Self-verification and the content of thought

Synthese 149 (1):59 - 75 (2005)
Descartes famously argued, on purely conceptual grounds, that even an extremely powerful being could not trick him into mistakenly judging that he was thinking. Of course, it is not necessarily true that Descartes is thinking. Still, Descartes claimed, it is necessarily true that if a person judges that she is thinking, that person is thinking. Following Tyler Burge (1988) we call such judgments ‘self-verifying.’ More exactly, a judgment j performed by a subject S at a time t is selfverifying if and only if the fact that S has made j at t entails that j is true at t.2 Burge follows Descartes in claiming that the category of conceptually self-verifying judgments includes (but is not restricted to) judgments that give rise to sincere assertions of sentences of the form, ‘I am thinking that p’. We call such judgments ‘cogito’ judgments. In this paper I argue that Burge’s Cartesian insight is hard to reconcile with Fregean accounts of the content of thought. Theorists have tried to account for the self-verifying status of cogito judgments by arguing that the second-order judgment that one is thinking that p contains the thought that p as a part of it. I argue (§1) that the accuracy of the containment model is entailed by a Russellian view of content (according to which ‘‘belief’’ contexts are both extensional and transparent) when the Russellian view is attached to some fairly uncontroversial assumptions. The accuracy of the containment model is also entailed by non-hierarchical Fregean views of content according to which expressions in oblique contexts both denote and express first-level senses (§2), but there are compelling arguments against non-hierarchical Fregean views (§3). Moreover, the extremely plausible account of self-verification provided by Russellianism is not entailed by theories that follow Frege in accepting a hierarchy of senses and so allow that expressions in oblique contexts express senses that are not identical to the senses they there denote (§4)..
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    References found in this work BETA
    Tyler Burge (1977). Belief de Re. Journal of Philosophy 74 (6):338-362.
    Tyler Burge (1988). Individualism and Self-Knowledge. Journal of Philosophy 85 (November):649-63.

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