De Re Belief

Edited by Oliver Marshall (The Graduate Center, CUNY, The Graduate Center, CUNY)
About this topic

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.
Related categories

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  1. De Re Propositional Attitudes Toward Integers.Diana Ackerman - 1978 - Southwestern Journal of Philosophy 9 (2):145-153.
  2. Object Dependent Thoughts, Perspectival Thoughts, and Psychological Generalization.Max F. Adams, R. Stecker & G. Fuller - 1999 - Dialectica 53 (1):47-59.
  3. Object Dependent Thoughts, Perspectival Thoughts, and Psychological Generalization.Max F. Adams, R. Stecker & G. Fuller - 1999 - Dialectica 53 (1):47–59.
  4. The Philosophy of David Kaplan.Joseph Almog & Paolo Leonardi (eds.) - 2009 - 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 ...
  5. Themes From Kaplan.Joseph Almog, John Perry & Howard K. Wettstein (eds.) - 1989 - 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.
  6. Talking About Nothing. Numbers, Hallucinations, and Fictions.István Aranyosi - 2012 - 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. (...)
  7. Singular Thoughts and Singular Propositions.Joshua Armstrong & Jason Stanley - 2011 - 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 (...)
  8. Singular Thoughts (Objects-Directed Thoughts).Jody Azzouni - 2011 - 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 (...)
  9. Empty de Re Attitudes About Numbers.Jody Azzouni - 2008 - 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 (...)
  10. Content, Indexical.Kent Bach - unknown
    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 (...)
  11. Review of Krista Lawlor, New Thoughts About Old Things: Cognitive Policies As the Ground of Singular Concepts[REVIEW]Kent Bach - 2002 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2002 (2).
  12. Thought and Reference.Kent Bach - 1987 - 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.
  13. "De Re" Belief and Methodological Solipsism.Kent Bach - 1982 - In Andrew Woodfield (ed.), Thought And Object: Essays On Intentionality. Clarendon Press.
  14. De Re Belief in Action.Lynne Rudder Baker - 1982 - Philosophical Review 91 (3):363-387.
  15. Indexical Reference and de Re Belief.Lynne Rudder Baker & Jan David Wald - 1979 - Philosophical Studies 36 (3):317 - 327.
  16. Indexical Propositions and De Re Belief Ascriptions.Mark Balaguer - 2005 - 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 (...)
  17. 'If', '⊃', and the Principle of Exportation.John A. Barker - 1974 - Philosophical Studies 26 (2):127 - 133.
  18. A Pragmatic Defense of Millianism.Arvid Båve - 2008 - Philosophical Studies 138 (2):271 - 289.
    A new kind of defense of the Millian theory of names is given, which explains intuitive counter-examples as depending on pragmatic effects of the relevant sentences, by direct application of Grice’s and Sperber and Wilson’s Relevance Theory and uncontroversial assumptions. I begin by arguing that synonyms are always intersubstitutable, despite Mates’ considerations, and then apply the method to names. Then, a fairly large sample of cases concerning names are dealt with in related ways. It is argued that the method, as (...)
  19. New Essays on Singular Thought – Robin Jeshion (Ed.).José Luis Bermúdez - 2011 - Philosophical Quarterly 61 (245):865-869.
  20. Thought-Contents: On the Ontology of Belief and the Semantics of Belief Attribution.Steven E. Boër - 2007 - 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 (...)
  21. Gegenstandslose Gedanken.Johannes Brandl - 1985 - Grazer Philosophische Studien 25:501-531.
    Thoughts may have a subject — they may concern a certain topic —without having an object in the sense of being directed upon a referent. It is argued that, once this distinction is acknowledged, a third position between Meinong and Russell can be established. There will then be objectless thoughts which need not be false in view of the non-existence of their purported referents. But there will also be object-dependent thoughts which have their referents necessarily. Neither logically proper names nor (...)
  22. Singular Thought and Cartesian Philosophy.Anthony Brueckner - 1993 - Analysis 53 (2):110 - 115.
  23. A Notorious Affair Called Exportation.Howard Burdick - 1991 - 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 (...)
  24. A Logical Form for the Propositional Attitudes.Howard Burdick - 1982 - 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 (...)
