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Transparent Coreference


Because reference is not transparent, coreference is not transparent either: it is possible for the subject to refer to the same individual twice (as in Frege cases) without knowing that the two acts of reference target the same individual. That happens whenever the subject associates two distinct yet coreferential files with two token singular terms. The subject may not know that the two files corefer, so her ascribing contradictory properties to the same object (the referent of the two files) does not threaten her rationality. But if the subject deploys the same file twice, in association with both of the singular terms, she is bound to know that she is referring to the same entity twice (assuming she succeeds in referring).

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  1. 1.

    Of course, as one reviewer emphasizes, there is also a sense in which she is aware of what she is doing.

  2. 2.

    As Laura Schroeter writes, ‘Most philosophers of mind accept the… thesis that you have transparent access to the contents of your own thoughts: provided that you’re minimally rational, you simply cannot mistake one conceptual content for another’ (Schroeter 2007, p. 597).

  3. 3.

    The ‘Paderewski’ example is discussed in Kripke 1979.

  4. 4.

    That is what we saw in the previous section in connection with the ‘bastard’ example (‘I saw Johni the other day; the bastardi did not greet me’). Because of the anaphoric link, whoever understands the discourse knows that ‘John’ and ‘the bastard’ are bound to corefer.

  5. 5.

    When two singular terms are coreferential de jure, Fine says that they ‘represent (their referent) as the same’. In contrast, an explicit identity statement such as ‘he is John’ or ‘Cicero is Tully’ is said to represent the referent of the two singular terms as being the same.

  6. 6.

    A reviewer suggests a simpler way of disposing of alleged counterexamples like (2). The second occurrence of the pronoun may be construed as referring to the same individual as the definite description and the first occurrence of the pronoun. On that understanding, there is transparent coreference to the initial ‘guy in the corner’ throughout the discourse, but the clause ‘he is staring at you now’ says something false since the guy staring at the addressee is not the referent (the initial individual) but the Doppelgänger.

  7. 7.

    In Mental files in Flux (Recanati 2016) I make a further claim: that it is possible to define a notion of coreference that is even weaker than that corresponding to Fine’s ‘universal’ definition (itself weaker than that corresponding to the existential definition); and that, using that weaker notion, we can construct a correspondingly weak notion of coreference de jure (still construed as knowledge of coreference), which covers even diachronic deployments of the same dynamic file.

  8. 8.

    A reviewer for this journal mentions ‘another apparent counterexample’ where ‘due to whatever reasons (maybe, a general belief that people may sometimes be replaced by impostors), a person may believe at t1 that a certain individual, whom she has faced at t0, is not the same as another individual, whom she faces at t1, notwithstanding the fact that she still associates at t1 precisely the very same characteristics (possibly also the very same name) to the allegedly different 'individuals'. In point of fact, however, there is just one individual over there that such a person faces. This seems to show that mobilizing the same mental file twice (…) is not enough in order to have de jure coreference.’ Here, however, contrary to what the reviewer assumes, I would deny that the same mental file is deployed twice.

  9. 9.

    On ‘Twin-Earth’, see Putnam 1975; on ‘slow switching’, see Burge 1988.

  10. 10.

    For a critique of Boghossian’s assumption see Burge (1998, p. 367).

  11. 11.

    I owe this objection to Rachel Goodman.


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Correspondence to François Recanati.

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Recanati, F. Transparent Coreference. Topoi 40, 107–115 (2021).

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  • Frege cases
  • Mental files
  • Anaphora
  • Reference
  • Modes of presentation
  • Cognitive content
  • Sense
  • Coreference de jure