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Self-Locating Belief (1)

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MIT-IJN Workshop on Self-Locating Belief (1) 

September 8-9, 2009

 MIT Department of Linguistics & Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.)

Conference website

The aim of the conference is to bring together researchers working on the de se on the two sides of the Atlantic; speakers will include both faculty and graduate students. The conference is wide-ranging in scope: talks will touch on issues in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, metaphysics and epistemology.


Tuesday, September 8th

10:15 Alex Byrne (MIT) Introductory remarks

10:30 Frédérique de Vignemont (IJN/NYU)
Bodily self-ascriptions and immunity to error

12:00 Lunch

1:30 Isidora Stojanovic (IJN)
The problem of de se assertion 3:00 Break

3:15 Gregory Bochner (IJN)
The metasyntactic interpretation of two-dimensionalism

4:45 Break

5:00 Robert Stalnaker (MIT)
One more attempt to put Sleeping Beauty to rest

6:30 Drinks 

Wednesday, September 9th 9:45

10:15 Caspar Hare (MIT)
Perspectival realism 11:45

12:00 Michael Murez (IJN)
Self-locating belief and agency

1:30 Lunch

2:45 Markus Kneer (IJN)
Mental voyage

4:30 François Recanati (IJN/Arché)
De re and de se

6:00 Conference ends



Frédérique de Vignemont (IJN/NYU)
Bodily self-ascriptions and immunity to error

Is bodily self-ascriptions immune to error through misidentification?
According to the classical view, one cannot be mistaken about whose body part it is when experiencing them from the inside. Here I shall consider two possible objections to bodily immunity. On the one hand, I shall briefly envisage two cases of misidentification: somatoparaphrenia (i.e. patients who deny the ownership of their own limb despite feeling sensations in it) and the Rubber Hand illusion (i.e. illusory feeling of ownership towards a rubber hand). I shall show that none of them challenges the immunity principle. On the other hand, I shall highlight a more serious issue for bodily immunity, namely, the multimodal nature of bodily self-knowledge. Very few bodily self-ascriptions are based on grounds that are purely or exclusively from the inside. Does that mean that very few bodily self-ascriptions are immune to error? I shall evaluate the consequences of multimodality for bodily immunity.

Isidora Stojanovic (IJN)
The problem of de se assertion

David Lewis (1981) famously proposed an account of de se beliefs in terms of self-ascription of properties. The gist of his proposal was that the content of, for example, Alma's belief that she is hungry, which she might express by saying "I am hungry", is simply the property of being hungry, and it is a property that Alma ascribes to herself. Lewis never held, though, that the content of assertion should be analyzed along the same lines, and the received view today is that if Alma says "I am hungry", the asserted content, or what is said, is the proposition that Alma is hungry (at a given time). In this paper, I argue, against the received view, that Lewis's proposal for de se attitudes plausibly holds for assertion as well. The content of Alma's utterance of "I am hungry" is, I suggest, the property of being hungry, and it is a property that Alma asserts of herself. One of the main motivations for this proposal is the fact that when two speakers say "I am hungry", it is correct to report them as having said the same thing. It has often been held that the possibility of such reports comes from the fact that the two speakers are, after all, uttering the same words, and are in this sense "saying the same thing". I will show that this approach fails, and that it is neither necessary nor sufficient to use the same words, or words endowed with the same meaning, in order to be correctly reported as same-saying. I will also show that reports of same-saying in the case of de se assertion differ significantly from such reports in cases in which the two speakers are merely implicating the same thing.

Gregory Bochner (IJN)
The metasyntactic interpretation of two-dimensionalism

Robert Stalnaker contrasts two interpretations, semantic and metasemantic, of the two-dimensionalist framework. On the semantic interpretation, the primary intension or diagonal proposition associated with an utterance is a semantic value that the utterance has in virtue of the actual linguistic meaning of the corresponding sentence, and that primary intension is both what a competent speaker grasps and what determines different secondary intensions or horizontal propositions relative to different possible worlds considered as actual. The metasemantic interpretation reverses the order of explanation: an utterance has the primary intension it has because it yields the secondary intensions it yields relative to different possible worlds considered as actual. In these possible worlds, the semantic facts can be different: the metasemantic interpretation is metasemantic in the sense that the secondary intensions are determined relative to possible worlds considered as actual given the meanings the expressions have there. Stalnaker holds a causal picture of the reference and intentionality of names, according to which names have no meaning over and above their unique referent, and therefore maintains that the semantic interpretation is not an option. He thus endorses the metasemantic interpretation, while insisting that this interpretation does not, contrary to what he originally thought, yield any account of a priori truth and knowledge. My double aim in this paper is to show (i) that the metasemantic interpretation, as sketched by Stalnaker, is not compatible with one natural understanding of the causal picture of reference, on which names are rigid because they have their original bearers essentially, and (ii) that a third kind of interpretation of the framework is available, the metasyntactic interpretation, which grants that names have their bearers essentially, and yields some account of a priori knowledge.

