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Summary

De re thoughts are thoughts that single out particular objects. For example, the thought that He is the world’s tallest man —had while looking at a particular person— is de re, but the thought that Somebody is the world’s tallest man is not. Attributions of de re thoughts are (utterances of) sentences containing that-clauses, in turn containing either singular terms or variables bound from outside the attitude verb. Issues surrounding these two phenomena include the following. What is the relationship between our theory of de re thoughts and our theory of de re attributions? What is required to have a de re thought? What is required for a de re attribution to be true or felicitous? What kind of semantic content should be used to type de re thoughts and de re attributions? Can we have de re thoughts about abstract and fictional entities? Can one have a priori de re knowledge? What role should de re thought play in the theory of reference? 

Key works

Work in the analytic tradition on de re thoughts and their attribution began with Russell 1905, Russell 1910 and Quine 1956. Classic papers focusing on the attribution of de re thoughts include Sleigh Jr 1968, Kaplan 1968 and Sosa 1971. Another classic, that attempts to clarify the connection between the epistemology of de re thoughts and the semantics of their attribution is Burge 1977; see also Burge’s postscript in Burge 2007. McDowell 1984 and Evans 1982 also try to develop a Fregean theory of de re thought. Sosa 1971 and Schiffer 1979 defend the view that the requirements for attributing a de re thought are very lax and context-sensitive. Kripke 2011 disagrees. Salmon 2009 argues that having a de re thought requires the thinker to stand in a relation to the object her thought is about. Jeshion 2002 argues that it only requires the thinker to be in a certain kind of cognitive state. Azzouni 2010 aims to provide an account of de re thought about abstract and fictional entities. Salmon 1987 argues that there is no such thing as a priori de re knowledge. Hawthorne & Manley 2012 discuss all of these issues as well as the role of de re thought in the theory of reference. Burge 2010 connects the notion of de re thought to broader ones in the philosophy of mind. 

Introductions Hawthorne & Manley 2012 serves as an excellent introduction and is also of great interest to experts. Jeshion 2002 serves as an excellent introductory article due to its clarity.
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  1. Steven E. 0Bo�R. (1990). Object-Dependent Thoughts. Philosophical Studies 58 (1-2):51-85.
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  2. Diana Ackerman (1978). De Re Propositional Attitudes Toward Integers. Southwestern Journal of Philosophy 9 (2):145-153.
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  3. Max F. Adams, R. Stecker & G. Fuller (1999). Object Dependent Thoughts, Perspectival Thoughts, and Psychological Generalization. Dialectica 53 (1):47–59.
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  4. Joseph Almog & Paolo Leonardi (eds.) (2009). The Philosophy of David Kaplan. Oxford University Press.
    This volume collects new, previously unpublished articles on Kaplan, analyzing a broad spectrum of topics ranging from cutting edge linguistics and the ...
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  5. Joseph Almog, John Perry, Howard K. Wettstein & David Kaplan (eds.) (1989). Themes From Kaplan. Oxford University Press, USA.
    This anthology of essays on the work of David Kaplan, a leading contemporary philosopher of language, sprang from a conference, "Themes from Kaplan," organized by the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University.
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  6. István Aranyosi (2012). Talking About Nothing. Numbers, Hallucinations, and Fictions. Philosophy 87 (1):145-150.
    If everything exists, then it looks, prima facie, as if talking about nothing is equivalent to not talking about anything. However, we appear as talking or thinking about particular nothings, that is, about particular items that are not among the existents. How to explain this phenomenon? One way is to deny that everything exists, and consequently to be ontologically committed to nonexistent “objects”. Another way is to deny that the process of thinking about such nonexistents is a genuine singular thought. (...)
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  7. Joshua Armstrong & Jason Stanley (2011). Singular Thoughts and Singular Propositions. Philosophical Studies 154 (2):205 - 222.
    A singular thought about an object o is one that is directly about o in a characteristic way—grasp of that thought requires having some special epistemic relation to the object o, and the thought is ontologically dependent on o. One account of the nature of singular thought exploits a Russellian Structured Account of Propositions, according to which contents are represented by means of structured n-tuples of objects, properties, and functions. A proposition is singular, according to this framework, if and only (...)
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  8. Cusmariu Arnold (1977). About Belief De Re. Logique Et Analyse 77 (3):138-147.
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  9. Jody Azzouni (2011). Singular Thoughts (Objects-Directed Thoughts). Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 85 (1):45-61.
