On the Nature of Indexical Beliefs
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The special challenge posed by indexical beliefs was first brought to light by Hector-Neri Castañeda (1966), and later developed by John Perry (1979) and David Lewis (1979). Indexical beliefs are states of believing something that would most naturally be expressed using a sentence containing an indexical term. Interest over indexical beliefs dwindled in the late 90s and early 2000s. However, over the last few years there has been a resurgent interest in the topic of indexical beliefs, particularly as it relates to the problem of indexical communication. This is the problem of trying to explain how we successfully communicate our indexical beliefs to others. In this dissertation, I argue that the best way to make sense of indexical communication is by characterizing indexical beliefs along the lines of John Perry’s (1979, 2001) account. At the core of his account lies a distinction between the content of a belief, which is identified as a singular proposition, and the belief state in virtue of which the agent believes said singular proposition. I argue that this approach not only provides an adequate characterization of indexical beliefs, but it is also compatible with a standard and intuitive model of communication. This is a model of communication in which successful communication consist of the transmission of belief content from a speaker to a hearer via a sentence that expresses the speaker’s belief content. I begin the dissertation by introducing and motivating the problems of indexical beliefs and indexical communication. I argue that an adequate theory of indexical beliefs should be consistent with an intuitive explanation of how we successfully communicate our indexical beliefs to others. I then move on to argue that theories of belief in the Fregean and Lewisian traditions face difficulties in providing an intuitive and appealing account of how indexical beliefs are communicated. I then move to argue that the source of these difficulties comes from the fact that Fregeans and Lewisians are committed to characterizing indexical beliefs with something like a distinctly indexical content. I show that by giving up this commitment, and adopting Perry’s distinction, we can adequately characterize indexical beliefs without resorting to something like a distinctly indexical content, while at the same time having a theory that is compatible with a standard model of communication. I end by developing a model of communication that accommodates Perry’s characterization of indexical beliefs by building on the standard model of communication.