self-locating device

Philosophy 285: Special Topics: De Se Content

Where: Philosophy seminar room (H&SS 7077)
When: Fridays, 1-3:50, spring quarter 2017

Instructor: Jonathan Cohen
First three letters of my first name and then my last name (all as one word) followed by the at sign, followed by ''
office: (858) 534 6812

Office hours: Fridays 10-11:30, in H&SS 7022 (and by appointment)


Here's a famous philosophical yarn:
I once followed a trail of sugar on a supermarket floor, pushing my trolly down the aisle on one side of a tall counter and back along the aisle on the other, seeking the shopper with the torn bag to tell him he was making a mess. With each trip around the counter, the trail became thicker. But I seemed unable to catch up. Finally it dawned on me. I was the shopper I was trying to catch (John Perry, "The Problem of the Essential Indexical").
In the late 1970s and 1980s, Perry and others used such cases to argue that there must be a special and irreducible way each of us has of thinking of our own selves -- a way that has special connections to knowledge (it's natural to describe Perry as undergoing a realization of some kind) and action (only after this realization was Perry motivated to reach down adjust the torn bag in his own trolly). Philosophers have disagreed about whether this and related phenomena motivate the introduction of a special kind of "de se" of content, a special kind of de se psychological attitude toward ordinary content, a wholesale theoretical reconception of the notion of content, and more. More recently, theorists have argued that there are features of the de se at work in our mental and linguistic representation of such disparate elements as generics, predicates of personal taste, epistemic modals, and more. On the other hand, some have held that de se features present a new class of worries about the possibility of iterating the very same content in different heads --- which, in turn, arguably threatens the possibility that thinkers/speakers could communicate, agree, or disagree. And, indeed, others have argued that the phenomena of the de se themselves have been misunderstood, miscategorized, or overblown. This seminar will be devoted to consideration of the phenomena and the theoretical lessons drawn from them. After looking at some of the initial papers that got the literature started, we'll go on to consider some representative philosophical applications of the apparatus of the de se to a variety of projects in philosophy, before turning to a recent articulation of a deflationary, skeptical attitude about the de se, and finally a cluster of papers on the problems the de se raises for interpersonal communication.

This seminar counts toward the distribution requirement in the area of philosophy of mind and language; it also counts as a core seminar.


The seminar requirements are of two main kinds: presentations, and a medium length (15 page) final paper.


I will determine your grade based on the following breakdown:
25% seminar presentations and participation
75% final paper

Tentative Schedule

Note that there is reading assigned for the first meeting of the seminar; please come having read the Kaplan and ready to discuss it.
Also note that we will not have seminar on either 14 April or 28 April because I will be on the road; on the first day we will organize make-up sessions for the two missing meetings.
I've linked below to almost all of the papers. The two books (Cappelen and Dever, Carpintero and Torre) have been ordered from the UCSD Bookstore, though you can probably find them cheaper online. Readings in brackets are optional.
week 1 introductory meeting, a minimal semantic framework Kaplan, "Demonstratives" Jonathan
week 2 historical sources Frege, "The thought"; Perry, "The problem of the essential indexical"; Lewis, "Attitudes de dicto and de se"; [Chierchia, "Anaphora and attitudes de se"] Ayoob (Perry); Max (Frege); Jonathan (Lewis)
weeks 3-4 applications, complications Stalnaker, "Indexical Belief"; Egan, "Epistemic Modals, Relativism, and Assertion"; Ninan, "Semantics and the Objects of Assertion"; Egan, "De Se Pragmatics"; [Ninan, "De Se Attitudes: Ascription and Communication"] Ayoob (Stalnaker); Jonathan (Egan x2); Max (Ninan)
weeks 5-8 a skeptical view: Cappelen and Dever The Inessential Indexical: On the Philosophical Insignificance of Perspective and the First Person. ch3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9; Chierchia, "Anaphora and attitudes de se" Marcus, Sebastian (C&D ch4, 5, 7, 8); Ivano (Chierchia); Jonathan (C&D ch9)
weeks 9-10 communication and the de se Ninan, "What is the Problem of De Se Attitudes?"; Stojanovic, "Speaking about Oneself"; Stalnaker, "Modeling a Perspective on the World"; Recanati, "Indexical thought: The communication problem" (all from Manuel Garcia-Carpintero and Stephan Torre (eds.), About Oneself: De Se Thought and Communication) Marcus (Stojanovic), Max (Stalnaker), Ayoob (Ninan), Sebastian (Recanati)