    Tim Crane (2011) characterizes the cognitive role of singular thought via singular mental files: the application of such files to more than one object is senseless. As many do, he thus stresses the contrast between ‘singular’ and ‘general’. I give a counterexample, plurally-directed singular thought, and I offer alternative characterizations of singular thought—better described as ‘objects-directed thought’—initially in terms of the defeasibility of the descriptions associated with one's thinking of an object, and then more broadly in terms of whether descriptions (...)
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  10. Jody Azzouni (2009). Empty de Re Attitudes About Numbers. Philosophia Mathematica 17 (2):163-188.
    I dub a certain central tradition in philosophy of language (and mind) the de re tradition. Compelling thought experiments show that in certain common cases the truth conditions for thoughts and public-language expressions categorically turn on external objects referred to, rather than on linguistic meanings and/or belief assumptions. However, de re phenomena in language and thought occur even when the objects in question don't exist. Call these empty de re phenomena. Empty de re thought with respect to numeration is explored (...)
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  11. Kent Bach (1987). Thought and Reference. Oxford University Press.
    Presenting a novel account of singular thought, a systematic application of recent work in the theory of speech acts, and a partial revival of Russell's analysis of singular terms, this book takes an original approach to the perennial problems of reference and singular terms by separating the underlying issues into different levels of analysis.
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  12. Kent Bach (1982). "De Re" Belief and Methodological Solipsism. In Andrew Woodfield (ed.), Thought And Object: Essays On Intentionality. Clarendon Press.
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  13. Kent Bach, Content, Indexical.
    Many of our thoughts are about particular individuals (persons, things, places, etc.). For example, one can spot a certain Ferrari and think that it is red. What enables this thought to latch onto that particular object? It cannot be how the Ferrari looks, for this could not distinguish one Ferrari from another just like it. In general, how a thought represents something cannot determine which thing it represents. What a singular thought latches onto seems to depend also on features of (...)
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  14. Lynne Rudder Baker (1982). De Re Belief in Action. Philosophical Review 91 (3):363-387.
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  15. Lynne Rudder Baker & Jan David Wald (1979). Indexical Reference and de Re Belief. Philosophical Studies 36 (3):317 - 327.
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  16. Mark Balaguer (2005). Indexical Propositions and de Re Belief Ascriptions. Synthese 146 (3):325 - 355.
    I develop here a novel version of the Fregean view of belief ascriptions (i.e., sentences of the form ‘S believes that p’) and I explain how my view accounts for various problem cases that many philosophers have supposed are incompatible with Fregeanism. The so-called problem cases involve (a) what Perry calls essential indexicals and (b) de re ascriptions in which it is acceptable to substitute coreferential but non-synonymous terms in belief contexts. I also respond to two traditional worries about what (...)
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  17. John A. Barker (1974). 'If', '⊃', and the Principle of Exportation. Philosophical Studies 26 (2):127 - 133.
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  18. José Luis Bermúdez (2011). New Essays on Singular Thought – Robin Jeshion (Ed.). Philosophical Quarterly 61 (245):865-869.
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  19. Steven E. Boër (2007). Thought-Contents: On the Ontology of Belief and the Semantics of Belief Attribution. Springer.
    This book provides a formal ontology of senses and the belief-relation that grounds the distinction between de dicto, de re, and de se beliefs as well as the opacity of belief reports. According to this ontology, the relata of the belief-relation are an agent and a special sort of object-dependent sense (a "thought-content"), the latter being an "abstract" property encoding various syntactic and semantic constraints on sentences of a language of thought. One bears the belief-relation to a thought-content T just (...)
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  20. Steven E. Boër (1990). Object-Dependent Thoughts. Philosophical Studies 58 (1-2):51 - 85.
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  21. Anthony Brueckner (1993). Singular Thought and Cartesian Philosophy. Analysis 53 (2):110 - 115.
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  22. Howard Burdick (1991). A Notorious Affair Called Exportation. Synthese 87 (3):363 - 377.
    In Quantifiers and Propositional Attitudes, Quine held (a) that the rule of exportation is always admissible, and (b) that there is a significant distinction between a believes-true (Ex)Fx and (Ex) a believes-true F of x. An argument of Hintikka's, also urged by Sleigh, persuaded him that these two intuitions are incompatible; and he consequently repudiated the rule of exportation. Hintikka and Kaplan propose to restrict exportation and quantifying in to favoured contexts — Hintikka to contexts where the believer knows who (...)
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  23. Howard Burdick (1982). A Logical Form for the Propositional Attitudes. Synthese 52 (2):185 - 230.
