Coordinate translations of egocentric content

When Lingens meets Frege, Jens Kipper

Phil Studs 178, 1441-1461 (2021)

It’s the 80s again; this is one of two papers in this issue of Phil Studs on egocentric content. (And there’s another one on reference and incomplete definite descriptions to boot.)  This one suggests an epistemic two-dimensional solution to the difficulty Robert Stalnaker’s semantics faces when egocentric content (“Lingens” cases) co-occurs with errors of identification (“Frege” cases). Kipper's overall position seems sensible enough—I’m strangely fond of two-dimensionalism—but this is another case where my reaction is “what’s all the fuss about”, and absent a pandemic I’d buttonhole a specialist at a conference and ask what’s going on.

My particular puzzlement here is this. The initial problem for Stalnaker was how to fit egocentric content into his model of communication, which involves the participants coming to share beliefs. Egocentric beliefs can’t be communicated that way; if I say “I am Adrian Boutel” you’d better not come to share that belief. Stalnaker’s response is to deny that there really is egocentric content; all content can be explicated in terms of sets of possible worlds, if only you’re allowed to appeal to haeccaeties and singular contents. There are egocentric belief states, however, which are ways of being related to objective (albeit haeccaetistic and singular) contents. Stalnaker then had a dispute with Lewis, to which, long story short, Kipper is responding.

Stalnaker’s abandonment of egocentric content seems overly dramatic, though. If I say to you (in person) “I am Adrian Boutel” the pure egocentric content of my utterance is where the centre of the actual world is. You can’t come to believe that, on pain of criminal liability. But what you can, and do!, come to believe is that “the person in front of me is Adrian Boutel”.  That’s also egocentric—specifically, diectic. It amounts to a coordinate translation of my egocentric content, adjusting to the different centre of the world from your perspective. 

That is, I think, in the spirit of Stalnaker’s account of communication. No we don’t come to share belief contents, but our believed egocentric contents are directly inter-translatable. 

It also seems a lot simpler than Stalnaker’s approach; not only does he need singular thought, haeccaeties, and belief-states, but he also gives worlds multiple centres: your centre and my-centre-as-believed-of-me-by-you.  (And in general one centre for each participant in the conversation.) Removing all that seems to avoid the issues Kipper goes on to deal with. But what do I know! I’d love to be educated…