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Saturday, March 05, 2011


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Thank you for the excellent post.

I am, however, unsure whether (2) is necessarily problematic, at least if you are agreeing with the Aristotelico-Scholastic dictum "individuum ineffabile est" for the same reason as did the Aristotelean Scholastics, to wit, that an individual receives its individuality through its materiality. Suppose, however, that you are a Cartesian or Platonist: in that case, you will believe that you, in all your individuality, are genuinely immaterial, and therefore not necessarily ineffable. As St. Thomas says, "Intelligibility is incompatible with the singular not as such, but as material, for nothing can be understood otherwise than immaterially. Therefore if there be an immaterial singular... there is no reason why it should not be intelligible" (Summa Theo., I:86:1:resp. 3). Perhaps, though, you have other reasons for accepting said dictum?

Mr Mollica,

I am not saying that (2) is problematic. Surely there is nothing problematic about it. It expresses a realization that some of us have from time to time.

So I'm not following you.

The point I am making is that when I refer to myself using the first-person singular pronoun 'I,' as when I say 'I am that man' or 'I have my fly open,' the self-reference is not mediated by a Fregean sense. Hence the difference between (1) and (2) cannot be explained by saying that 'that man' and 'I' differ in sense but have the same referent.

Excuse my exceedingly poor articulation.

I am not sure that (d) is unproblematic, in other words, whether individual selves are, as such, ineffable. My reasoning is as follows: you expressed yourself in Aristotelean/Scholastic terms when saying that individuals are ineffable; but the Aristotelean Scholastics believed individuals to be ineffable only insofar as they are material; therefore, you also probably take individuals to be ineffable insofar only as they are material. But perhaps I am an immaterial self, and the term "I" refers to such an immaterial self. In that case, there should in principle be no difficulty in grasping my own "'I'-ness," and thus (d) seems as good a candidate for rejection as (a), since it rests upon the assumption that my "'I'-ness" is unintelligible, ineffable, etc.

Perhaps my train of thought could be formalised thus:

1. An individual is in principle ineffable only because it is a material individual. (Scholastic Dictum)
2. It is (epistemically) possible that I am an immaterial self. (Feasible Cartesian/Platonic/etc. Thesis)
3. A self is an individual. (Granted by you in this post)
4. It is possible that I am an immaterial individual. (2, 3)
5. It is possible that that I am not in principle ineffable. (1, 4)
6. I am the subject in (2).
7. It is possible that the subject in (2) is not in principle ineffable. (5, 6)
8. Therefore, (d) has a chance of being false. (d, 7)
9. (a) is not (d). (Obvious)
10. Therefore, it is not the case that the only limb in the aporetic pentad (a-e) that has a chance of being false is (a).

That's a lot better. But you are not understanding what I'm doing. I want to know what the difference is between propositions of the form *I am F* and of the form *That man is F* given that I am that man.

I agree with you that your (1) is a scholastic dictum, but I question whether it is true for persons or selves. That is because I do not accept that the soul or self is the form of the body.

I should also point out that (4) does not follow from (2) and (3). You can't validly move from epistemically possible to possible. For what is epistemically possible -- possible for all I know -- could in reality be impossible.

If I have an individual essence genuinely graspable by myself, which corresponds to the "I"-sense, then the "that man" sense can be understood as a description of my individual essence with regards to what is accidentally true of it. Consider an analogy. Equilateral triangularity is, I take it, a non-controversially intelligible essence: let the Fregean sense corresponding to my understanding of this essence be called T. E, conversely, is the sense expressed by the phrase "the kind of figure first mentioned by Euclid at Elements, Bk. I, Def. xx." My discovery that the referent of sense T is identical with that of E is, on the theory I am here suggesting, analogous to the discovery that my individual self (which is in itself understood by me) is the self who's fly is open. In sum: sense one signifies my concept of my immaterial, individual essence or self, and sense two signifies an accidental description of that essence or self.

I am confused as to what you mean in your second point. Why does it follow from the falsity of the Scholastic theory of soul/form identity that the Aristotelean/Scholastic account of the ineffability of the individual is questionable? (Note that my argument does not require the Thomistic theory of soul/form identity to be true, hence premise (2).)

