Please join us this Friday for Patrick Munoz (PhD Student, Linguistics)!
SPEAKER: Patrick Munoz
TITLE: ‘Names in de re belief reports: problems with conceptual covers and a new analysis of identity’
DATE: Friday 2/20
LOCATION: Rosenwald 208
TIME: 11:30 am – 1:20 pm
Ambiguities between de dicto and de re interpretations of many belief reports are elegantly captured by analyzing the distinction as one of scope with respect to a doxastic modal operator. But many well-known paradoxes – among them the famous ‘double vision’ puzzles, such as those presented in Quine (1956) and Kripke (1979), in which the belief-holder is familiar with some individual under two distinct guises, and fails to recognize their identity – present problems for applying such an analysis to de re belief reports about individuals denoted by proper names. If proper names are taken to denote individuals without the mediation of any conceptual or non-trivial intensional content, then their being evaluated within, or beyond, the scope of a modal operator that shifts the world of evaluation is irrelevant to their semantic contribution. This has two unwelcome results: (1) de re belief attributions containing proper names collapse into their de dicto counterparts, making capturing the ambiguity impossible; and (2) it is impossible to capture the intuition that a belief-holder may simultaneously have, and not have, a certain de re belief about an individual in different respects without being ‘incoherent,’ i.e. without entertaining logically impossible doxastic alternatives.
This has led researchers to suggest that identifying individuals under quantification is impossible without reference to some conceptually mediating guise or other: the choice of guise then determines whether or not the de re belief holds. Aloni (2001) identifies problematic results in previous theories attempting to cash out this approach formally, and resolves them by proposing her theory of conceptual covers, according to which quantification occurs not over bare individuals, but over ‘ways of identifying’ those individuals. This is done by introducing the notion of a conceptual cover, which is a set of individual concepts such that relative to each possible world, exactly one individual falls beneath each concept, and each individual falls beneath exactly one concept; there is thus a one-to-one mapping between concepts and individuals, such that a conceptual cover can be seen as a certain way of uniquely and exhaustively partitioning the domain. Some conceptual cover or other is determined by the discourse context, and variables are in turn assigned to individual concepts that are members of this conceptual cover. While this explains the data with which Aloni is concerned, I argue that the way the theory is presented makes the prediction that relative to the use of any single conceptual cover, there are no de re belief attributions whose truth requires that two such individual concepts denote the same individual in the same world (otherwise, the uniqueness condition would be violated). But such belief attributions do exist, viz. those reporting de re beliefs about identity, which I argue can be interpreted ‘doubly de re,’ such that the expressions denoting both individuals being equated are evaluated outside the scope of the doxastic operator. Such attributions can be true, although on Aloni’s account this would require that the same individual be denoted by two individual concepts within a conceptual cover relative to the belief-holder’s doxastic alternatives, which is impossible.
The fact that the primary appeal for conceptual covers (the uniqueness condition) leads to this problematic result, in addition to the problems that previous attempts to treat quantification over individuals as mediated by conceptual content have engendered, leads me to adopt a new approach to analyzing de re belief reports containing proper names, according to which names are once again stripped of all conceptual content. I argue that the problem with such belief reports is not in our analysis of names at all, but rather in our analysis of identity: I show that such reports can be captured using the traditional scopal ambiguity analysis if the identity relation used to symbolize their logical forms is treated not as a matter of logical identity between members of a domain, but rather as a descriptive identity amounting to an indiscernability of identicals and an identity of indiscernables. This allows us not only to capture all of the data with which Aloni and her predecessors were concerned, but also belief reports about identity statements, and further allows us to drastically simplify the semantic and pragmatic mechanisms accompanying proper names.
The result of adopting this new approach to natural language identity has several important consequences, first among which is that the domain is now better conceptualized as a set of discourse referents rather than individuals. I argue that this is a positive result, and has promising applications for broader issues in the semantics of names, including a straightforward solution to Frege’s Puzzle and the dissolution of worries involving negative existential statements containing names. It thus points the way to a promising defense of a simple, Millian semantics of proper names.