Lian Zhou

Lian Zhou, ‘De Se Communication: Language, Thought and Co-aboutness’ (PhD in Philosophy, 2020)

This dissertation is about the co-aboutness problem of de se communication. An essential requirement of successful communication is that participants of communication must talk about the same subject matter. I call this requirement the co-aboutness condition of communication. According to the traditional picture of communication, the co-aboutness condition is satisfied by same-saying, which is the replication of one other’s linguistic expressions. The basic idea behind the same-saying strategy is that we talk about the same subject matter if we use the same words. However, for an idiosyncratic type of communication, which is de se communication, same-saying simply does not work. In de se communication, we will definitely talk past each other if we just replicate one another’s words. So, how can we satisfy the co-aboutness condition in de se communication?

I argue that a new strategy must be developed. I call it the ‘translation’. Participants of a de se communication talk about the same subject matter by means of translating one another’s words. The most important part of this translation strategy is the translation of first person terms. In this dissertation I will focus on the translation of ‘I’. I introduce Worsnip’s analogy between the intrapersonal incoherence and interpersonal disagreement (Worsnip 2019, 252–259). Based on this analogy, I develop a further analogy between the intrapersonal de se inference and the interpersonal de se communication: if ‘X’ is a good translation of ‘I’, then the co-referential relation between ‘X’ and ‘I’ must closely imitate the co-referential relation between two tokens of ‘I’. So, the term whose co-referential relation with ‘I’ best imitates the co-referential relation between two tokens of ‘I’ is the translation of ‘I’ for which I am looking. This term, I argue, is ‘you’. The analogy between the ‘I-I’ same-saying and ‘I-You’ translation is sustained by three similarities.

The first similarity is that the ‘I-I’ co-reference in de se inference and the ‘I-You’ co-reference in de se communication are both explained by explanations of the externalist approach, and their externalist explanations are analogous to one another. The second similarity is that the ‘I-I’ co-reference is transparent to the producer of de se inference, just as the ‘I-You’ co-reference is transparent to the participants of de se communication. The third similarity is that both the ‘I-I’ co-reference and the ‘I-You’ co-reference are immune to the effect of misrepresentation. I articulate those three similarities. In this articulation, I examine the ‘I-You’ translation by three criteria for determining the proper connection between translation and co-aboutness. My articulation justifies the legitimacy of the analogy between ‘I-I’ same-saying and ‘I-You’ translation. After this examination, I conclude that the ‘I-You’ translation satisfies all three criteria.

Supervisors: Professor Greg Restall, Dr Laura Schroeter