I meant all of my references to possibility to be taken epistemically. I assumed that you would take me that way on account of the patent fallacy involved in the other interpretation. I apologise for not making myself clearer.

I'll try and take this back to basics and see if I have understood the problem. Suppose you speak out loud - perhaps your wife is there - saying

(*) I am that man

(1) First question: is the thought you are expressing here the same as if you hadn't expressed it, but "think it to yourself"? If it is the same thought, then how is there any problem here? It's essentially the same problem as

(**) The author of Waverley is the author of Rob Roy

All we need is an adequate theory of indexicals like 'I' and 'that man'. I suggest this is not very difficult; we merely need to recognise that indexicals have a symbolic component over and above the words that are spoken or written.

Proof: my wife often complains that I use the word 'that' or 'there' in a way that she cannot follow because she has her back to me, and so cannot see where I am pointing. Indeed, sometimes I don't even point, I simply look in the direction of 'there'. (I often make the same complaint about her). The reason she cannot understand is that demonstratives and indexicals are symbolically incomplete. They need other symbols attached to them to work properly. These symbols are hand gestures, images, the particular tonal characteristic of a person's voice that makes it 'their voice'. Images of clocks for time reference ('now').

(2) Or is it that you distinguish the thought outwardly expressed by 'I am that man', when you utter it, from the thought you have when you do not utter it? But then that doesn't make much sense. You are describing that thought by to us, in your post, by means of the words 'I am that man'. If it is the same thought as expressed by those words, outwardly spoken (as only words can be) then there is no distinction. If it is different, how are we to know what you are talking about? What we cannot talk about, we must pass over in silence.


The problem posed by Bill in the present post pertains to indexical and demonstrative thoughts (Since in the example Bill need not say anything to anyone). One question is whether the problem of indexical and demonstrative *thoughts* is fully analogous to indexical and demonstrative *expressions* in a manner that a treatment of the later can be applied to the former.

David Kaplan distinguished pure indexicals from demonstratives: 'I' belongs to the former, whereas 'that man' in Bill's example belongs to the later class. For pure indexicals, Kaplan distinguishes between the character of an indexical and its content. The character is that part of the meaning of an indexical that is shared by all its uses. e.g., Bill says: 'I am a male'; His wife says: 'I am a male'. Clearly both uses of 'I' here share something in common, but they refer to different persons. Hence, that which is shared by both uses fails to fix the referent. So what does? The content. What is content? It is the context in which the indexical is used; e.g., in the present case the speaker (or thinker). Thus, since Bill and his wife are different speakers, the two uses of 'I' will refer to different persons, since they were expressed by different people.

Demonstratives require some sort of a demonstration as their content. Thus, 'that man' if overtly expressed will require a pointing or some similar device to fix its reference. The question is what analog is there for a pointing device in thought when there is no overt expression. This then is one problem that Bill's case raises.

Regarding the example (assuming that both expressions were asserted) Kaplan would treat 'that man' as a dthat-expression which is a specific kind of demonstrative. The referent of a dthat demonstrative is fixed by a descriptive analog of a demonstration such as (in our case) 'dthat[man walking towards me] has his fly open'. Thus a dthat reference fixer is an additional part of the content of a demonstrative just like is a demonstration such as pointing.

Once reference is fixed by means of these devices, then the whole sentence expresses a proposition which is true or false in each possible world as usual.

According to Kaplan (1) and (2) are distinct and pick out different propositions because their content is difference, even though their referent in the actual world happens to be the same (there could be a possible world in which 'that man' refers to someone other than Bill). Both content and character must be the same in order for two expressions to pick out the same proposition.

Thus, Kaplan does not need a special "I-sense" or a "haecceity-concept" in order to make sense of such examples. Surely we can use indexicals such as 'I' without knowing much about who we really are.

[For a reasonably good review of Kaplan theory: SEP, Indexicals, David Braun; pub. Mon Oct 15, 2007,


A Kaplanian will reject (d). The content of 'I' includes the context, in this case the speaker or thinker of (2). Since there is nothing ineffable about the speaker or thinker of (2), (d) is false.

