditions which would plausibly lead him to grasp the content of this assertion as explaining why he is not succeeding. Of course, for Perry to grasp this content as explaining his lack of success is for him to accept it as true, i.e., to form the relevant belief.

Indeed, this account of Perry’s realisation has a particularly subtle virtue. Note that, phenomenologically speaking, Perry’s episode of explicit, first-personal thinking has a certain character of epiphany about it. Perry realises something; as he himself says, it dawns on him—see Perry 2000, p.27. So a truth is revealed, it lights up for him. But what does this mean? Surely only this: Perry does not just form a certain belief, he does so in the light of how the truth of the content of this belief makes sense of his situation as the failure it is. It thus makes perfect sense to say that his realisation that he is the shopper who is making a mess is a matter of his being so moved (caused) by the frustrations of his situation that he imagines himself asserting, “I am the shopper who is making a mess”,27 which content he recognises to make sense of this situation, thereby allowing him to revise his beliefs and behaviour. In such explicit, first-personal realisation there is, I suggest, always this moment of recognising that if what one is imagining oneself as asserting is true, then things make sense. It is primarily this which leads to belief-formation.

It would seem, then, that the account of explicit, first personal thinking can indeed be adapted to accommodate the case of Perry in the supermarket, hence can meet the conditions of adequacy outlined above. Specifically, it gives a relatively clear and flexible account of belief de me which presupposes belief de se because it founds the former in the latter. This success, however, suggests that it might be possible to generalise this founding relation. On the account of explicit, first personal thinking just given, S’s believing that it is Φ is possible even when S is non- or pre-linguistic whereas S’s believing or thinking, “I am Φ,” is not. Perhaps, then, we can see in belief and, more generally, intentionality de se a model for thinking about the intentionality of non-linguistic beings. There would be numerous issues to resolve here, namely, whether belief entirely de dictocompletely non-indexical belief that a is Φ—were not equally subject to the requirement of linguistic competence. If this were so, then one would have to see the first-person belief, “I am Φ” and the completely propositional, hence completely non-indexical belief that a is Φ as complementary forms of sophisticated intentionality which require linguistic competence and founding in diverse forms of intentionality de se which do not require such competence.

Such issues cannot be resolved here. I will thus end simply by pointing out what this conception of the primordial significance of belief and, more generally, intentionality de se would mean for a very long-standing issue within the philosophy of language. On the one hand, there are those who regard psychological intentionality as not just genetically but also conceptually prior to linguistic intentionality. Examples would be Grice, Bennett, Schiffer, Lewis and the later Searle. On the other hand, there are those who, like Davidson, Dennett and Brandom, see the priority as running the other way around, so much so, indeed, that non-linguistic beings end up having intentional states and experiences in some less than fully literal sense. Evidently, the claim that there are forms of psychological intentionality, namely, intentionality de se, whose intentional contents cannot be expressed by free-standing sentences is clearly consistent with the former position and surely inconsistent with the latter. Yet the account of explicit, first-personal thinking made possible by this claim ties such thinking to language in a manner congenial to the latter position. In particular, it explains why one is instinctively wary of the enthusiasm with which the former camp, in their accounts of the rise of linguistic convention, ascribe to non-linguistic beings forms of intentionality so complex that they suggest a capacity for explicit first-personal thinking and reasoning. The claim that there are forms of intentionality ineluctably and intrinsically de se therefore appears to provide a basis for mediating between and moderating these two extreme positions.

But are there any disadvantages to embracing the claim? In other words, are there any reasons, apart from mere considerations of simplicity, why one should retain the assumption that forms of belief and, mutatis mutandis, of intentionality generally are relations of a subject to an intentional object which constitutes the content of the intentional state or experience in question? One such reason might be the following: linguistic intentional content is a function of the linguistic meanings of component linguistic expressions and their order—sometimes, of course, in the case of indexicals, only together with a contribution from context. In other words, linguistic intentional content is compositionally structured. This compositionality permits one to develop formally semantic accounts of language and one would presumably like to think that psychological intentional content offers nothing to contradict this. For then whatever a formal semantic account of language tells us about the nature of linguistic intentional content it will presumably also tell us about psychological intentional content. If, however, there are forms of belief and of intentionality generally which are ineliminably de se, then one might have to renounce this hope.