    The author puts forth an approach to propositional attitude contexts based upon the view that one does not have beliefs of ordinary extensional entitiessimpliciter. Rather, one has beliefs of such entities as presented in various manners. Roughly, these are treated as beliefs of ordered pairs — the first member of which is the ordinary extensional entity and the second member of which is a predicate that it satisfies. Such an approach has no difficulties with problems involving identity, such as of (...)
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  24. Tyler Burge (2009). Five Theses on De Re States and Attitudes. In Joseph Almog & Paolo Leonardi (eds.), The Philosophy of David Kaplan. Oxford University Press. 246--324.
    I shall propose five theses on de re states and attitudes. To be a de re state or attitude is to bear a peculiarly direct epistemic and representational relation to a particular referent in perception or thought. I will not dress this bare statement here. The fifth thesis tries to be less coarse. The first four explicate and restrict context- bound, singular, empirical representation, which constitutes a significant and central type of de re state or attitude.
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  25. Tyler Burge (2007). Foundations of Mind. Oxford University Press.
    Foundations of Mind collects the essays which established Tyler Burge as a leading philosopher of mind.
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  26. Tyler Burge (1977). Belief de Re. Journal of Philosophy 74 (6):338-362.
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  27. Peter Carruthers (1987). Russellian Thoughts. Mind 96 (381):18-35.
  28. Roderick Chisholm (1976). Knowledge and Belief: 'De Dicto' and 'de Re'. [REVIEW] Philosophical Studies 29 (1):1 - 20.
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  29. Wai-kit Choi & 蔡偉傑 (1995). Tyler Burge on Sense and de Re Belief. Philosophical Studies 36:317-327.
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  30. Benjamin S. Cordry (2009). Divine Hiddenness and Belief de Re. Religious Studies 45 (1):1-19.
    In this paper I argue that Poston and Dougherty's attempt to undermine the problem of divine hiddenness by using the notion of belief de re is problematic at best. They hold that individuals who appear to be unbelievers (because they are de dicto unbelievers) may actually be de re believers. I construct a set of conditions on ascribing belief de re to show that it is prima facie implausible to claim that seemingly inculpable and apparent unbelievers are really de re (...)
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  31. Tim Crane (2011). The Singularity of Singular Thought. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 85 (1):21-43.
    A singular thought can be characterized as a thought which is directed at just one object. The term ‘thought’ can apply to episodes of thinking, or to the content of the episode (what is thought). This paper argues that episodes of thinking can be just as singular, in the above sense, when they are directed at things that do not exist as when they are directed at things that do exist. In this sense, then, singular thoughts are not object-dependent.
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  32. Sean Crawford (2013). Object-Dependent Thought. In Pashler Harold (ed.), Encyclopaedia of the Mind. SAGE.
  33. Sean Crawford (2012). De Re and De Dicto Explanation of Action. Philosophia 40 (4):783-798.
    This paper argues for an account of the relation between thought ascription and the explanation of action according to which de re ascriptions and de dicto ascriptions of thought each form the basis for two different kinds of action explanations, nonrationalizing and rationalizing ones. The claim that de dicto ascriptions explain action is familiar and virtually beyond dispute; the claim that that de re ascriptions are explanatory of action, however, is not at all familiar and indeed has mostly been denied (...)
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  34. Sean Crawford (2008). Quantifiers and Propositional Attitudes: Quine Revisited. Synthese 160 (1):75 - 96.
    Quine introduced a famous distinction between the ‘notional’ sense and the ‘relational’ sense of certain attitude verbs. The distinction is both intuitive and sound but is often conflated with another distinction Quine draws between ‘dyadic’ and ‘triadic’ (or higher degree) attitudes. I argue that this conflation is largely responsible for the mistaken view that Quine’s account of attitudes is undermined by the problem of the ‘exportation’ of singular terms within attitude contexts. Quine’s system is also supposed to suffer from the (...)
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  35. Sean Crawford (2006). Object-Dependent Thoughts. In Keith Brown (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd ed.
  36. Sean Crawford (1999). The Nature of Commonsense Psychological Explanation. Dissertation, University of Oxford
  37. Sean Crawford (1998). In Defence of Object-Dependent Thoughts. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 98 (2):201-210.
    The existence of object-dependent thoughts has been doubted on the grounds that reference to such thoughts is unnecessary or 'redundant' in the psychological explanation of intentional action. This paper argues to the contrary that reference to object-dependent thoughts is necessary to the proper psychological explanation of intentional action upon objects. Section I sets out the argument for the alleged explanatory redundancy of object-dependent thoughts; an argument which turns on the coherence of an alternative 'dual-component' model of explanation. Section II rebuts (...)
