Research Group
in Analytic Philosophy

Singular Thoughts, Names, and Files

    Heimir Geirsson (Iowa State University)

Date: 04 December 2019

Time: 15:00

Place: Seminari de Filosofia UB


There is an important cognitive difference between a thought that is directed towards a particular object and a thought that is not so directed but is instead about a certain kind of objects. For example, there is a difference between my thoughts about my brother and my thoughts about brothers more generally. The former is an example of a singular thought while the latter exemplifies general thoughts. Similarly, when I come upon a particularly grizzly murder then there is an important cognitive difference between my thought that Smith’s murderer is insane when I know who the murderer is and when I do not have such knowledge. In the former case my thought is about a particular person while in the latter case it is not about a particular person but rather about the murderer whoever it might be. Again, the former exemplifies singular thoughts and the latter general thoughts.

While there is a general agreement about there being singular thoughts and general thoughts there is little agreement on what exactly constitutes a singular thought. Similarly, there is not much agreement on the conditions for one acquiring singular thoughts. In particular, the disagreement about the latter focuses on the one hand on the epistemic requirement of acquaintance and on the other hand on the metaphysical requirement of existence. Even those who insists on an acquaintance requirement for singular thoughts do not agree on the strength of the acquaintance relation.

Most direct reference theorists adhere to what I will call the orthodox view when it comes to acquaintance, namely the view that one can be sufficiently acquainted with an object and so obtain a singular thought about it in virtue of being at the receiving end of a use of a name of the object that stretches back to an initial baptism of it. I will argue that we have good reasons to doubt the truth of the orthodox view. But even if the orthodox view is not right, one nevertheless has to acknowledge that names do play a large role when we exchange information and I will provide an account of mental files that accounts for such a role. My take on mental files will be significantly different from, and will carry fewer commitments than the influential accounts of Robin Jeshion and Francois Recanati.