References

Altham, J. (1980) “Indirect Reflexives and Indirect Speech,” in Intention and Intentionality: Essays for G. E. M. Anscombe, edited by Cora Diamond and Jenny Teichmann, Cornell University Press, pp.25-37

Bennet, J. (1976) Linguistic Behaviour, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Brandom, R. (1998) Making It Explicit, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press

Cappelen, H., and Dever, J. (2013) The Inessential Indexical, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Castañeda, H-N. (1966) “‘He’—A Study in the Logic of Self-Consciousness,” in Castañeda 1999, pp.35-60

Castañeda, H-N. (1968) “The Phenomeno-Logic of the I,” in Castañeda 1999, pp.89-95

Castañeda, H-N. (1999) The Phenomeno-Logic of the I: Essays on Self-Consciousness, edited by James G. Hart and Tomis Kapitan, Indiana University Press, first edition

Christensen, C. (1997) “Meaning Things and Meaning Others,” in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 57, No. 3, pp.495-522

Christensen, C. (2007) “Nichts Neues unter der Sonne: Bewußtsein und Selbstbewußtsein bei Paul Natorp,” in Kant-Studien, Vol. 98, No. 3, pp.372-398

Christensen, C. (2008) Self and World: From Analytic Philosophy to Phenomenology, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin

Christensen, C. (2013) “The Horizonal Structure of Perceptual Experience,” in Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy/Philosophiegeschichte und Logische Analyse, Vol. 16, pp.109-141

Christensen, C. (2015) “Consciousness, Self-Consciousness and Essential Indexicality”, available at http://cbchristensen.net/

Davidson, D. (2001) Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation, 2nd edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Dennett, D. (1971) “Intentional Systems,” in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol.68, No. 4, pp.87-106

Dennett, D. (1996), The Intentional Stance, 6th printing, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Evans, G. (1984) The Varieties of Reference, edited by J. McDowell, Oxford University Press, Oxford

Geach, P. (1957) “On Beliefs about Oneself,” in Analysis, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp.23-24

Grice, H.-P., (1957) “Meaning,”in The Philosophical Review, Vol. 66, pp.377–88

Lewis, D. (1979) “Attitudes de dicto and de se,” in The Philosophical Review, Vol. 88, No. 4, pp.513-543

McGinn, C. (1983) The Subjective View: Secondary Qualities and Indexical Thought, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Nagel, T. (1974) “What is it Like to be a Bat,” in The Philosophical Review, Vol. 83, No. 4, pp.435-450

Peacocke, C. (1992) A Theory of Concepts, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Perry, J. (1977) “Frege on Demonstratives,” in Perry 2000, pp.1-26

Perry, J. (1979) “The Essential Indexical,” in Perry 2000, pp.27-44

Perry, J. (1983) “Castañeda on He and I,” in Perry 2000, pp.77-100

Perry, J. (1986a) “Thought without Representation,” in Perry 2000, pp.171-188

Perry, J. (1998) “Myself and I”, in Perry 2000, pp.325-339

Perry, J. (1999) “Self-Notions,” in Logos: Philosophical Issues in Christian Perspective, Vol. 11, pp.17-31

Perry, J. (2000) The Problem of the Essential Indexical and Other Essays, expanded edition, CSLI Publications, Stanford, California

Price, H. (2007) “The Effective Indexical,” unpublished ms., Centre for Time, University of Sydney, http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/4487/

Schiffer, S. (1972) Meaning, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Searle, J. (1983) Intentionality—An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Notes

  1. I would like to thank Al Hàjek, Brian Garrett and Daniel Stoljar for very useful conversations and comments.

  2. The type of sentence at issue should in fact be characterised more generally since the claims for which I argue here actually apply to all sentences of the more general form “S believes that Φ(it),” in which the pronoun ‘it’ need not be in the nominative case. A type of sentence of this more general form would be “S believes that S* will deceive him,” in which the accusative pronoun ‘him’ is being used anaphorically to refer to S. Indeed, implicitly the claims for which I argue here apply across the board to sentences of the even more general form “S PVs that Φ(it),” in which not only the pronoun ‘it’ need not be in the nominative case but the psychological verb need not be ‘to believe’, e.g., “S desires that it not be attacked.”

