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Actions and De Re Beliefs

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Richard H. Feldman*
University of Rochester


Many different analyses of the concept of de re belief have been proposed in recent years. Most of these analyses may be called ‘reductionist’ since they attempt to “reduce” de re belief to de dicta belief or to analyze de re belief in terms of de dicta belief. Some reductionist analyses are extremely liberal in their attribution of de re beliefs — they imply that people have de re beliefs in a variety of situations in which more restrictive analyses have no such implication. In this paper I will show that the most liberal of the reductionist theories, those Roderick Chisholm calls “latitudinarian theories”, are unacceptable.

Latitudinarian analyses have been proposed by many philosophers, including Ernest Sosa, Mark Pastin, and also, perhaps, W. V. Quine and Wilfrid Sellars.

Research Article
Copyright © The Authors 1978

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1 See “Knowledge and Belief: ‘De Dicto’ and ‘De Re’ ”, Philosophical Studies 29 (1976), 1-20.

2 See Sosa, Propositional Attitudes De Dicto and De Re”, Journal of Philosophy 67 (1970), 883-96,CrossRefGoogle Scholar and “Rejoinder to Hintikka”, Journal of Philosophy 68 ( 1971), 498-501; Pastin, About De Re Belief”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 24 (1974), 496-75;Google Scholar Quine, Quantifiers and Propositional Attitudes”, Journal of Philosophy 53 (1956), 177-87;CrossRefGoogle Scholar Sellars, “Some Problems About Belief”, in Davidson, D. and Hintikka, J. (eds.), Words and Objections: Essays on the Work of W. V. Quine (D. Reidel Publishing Co., Dordrecht, 1969), 186205.Google Scholar See also Chisholm, Thought and Its Reference”, American Philosophical Quarterly 14 (1977), 167-72,Google Scholar for a defence of this theory.

3 This formulation of the analysis was presented by Sosa in “Propositional Attitudes De Dicta and De Re”. The right hand side of the biconditional is to be read this way: there is a singular term ɑ and a predicate ϕ such that S believes the proposition that would be expressed in English in ordinary contexts by the sentence ⌈ɑ is ϕ⌉. There may be some technical problems with this formulation, but I will not pursue them here.

4 See Sleigh, RobertOn Quantifying Into Epistemic Contexts”, Nous 1 (1967), 23-31,CrossRefGoogle Scholar esp. p. 28, and David Kaplan, “Quantifying In” in Words and Objections, 206-42. For responses to the objection see Sosa, “Propositional Attitudes De Dicto and De Re”, pp. 887–88, and Pastin, “About De Re Belief”, p. 574.

5De Re Belief”, Journal of Philosophy 74 (1977). 338-62, esp. section II, and “Kaplan, Quine, and Suspended Belief”, Philosophical Studies 31 (1977). 197-203, esp. section II. A similar objection was raised by Michael Corrado in “On a Proposed Necessary Condition for De Re Belief” presented at the December 1976 meetings of the American Philosophical Association.

6De Re Belief”, pp. 351–52.

7 Ibid., p. 345

8 “Kaplan, Quine, and Suspended Belief”, p. 200.

9 “Thought and Its Reference”, p. 167-68. See also Sosa, “Propositional Attitudes De Dicto and De Re”, pp. 891–92 and Pastin, “About De Re Belief”, pp. 573–74.

10 I assume here that there is no term other than those considered in connection with this example that denotes either Colonel Mustard or Mr. White and which enters into beliefs Miss Scarlet has. If there are such terms, they may, according to (L’), generate additional de re beliefs she has about one of these people. Of course, no such belief would be of any aid in explaining her arresting the person she did.

11 I am grateful to Edward Wierenga for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.