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  38. Maxwell J. Cresswell & Arnim Stechow (1982). De Re Belief Generalized. Linguistics and Philosophy 5 (4):503 - 535.
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  39. Arnold Cusmariu (1977). About Belief De Re. Logique Et Analyse 77 (2):138-147.
    I give the following analysis of de re belief: S believes with respect to X that it has the property F =df S believes a proposition which is for S extensionally to the effect that it has the property F. I spell this definition out and defend it against objections by M. Pastin, commenting also on his account of de re belief.
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  40. Chris John Daly (2007). Acquaintance and De Re Thought. Synthese 156 (1):79 - 96.
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  41. Cian Dorr (2012). De Re A Priori Knowledge. Mind 120 (480):939-991.
    Suppose a sentence of the following form is true in a certain context: ‘Necessarily, whenever one believes that the F is uniquely F if anything is, and x is the F, one believes that x is uniquely F if anything is’. I argue that almost always, in such a case, the sentences that result when both occurrences of ‘believes’ are replaced with ‘has justification to believe’, ‘knows’, or ‘knows a priori’ will also be true in the same context. I also (...)
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  42. Erin L. Eaker (2004). David Kaplan on De Re Belief. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 28 (1):379–395.
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  43. Naomi Eilan (2001). Consciousness, Acquaintance and Demonstrative Thought. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 63 (2):433–440.
  44. Gareth Evans (1982). The Varieties of Reference. Oxford University Press.
    Covering the work of Frege, Russell, and more recent work on singular reference, this important book examines the concepts of perceptually-based demonstrative identification, thought about oneself, and recognition-based demonstrative identification.
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  45. William Fish (2012). 'New Essays on Singular Thought', Edited by Robin Jeshion. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 90 (3):617 - 618.
    Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Volume 90, Issue 3, Page 617-618, September 2012.
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  46. James Genone (2014). Evidential Constraints on Singular Thought. Mind and Language 29 (1):1-25.
    In this article, I argue that in typical cases of singular thought, a thinker stands in an evidential relation to the object of thought suitable for providing knowledge of the object's existence. Furthermore, a thinker may generate representations that purport to refer to particular objects in response to appropriate, though defeasible, evidence of the existence of such an object. I motivate these constraints by considering a number of examples introduced by Robin Jeshion in support of a view she calls ‘cognitivism’ (...)
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  47. John Hawthorne & David Manley (2012). The Reference Book. Oxford University Press.
    This book critically examines some widespread views about the semantic phenomenon of reference and the cognitive phenomenon of singular thought. It begins with a defense of the view that neither is tied to a special relation of causal or epistemic acquaintance. It then challenges the alleged semantic rift between definite and indefinite descriptions on the one hand, and names and demonstratives on the other—a division that has been motivated in part by appeals to considerations of acquaintance. Drawing on recent work (...)
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  48. Wesley H. Holliday & John Perry (forthcoming). Roles, Rigidity, and Quantification in Epistemic Logic. In Alexandru Baltag & Sonja Smets (eds.), Trends in Logic, Outstanding Contributions: Johan van Benthem on Logic and Information Dynamics. Springer.
    Epistemic modal predicate logic raises conceptual problems not faced in the case of alethic modal predicate logic: Frege’s “Hesperus-Phosphorus” problem—how to make sense of ascribing to agents ignorance of necessarily true identity statements—and the related “Hintikka-Kripke” problem—how to set up a logical system combining epistemic and alethic modalities, as well as others problems, such as Quine’s “Double Vision” problem and problems of self-knowledge. In this paper, we lay out a philosophical approach to epistemic predicate logic, implemented formally in Melvin Fitting’s (...)
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  49. Richard Holton (1994). Attitude Ascriptions and Intermediate Scope. Mind 103 (410):123-130.
    Quantification into a belief ascription has often been taken to indicate that the believer knows who (or what) their belief is about. Here it is shown, by means of some iterated ascriptions, that this cannot be the correct interpretation of such quantification. In conclusion it is suggested that it should rather be interpreted as indicating that the belief has its source in the object denoted by the quantifier.
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  50. David Hunter, Demonstrative Belief and Dispositions.
    forthcoming in Journal of Philosophical Research. This paper argues against David Armstrong’s view that singular beliefs are not dispositions. It also begins to develop the view that self-conscious belief is a matter of belief revision.
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