  3. As Castañeda points out, sometimes sentences of the form “S believes that it (or he or she) is Φ” attribute to S what is in fact a standard belief de dicto. Thus, I might point to someone standing in front of us and say of this person, “S believes that he is a millionaire;” in this kind of case, in which the pronoun is not referring anaphorically to S but referring demonstratively to the person standing in front of us, the belief attributed to S could well be that the Editor of Soul is a millionaire. (Note that, strictly speaking, none of this rules out the possibility that the person standing in front of us is S himself!)

  4. Typically but of course not necessarily from the perspective of someone who does not take themselves to be S.

  5. This belief is understood to be first-personal because the only indexical belief which could coherently come into question here is one whose indexicality consists in its being first-personal.

  6. Se is the Latin reflexive pronoun, comparable to the German sich and the English ‘himself’, ‘herself’, ‘oneself’, and ‘themselves’. Thus, one has vidit se in speculo (as opposed to Brutus eum, Caesarem, in speculo vidit, i.e., “Brutus saw him, Caesar, in the mirror”), Er sah sich im Spiegel and “He saw himself in the mirror.” As reflexive pronouns, there is nothing in intrinsically indexical about these Latin, German and English expressions at all, in contrast to the demonstrative use to which personal pronouns generally can be put, as when a speaker points at someone and says, “He is a millionaire.” In English the reflexive pronoun has a first-person form, in Latin and German, the ordinary personal pronoun is used in non-third-person cases, but their person, first, second or third, is determined by the pronoun or noun which governs the reflexive pronoun. So in their capacity simply as reflexive there is also nothing intrinsically first- (or second- or third-) personal about reflexive pronouns at all.

    In fact, it seems that the only reason why English-speaking philosophers have associated reflexive pronouns in English with the first person is the fact that in English the reflexive pronoun can be used, in conjunction with the corresponding personal pronoun, for extra emphasis—sometimes indeed to emphasise that the subject has some kind of first-personal awareness. But when the reflexive pronoun is being used in this way, it is not functioning as a reflexive pronoun! That it is not thus functioning is shown by the fact that German accomplishes this kind of emphasis by using ‘selbst’ or ‘selber’, which is not a reflexive pronoun at all.

    As already indicated, of the three languages Latin, German and English, only the latter has a dedicated first-personal reflexive pronoun: “I saw myself in the mirror” must be translated as in speculo me viderem and Ich sah mich im Spiegel. ‘Me’ and ‘mich’ are simple first-personal pronouns in the accusative. If one wanted to emphasise the reflexive (and indeed possibly the first-personal, self-conscious) character of these claims in Latin and German, one would say, me ipsum in speculo viderem and Ich sah mich selbst im Spiegel. Curiously, in order to do this in English, one would go in the opposite direction, namely, introduce the simple accusative pronoun: “I saw me myself in the mirror.”

    It is thus wrong to take, as so many appear to do, the grammar of the sentence “S believes that it is Φ” as a reason for describing it either as attributing de se a belief or as attributing a belief de se. For there is nothing reflexive at all about this sentence; the pronoun in it is not a reflexive but a (nominative) personal pronoun. This is not, however, necessarily to say that Lewis, who introduced this terminology, was wrong. It may be that he was just being inexplicit and enigmatic. Perhaps he was saying—his discussion of Perry’s example of Hume and Heimson seems to suggest this—that Rudolf Lingen’s believing that he is Rudolf Lingens is perspicuously characterised as his believing himself to be Rudolf Lingens-in Latin (something like) Rudolfus Lingensis se Rudolfum Lingensis esse credit. If this is so, then Lingen’s belief may be genuinely described as de se since ‘himself’ and se are reflexive pronouns functioning as reflexive pronouns. Believing that p would then be a matter of believing oneself to inhabit a world at which it is true that p. In this sense, perhaps, “any kind of self-locating belief should be understood as self-ascription of properties.” (Lewis 1979, p.522) Lewis’s thesis is thus that “the de se subsumes the de dicto, but not vice versa … ,” (Lewis 1979, p.521) that is, that all belief is de se.

  7. As indicated in note 6, this terminology represents a misunderstanding of the Latin reflexive pronoun se. I will persist with it, however, since it has become accepted to understand “S believes that he/she/it is Φ” as attribution de se of belief or as attribution of belief de se.

