, Volume 76, Issue 1, pp 49–58 | Cite as

The Problem of De Se Assertion

  • Isidora StojanovicEmail author
Original Article


It has been long known (Perry in Philos Rev 86: 474–497, 1977; Noûs 13: 3–21, 1979, Lewis in Philos Rev 88: 513–543 1981) that de se attitudes, such as beliefs and desires that one has about oneself, call for a special treatment in theories of attitudinal content. The aim of this paper is to raise similar concerns for theories of asserted content. The received view, inherited from Kaplan (1989), has it that if Alma says “I am hungry,” the asserted content, or what is said, is the proposition that Alma is hungry (at a given time). I argue that the received view has difficulties handling de se assertion, i.e., contents that one expresses using the first person pronoun, to assert something about oneself. I start from the observation that when two speakers say “I am hungry,” one may truly report them as having said the same thing. It has often been held that the possibility of such reports comes from the fact that the two speakers are, after all, uttering the same words, and are in this sense “saying the same thing”. I argue that this approach fails, and that it is neither necessary nor sufficient to use the same words, or words endowed with the same meaning, in order to be truly reported as same-saying. I also argue that reports of same-saying in the case of de se assertion differ significantly from such reports in the case of two speakers merely implicating the same thing.


Semantic Content Definite Description Person Pronoun Epistemic Modal Intuitive Notion 
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I would like to thank two anonymous referees for their helpful comments. This paper is part of a larger project, which I have presented, at various stages, on a number of occasions. I am particularly grateful to my commentators on three such occasions: Maite Ezcurdia (Workshop on Cognitive Perspectives on Mind and Language at UNAM, Mexico City, August 2009), Jennifer Carr and Ryan Doody (MIT-Jean Nicod Workshop on Self-Locating Belief, MIT, Cambridge MA, September 2009), and Ernie Lepore and Una Stojnic (SPAWN-2011, Syracuse NY, August 2011). Last but not least, the research leading to these results was partly funded by the European Research Council under the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013), from the projects “Perspectival Thoughts and Facts” (PETAF), grant agreement number 238 128 and “Context, Content and Compositionality”, grant agreement number 229 441–CCC, as well as from the project “Semantic Content and Context-Dependence”, MICINN, Spanish Government, grant number CSD2009-0056.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut Jean-NicodCNRS-ENS-EHESSParisFrance

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