In Defense of De Se Content

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 97 (1):172-189 (2018)
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There is currently disagreement about whether the phenomenon of first-person, or de se, thought motivates a move towards special kinds of contents. Some take the conclusion that traditional propositions are unable to serve as the content of de se belief to be old news, successfully argued for in a number of influential works several decades ago.1 Recently, some philosophers have challenged the view that there exist uniquely de se contents, claiming that most of the philosophical community has been under the grip of an attractive but unmotivated myth.2 At the very least, this latter group has brought into question the arguments in favor of positing special kinds of content for de se belief; I think they have successfully shown that these arguments are not as conclusive, or fully articulated, as many have taken them to be. In this paper I will address these challenges directly and I will present and defend an argument for the conclusion that the phenomenon of de se thought does indeed motivate the move to a special kind of content, content that is uniquely de se. First, I characterize a notion of de se belief that is neutral with respect to friends and foes of uniquely de se content. I then argue for a determination thesis relating de se belief to belief content: that there is no difference in de se belief without a difference in belief content. I argue that various proposals for rejecting this determination thesis are unsuccessful. In the last part of the paper, I employ this determination thesis to argue for the existence of a type of belief content that is uniquely de se.

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Stephan Torre
University of Aberdeen


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