  8. What is attributed de se could, of course, not be de me because it is simply de dicto. It is possible to use the anaphoric construction to report what is in reality a standard belief de dicto: S believes that the Editor of Soul is a millionaire but for some strange reason does not know that he is the Editor of Soul. It is certainly possible if odd to say, “S believes that he is a millionaire but he does not know it.”

  9. Elsewhere they write, “In talking to philosophers about these issues over many years, we find that attempts to articulate the essence of Perry and Lewis’s insight tend to come back to something or other about a distinctive connection to agency.” (p.18)

  10. Note that, on a strict reading of the IIC this first-personal component is said to be missing from the explanation or rationalisation of action. So no claim is made to the effect that there is, in the very same way in which there is such a component in the explanation or rationalisation, some first-personal component in the causal process explained or rationalised.

  11. As a matter of fact, Cappelen and Dever do not explicitly argue that the IIC is false but merely that the arguments typically advanced for it are not good. Nonetheless, they clearly believe that it is false—see, e.g., p.5—and much speaks for their being right about this.

  12. I do not wish to insist that this belief is necessary; perhaps S just responds to the perception of the large aggressive dog charging towards it by running inside. In this case, S would be structurally programmed, either by evolution or by habituation (association), to behave according to the general behavioural conditional “If one is being attacked, run into the house.”

  13. One need not insist on absolute uniqueness, but merely uniqueness sufficient for a hearer to determine what entity the speaker is referring to. Thus, if I say, “The man standing in the corner is my brother,” I can succeed in referring to the man I know to be my brother even if there is, indeed, even if I know there is, another man standing in the corner. It all depends on what I believe to be sufficient for my hearer to distinguish whom I am referring to from all others. One might say that the uniqueness condition of definite descriptions as used in actual speech contains a suppressed component: “The only man standing in the corner who I can be rationally interpreted as intending to refer to is my brother.”

  14. Of course, if this is right, then there is a use of the pronouns ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘it’ which stands so to speak in between standard extensionally anaphoric uses of these pronouns and the use which Castañeda marks with his special symbol ‘he’. This use occurs in reports for which Castañeda’s ‘he’ is not appropriate—not appropriate because what is reported is not first-personal, i.e., not an ‘I’-thought. Evidently, the possibility of this use entails that it is wrong to say, as does Castañeda, that when a third person pronoun occurs in a psychologically intensional context and refers “through referring back to the expression” which occupies subject position of the psychological verb, it is “used to attribute first-person references to” this expression’s referent. (Castañeda 1968, p.90) Sometimes this is the case but it is not always so.

  15. One could regard the object of belief as a sentence.

  16. See Perry 2000, pp.35-37.

  17. Obviously Perry does not mean that we only use sentences with indexicals, which express relativised propositions, in order to pick out belief states. We also use non-indexical sentences to pick out non-indexical contents, such as the proposition that E = mc2.

  18. Note that underpinning the IIC is not just the assumption that belief is a relation of the subject to some object of belief. It also tacitly assumes that the one notion of what is believed both accounts for a belief’s property of having such and such a causal or functional role in the generation of (further) belief and action; and is at the same time what is true or false, determines that the belief is true or false under such and such conditions and is equally accessible to different subjects at different times. It is primarily this which leads, for example, McGinn and Price to interpret the lesson of Perry’s 1979 paper as being in effect the IIC. But the whole point of Perry’s critical account of Frege on demonstratives is to show that in the case of assertion one must not regard the analogous notion of what is asserted as both accounting for the causal or functional, in part inferential role in the generation of belief and action; and as what is true or false, determines that the assertion is true or false under such and such conditions and is equally accessible to different subjects at different times. In other words, one must not identify, as Frege wrongly does, the sense of an assertion and the ‘thought’ (proposition) expressed by it. Already in his discussion of Frege—see Section III of Perry 2000, pp.1-26—Perry insists on this separation in the case of belief and because he does this, he does not move from the uncontroversial claim made in his 1979 paper that indexicals, in particular, the first person are essential to the explanation and rationalisation of one’s own behaviour (as one’s own) to the IIC, which is, as we have seen, either false or absurd. The IIC is false if the missing indexical component is held to be the attribution to the agent of an actual episode or state of indexical thought (since it is just false that whenever an agent acts, it thinks, “I am Φ,” “Here is the Φ,” etc.). And it is absurd if the missing indexical component is held to be the attribution to the agent of the potential for a particular episode or state of indexical thought since attributing merely the potential for a particular episode or state of thought is to attribute nothing which does anything; attribution of a mere potential could not constitute a component of any explanation of agency. Whatever the belief state is which the missing component captures, it must at least be actual if it is to do anything, hence if the missing component is to add anything to an explanation of what is done.