Surely 'I am that man' must be false because the pointings implicit in 'I' and 'that man' will be in distinct directions and no individual can be in two places at once? Perhaps what the utterance conveys is the recognition that two individual concepts have been collapsed into one. 'That man', the more ephemeral concept, has collapsed into the more durable 'I'.


First, there is no pointing implicit in the indexical 'I', although there is contextual element of 'speaker'. Second, since there is no such pointing in 'I', this pointing cannot be pointing to a "distinct direction" than the one in 'that man'. The last sentence in your post is unclear.

Perhaps you are talking about the differences in contextual elements that is present in the content of the respective 'I' and 'that man'.


Your understanding of Kaplan is excellent. But for him propositions are Russellian, not Fregean. If 'Mt Blanc is snow-covered' expresses a Russellian proposition, then Mt Blanc itself, that massive physical object, together with its snow fields and subterranean gopher tunnels, etc. etc. is a constituent of the proposition. But I can't swallow the Russellian view; how could a finite mind wrap itself around such a monstrous object?

I incline to the view that declarative sentences express Fregean propositions. Accordingly, it is not Mt Blanc itself that is a constituent of the proposition but a Fregean sense. Such propositions and their constituents are manageable by finite minds like ours.

The question of F-props vs R-props is of course a huge separate discussion. We can go there if you want.

The problem I am raising in the post rests on a couple of presuppositions. One is that belief is a propositional attitude. That is not obvious. The other is that the accusatives of belief (states of believing) are Fregean propositions. That is not obvious either.

I think I muddied the waters by using a demonstrative in (1). As you correctly point out, a use of 'I' does not require an accompanying gesture: I don't have to point to myself when I say or think 'I.' But I do have to point or gesture when I say 'that.' But if I am merely thinking, then what is the accompanying gesture? Your point is excellent. So let me change the example.

Suppose I am the man in black.

1* The man in black has his fly open.

2. I have my fly open.

It is possible that I believe that (1*) without believing that (2). Do you agree? You must. Now recall the two presuppositions: belief is a prop attitude and props are Fregean.

You will grant me that the two propositions are distinct since they are Fregean. And you will grant me that the predicate-constituents are the same. Now I assume: No difference without a difference-maker. Please don't question this obvious assumption now, we can come back to it if you want. So what makes the difference between the two props? Must be a difference in subject-constituents. These consistituents are F-senses. The one corresponding to 'the man in black' is easly grasped since it involves general concepts and logical concepts. But the one corresponding to 'I' is a haecceity concept and cannot be grasped. Therefore, the Fregean de dicto approach fails in this instance. For if I cannot grasp an I -sense then I cannot grasp an I-prop. Clear?

To understand this you must not confuse the Kaplanian character of the first-person pronoun with the putative 'I'-sense expressed on a given occasion. The Kaplanian character is specified by a rule like: On a given occasion, 'I' refers to the one who tokens it. This gives the lingusitic meaning of 'I' -- a general meaning the same for all 'I'-users. 'I'-senses, however, if there are any, are unique to each 'I'-user, and perhaps even unique to each 'I'-user at each time.

Background reading: Castaneda on the 'he himself' locution, David Lewis on de se, and Chisholm on the first person.


Excellent response. Thanks! Will ponder the matter a bit before I wrap my head around it. May take a few days due to duties of a different order.

Hello Peter,

I'm sure you are technically right regarding the pure indexicality of 'I', but does that defeat my argument? Let's introduce a listener who points with one arm towards the speaker and with the other follows the direction of the speaker's assumed pointing. These two pointings clearly cannot be in the same direction in general. Hence I dispute Bill's 'plain fact that 'that man' and 'I' refer to the same man', on which fact he appears to build his argument.

You ask, What analog is there for a pointing device in thought when there is no overt expression? I say there is none. Try this experiment. Locate two trees through your window, 'this tree' on your left, say, and 'that tree' on your right. Now close your eyes and try to refer to 'this tree' as opposed to 'that tree'. I find my sense that the expressions refer vanishes and I resort to attempts at definite description.