  25. Five Theses on De Re States and Attitudes.Tyler Burge - 2009 - In Joseph Almog & Paolo Leonardi (eds.), The Philosophy of David Kaplan. Oxford University Press. pp. 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.
  26. Foundations of Mind.Tyler Burge - 2007 - Oxford University Press.
    Foundations of Mind collects the essays which established Tyler Burge as a leading philosopher of mind.
  27. Belief de Re.Tyler Burge - 1977 - Journal of Philosophy 74 (6):338-362.
  28. Kaplan, Quine, and Suspended Belief.Tyler Burge - 1977 - Philosophical Studies 31 (3):197-203.
  29. A New Source of Data About Singular Thought.Mihnea D. I. Capraru - 2013 - Philosophia 41 (4):1159-1172.
    Philosophers have justified extant theories of singular thought in at least three ways: they have invoked wide-ranging theories motivated by data from other philosophical areas, they have elicited direct intuitions about which thoughts are singular, and they have subjected propositional attitude reports to tests such as Russellian substitution and Quinean exportation. In these ways, however, we haven’t yet been able to tell what it takes to have singular thoughts, nor have we been able to tell which of our thoughts they (...)
  30. Russellian Thoughts.Peter Carruthers - 1987 - Mind 96 (381):18-35.
  31. Reply to My Critics: Anthony Brueckner and Robin Jeshion.Albert Casullo - 2011 - In Michael J. Shaffer & Michael Veber (eds.), What Place for the a Priori? Open Court. pp. 111.
  32. Knowledge and Belief: 'De Dicto' and 'de Re'. [REVIEW]Roderick Chisholm - 1976 - Philosophical Studies 29 (1):1 - 20.
  33. Tyler Burge on Sense and de Re Belief.Wai-kit Choi & 蔡偉傑 - 1995 - Philosophical Studies 36:317-327.
  34. Divine Hiddenness and Belief de Re.Benjamin S. Cordry - 2009 - 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 (...)
  35. Robin Jeshion, Ed. , New Essays on Singular Thought . Reviewed By.Sam Cowling - 2011 - Philosophy in Review 31 (6):434-437.
  36. The Singularity of Singular Thought.Tim Crane - 2011 - 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.
  37. De Re and De Dicto Explanation of Action.Sean Crawford - 2012 - 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 (...)
  38. Quantifiers and Propositional Attitudes: Quine Revisited.Sean Crawford - 2008 - 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 (...)
  39. Object-Dependent Thoughts.Sean Crawford - 2005 - In Keith Brown (ed.), The Encyclopaedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd ed. Elsevier.
    The existence of object-dependent thoughts has been doubted on the grounds that reference to such thoughts is unnecessaryor 'redundant'in the psychological explanation of intentional action.This paperarguesto the contrary that reference to object-dependent thoughts is necessary to the proper psycho- logical explanationof 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 coherenceof an alternative'dual-component' model of explanation.Section II rebutsthis argumentby showing the dual- component model to be (...)
  40. Object-Dependent Thought.Sean Crawford - 2005 - In Pashler Harold (ed.), Encyclopaedia of the Mind. SAGE.
  41. The Nature of Commonsense Psychological Explanation.Sean Crawford - 1999 - Dissertation, University of Oxford
  42. In Defence of Object-Dependent Thoughts.Sean Crawford - 1998 - 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 (...)
  43. De Re Belief Generalized.Maxwell J. Cresswell & Arnim Stechow - 1982 - Linguistics and Philosophy 5 (4):503 - 535.
  44. Unrestricted Exportation: No Toying with Pragmatic English as English Itself.Adam Cuevas - manuscript
  45. About Belief De Re.Cusmariu Arnold - 1977 - Logique Et Analyse 77 (3):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.
  46. Acquaintance and de Re Thought.Chris John Daly - 2007 - Synthese 156 (1):79-96.
  47. De Re A Priori Knowledge.Cian Dorr - 2011 - 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 (...)
  48. Object-Dependent Thoughts.E. BoËr Steven - 1990 - Philosophical Studies 58 (1):51-85.
  49. David Kaplan on De Re Belief.Erin L. Eaker - 2004 - Midwest Studies in Philosophy 28 (1):379–395.
  50. Consciousness, Acquaintance and Demonstrative Thought. [REVIEW]Naomi Eilan - 2001 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 63 (2):433–440.
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