  19. Importantly, it also gives, mutatis mutandis, no more status to the first person construction than that of being a means of characterising, from the perspective of those who take themselves to be the agent, a certain belief state. This does not entail that there are no such things as first-person thoughts; obviously, first person articulation of the content of this belief, e.g., for the sake of explanation or rationalisation can be, if undertaken merely in thought rather than in talk, is a first person thought. But it does mean that the belief state whose content is thereby articulated is or need not be a case of explicit, first-personal thinking. This shows that Perry is indeed not committed to the IIC.

  20. Of course, it must also and equally give ontological priority to the counterfactually dispositional characterisation of the belief state over the first-person construction wielded by those explainers and rationalisers who do identify with the agent. See in this connection note 19.

  21. As Perry makes clear in the first footnote to his paper, what he understands by acceptance does not have much to do with the technical meanings given the term ‘acceptance’ by other authors—see Perry 2000, p.45, note 15. He thus does not mean what, e.g., L. Jonathan Cohen means by the term—see Cohen 1992.

  22. In the earlier essay “Frege on Demonstratives” Perry characterises the propositional contentfulness of an asserted sentence S as the assertion’s determining an ordered n-tuple containing the referents of the singular terms in S and the incomplete sense expressed by the sentential function in S—in effect S stripped of its singular terms. Now Frege, unlike, say, Husserl, does not identify the sense of a sentential function with the property or relation which applies to the referent or referents just in case the assertion of S expresses a true proposition; for Frege, this is rather the referent of the sentential function. Since in his earlier essay Perry is clearly using the notion of sense in Frege’s manner, it follows that he is also using a slightly different notion of (Russellian) proposition. But presumably the later notion is more accurate since, after all, the second occurrence of the sentential function ‘…is Φ’ is just as extensional as the second occurrence of the singular term ‘a’.

  23. Is Perry sometimes tempted to claim something stronger than this? At one point he says, “When we come across some ineluctably ordinary belief—a belief that some object has some property—we invent a special name for it (“de re belief”) and wonder how it is possible.” (Perry 2000, p.46) This remark suggests, perhaps, that Perry is at least contemplating the possibility that belief de dicto might be analysable in terms of belief de re and acceptance: to believe that a is Φ is to believe of a that it is Φ by accepting the sentence “a is Φ.” The obvious problem here is, of course, that a subject might believe that a is Φ when there is no a. It should be noted, however, that in the same essay Perry says that because his goals are limited, “de dicto belief will not be totally banished.” (Perry 2000, p.46) Specifically, it will be banished only for those beliefs whose dimension of acceptance involves context-dependent, hence indexical sentences. It seems, then, that only belief indexical in this sense will be shown to analysable in terms of belief de re and acceptance.

  24. With this we see, as a corollary, that Perry’s position involves a certain down-playing of the significance of the first-person. Precisely for this reason Perry says in the Afterword to the essay “Belief and Acceptance” that contrary to what some assume from the title of his 1979 paper, “I do not think that having a first-person pronoun in one’s vocabulary is necessary to having … ” (Perry 2000, p.55) the kind of belief state which, if one did have a first-person pronoun in one’s vocabulary, one would express using the first-person. This shows clearly that Perry does not endorse the IIC.

  25. Perry acknowledges the need to make sincerity a condition only in his paper of 1979—see Perry 2000, p.40. He does not mention it in the paper “Belief and Acceptance,” nor in the earlier paper “Frege on Demonstratives” from 1977, which already contains the notion of belief-by-acceptance, admittedly expressed in the rather different terms of apprehending-a-thought-by-entertaining-a-sense—see Perry 2000, p.17ff.

  26. My thanks to Brian Garrett for making me aware of the need to distinguish the kind of imagining I intend from imagining in the sense of conceiving.

  27. Or that he is the shopper who is making a mess. It does not matter whether one uses direct or indirect speech here.