Bill has now reformulated the argument without the 'that man' demonstrative, rendering the preceding somewhat otiose. But I still contend that 'the man in black' and 'I' have distinct referents. For suppose that the speaker zips his fly with his right hand. From the speaker's point of view, the man in black zips his fly with his left hand. So again they cannot be the same man. I appreciate that I have relativised the senses and references to the speaker, so to that extent I may be denying that the propositions in question are Fregean. Perhaps you or Bill could clarify whether Fregean senses and references must be absolute?


You say that in the scenario described by Bill the referents of 'I' and 'that man' or 'the man in black' have different referents. Well, then, what are the two different referents?

Peter, surely the speaker uses 'I' to refer to himself and 'that man' (plus gesture) or 'the man in black' to refer to his image in the mirror?


Bill cannot be referring by 'that man' to a mere *image of a man* in the mirror, for Bill knows very well that the image is an image of some man and he wishes to talk about that man, not his mere image.

Consider this: suppose that an image appears in the mirror, say of a faint blue hallo. Suppose Bill knows that the hello is produced by the play of light on the mirror. Bill then will say something like: "look at that image of a hello in the mirror."

Clearly, Bill wishes to talk about a man who causes the image in the mirror. Suppose Bill says: "That man has his fly open; I wonder whether he is married?" Clearly, Bill is not pondering here whether an *image* is married.

I think our problem is to construct a sentence containing elements from two distinct points of view. If I say that by 'that man' Bill (our speaker) refers to an image in the mirror we are tempted to infer that Bill might say "By 'that man' I refer to an image in the mirror". But this can't be right because BIll is unaware of the mirror. He thinks there is a man facing him. The formulation that Sainsbury, for example, recommends is something like this:

Seeing the image of a man in the mirror, Bill says "That man's fly is open."
The first part of this sentence sets up a third person account of the situation while the second reports Bill's take on it from the first person. The tricky part lies in fitting them together. I think we all understand what is happening here---we can imagine ourselves in Bill's situation---but perhaps we lack the language to give a fully third person account. Maybe we need new theoretical terms.


The trouble with the proposal is that both perspectives end up referring to the same person. From a third person perspective we describe the situation as follows: Bill is talking about a man whose image unbeknown to Bill is reflected in the mirror. From a first person perspective Bill is talking about the very same man, although he does not realize that he is seeing only the man's image. So it seems to me that the referent is the same from both perspectives, although the route to this referent differs. It is this difference; i.e., the route, which all solutions in some form or another attempt to exploit in order to formulate a solution. However, this approach proves to be more difficult than it appears at first.

Suppose I am looking at my hand directly and then I look at the same hand via a mirror. I would say that in both cases I am looking at my hand. It is not the case that when I am looking at my hand in a mirror I am looking at an image of my hand: I am looking at my hand itself.

Would you agree with that?

Bill, Peter,

Regarding 'looking at' I think there are some distinctions we could draw---'looking at' carries a sense of purpose which is lacking in the passive 'sees', so I'd say 'looking at his hand in the mirror, he saw its reflection'---but I'd have to agree that one can look at something through an optical device like a telescope or a mirror. But I can also look at my hand by looking at its image on a CCTV screen.

I think my difficulty with identifying the referents of 'that man' and 'I' is that, because of the left-right inversion inherent in mirror images, it seems to turn an honest account of a belief state ('that man is left handed') into a falsity ('I am left handed'). Doesn't the position do just what we know we cannot safely do: substitute a co-referring term into an intensional context? And underlying this is an assumption that I'm not at all sure about, viz, that 'that man' (and referring terms in general) has a unique referent independent of the referrer. Hence my query about the relativity of Fregean sense/reference.

I'm curious--why don't you allow comments on ally your posts?


For a number of reasons. One is that I feel that I ought to respond to comments. But if I allowed comments on all posts including the 'hot-button' ones I would get far too many to respond to.

And then there is the 'cyberpunk factor.' If I were wide open to comments I would waste too much time deleting vile and stupid comments and blocking the malefactors.

Having Googled your e-mail address, I know enough about you to know that your comments would be worthwhile. So if there is some recent post to which you would like to respond, I invite you to send me an e-mail message.

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