Robert Stalnaker (MIT)
One more attempt to put Sleeping Beauty to rest

The notorious Sleeping Beauty puzzle brings into sharp focus a number of issues about the way beliefs are updated and revised in response to evidence and experience. What is distinctive about the puzzle case is that it involves an agent's beliefs about her own place in the world; her beliefs are changing as the facts the beliefs are about are changing, and the two kinds of changes interact. The best way to model the situation, I argue, is to adopt a conservative view of the contents of belief (including self-locating belief): they are in all cases timeless, impersonal propositions. The distinctively self-locating aspect of a belief is in the subject's relation to such contents, and not in the contents themselves. In this talk, I will sketch the framework for this kind of model of the situation, and argue that it provides a satisfactory solution to the puzzle.

Caspar Hare (MIT)
Perspectival realism

Tense realism (which says, roughly, that to have a tensed feature, like being past or being future, is to have a certain intrinsic property) has received a great deal more attention than perspectival realism (which says, roughly, that to have a perspectival feature, like being to the left or being absent from view, is to have certain intrinsic property). I think this is a shame. Perspectival realism is a better view than tense realism. The major considerations that support tense realism also support perspectival realism. The major problems that afflict tense realism do not afflict perspectival realism.

Michael Murez (IJN)
Self-locating belief and agency

Belief, on the received view, is a relation between a person and a proposition. I take up the challenge of accounting for self locating belief without modifying in the least this received view. I propose to do so by defending the claim that what cases of self locating belief show is not that the received view of belief is wrong, but that the received list of attitudes necessary to explain subjects' behavioral dispositions needs to be augmented. On my view, to attribute to a subject the self locating belief that p is to do two things - firstly, to say that the subject has a certain ordinary belief, the belief that p, and secondly, to express a property of a certain body of information in the subject's possession. This second body of information represents an attitude which preceding theories of self location have ignored, which I call "control". Control, I argue, is a sui generis attitude not reducible to ordinary belief. The belief set of a subject represents all the possible ways the actual world might be, for all she believes. Her control set contains all the propositions she takes to be practically available, given the self locating information in her possession. A proposition is practically available to a subject if there is something she can do that will ensure that the actual world is a member of that proposition. Because subjects think of some of the things they can bring about as ways of bringing about other things, the control set is partially ordered. The maximal elements of the set form the subject's basic control set, which represents what she takes it to be within her unmediated power to bring about in the world. I introduce a procedure which allows us to read off of a subject's basic control set the self identifying information in the subject's possession. A view about self location in general, as fundamentally connected with agency, and an empirically plausible conception of selfhood, as involving the global perception of the range and limits of what one has power to control in the world, emerge.

Markus Kneer (IJN)
Mental voyage

The fact that certain types of imagination activate the same brain zones as episodic memory provoked the hypothesis that there is a single neuro-cognitive system that enables human beings to engage in Mental Time Travel (MTT). Mental Time Travel is, roughly, an individual's capacity to project herself into the past or future by remembering or imagining first-personal experiences respectively. As a neuro-cognitive phenomenon, MTT is presumed to have a distinct, though dispersed, neural correlate. The MTT hypothesis is consistent with a wide body of evidence from ontogenetics, neuroimaging and lesion studies. My paper will open with a brief sketch of the leading account of MTT. I will then proceed to argue that this account is philosophically misconceived for two fundamental reasons: (1) Its genealogical debt to episodic memory and the shallow conception of imagination in play give rise to an ad hoc and unnecessarily constrained account of episodic states. (2) The capacities deemed necessary for Mental Time Travel as traditionally conceived are unfounded, conceptually vague and overly restrictive. Both shortcomings of the cognitive aspects of MTT, if unchanged, severely obstruct research into the neurological and ontogenetic foundations of episodic states. A revised account of MTT - Mental Voyage - is intended to set the philosophical foundations straight so as to facilitate future empirical enquiry.

François Recanati (IJN/Arché)
De re and de se

For Perry and many authors, de se thoughts are a species of de re thought. In this paper, I argue that de se thoughts come in two varieties : explicit and implicit. While explicit de se thoughts can be construed as a variety of de re thought, implicit de se thoughts cannot: their content is thetic, while the content of de re thoughts is categoric. The notion of an implicit de se thought is claimed to play a central role in accounting for the phenomenon of immunity to error through misidentification. Lewis has attempted to unify de re and de se in the opposite direction: by reducing de re to de se. This, however, works only if we internalize the acquaintance relations. I criticize Lewis's internalization strategy on the grounds that it rests on Egocentrism (the view that every occurrent thought is ultimately about the thinker at the time of thinking). In the conclusion, I suggest another way of unifying de re and de se, by extending the implicit/explicit distinction to de re thoughts themselves.

Organizing committee:

Alex Byrne (MIT - This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) Paolo Santorio (MIT - This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) Marie Guillot (IJN – This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )