Content in Context

Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 205)


Acquaintance is a relation of “direct” awareness, an intentional relation between a person and an object in his or her “presence”. Specifically, a person is acquainted with an object insofar as he or she has an acquainting experience that is intentionally related to the object, i.e., successfully of or about that object. And in an acquainting experience one is presented something in one’s “presence”, something in the immediate context of one’s experience, or in contextual relation to the experience, or to oneself. In this sense the mode of presentation is indexical, and the content embodying that mode of presentation is an indexical content. As the chapters above showed, in perception I am visually presented “this object (actually now here before me and affecting my eyes)”; in empathic perception of another person, I am presented “you” or “him” or “her” (“this other person actually now here before me and affecting my eyes”); and in consciousness per se, or inner awareness, I am aware of “this very experience” and also of “I” (of myself as subject of this experience). Accordingly, in successful acquaintance one stands in an intentional relation to something in one’s presence, something in contextual relation to one’s experience or oneself. In this sense the relation of acquaintance is an indexical intentional relation, and as such it is a context-dependent intentional relation.


Visual Experience Contextual Relation Descriptive Content Relevant Context Intentional Relation 
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  1. 1a.
    The thesis that acquainting experiences are indexical in structure or content is related to views of a number of philosophers. Husserl said perceptions are expressible by “essentially occasional expressions” like demonstrative pronouns, and Russell said “this” is a “logically proper name” referring to a sense-datum the speaker is seeing: see the Introduction on Russell and Husserl, and bear in mind their larger programs. Jaakko Hintikka says perceptions are describable in the form “(∃x)(a sees that..x…)”, where the quantifier is based on “perceptual”, or “demonstrative”, individuation, meaning the object of perception is singled out by the perceiver as what is situated at a certain place before him: cf. Hintikka [1967], “On the Logic of Perception”,Google Scholar
  2. 1b.
    Hintikka [1970], “Objects of Knowledge and Belief: Acquaintances and Public Figures”. Romane Clark says “basic perceptions” are ascribable by the form “I see that this [sensuously before me] is…”: cf. his [1973], “Sensuous Judgments”, and [1977], “Old Foundations for a Logic of Perception”. Hector-Neri Castañeda has observed that indexical, or “indicator”, words are tied to the speaker’s perspective in a way that others cannot report by using the same words: cf. his [1966], “‘He’: a Study on the Logic of Self-Consciousness”, and [1967], “Indicators and Quasi-Indicators”. Castañeda has developed a theory of perception and belief and their objects which accommodates indexical structures, in his [1977], “Perception, Belief, and the Structure of Physical Objects and Consciousness”. Picking up on Castañeda’s papers, John Perry has observed that indexicals are essential for expressing certain beliefs: cf. his [1979], “The Problem of the Essential Indexical”. Perry’s essay is perhaps the simplest and clearest statement of the problem of indexical structure, albeit limited to beliefs, or rather to sentences used to express one’s beliefs.Google Scholar
  3. 1c.
    Then too, John Searle in his [1983], Intentionality, finds a “causally self-referential” element in the content of a visual experience, an element that might be expressed in indexical terms: compare note 16 below.Google Scholar
  4. 1d.
    And some recent works from England address issues of indexical thoughts: Andrew Woodfield, editor, [1982], Thought and Object;Google Scholar
  5. 1e.
    Gareth Evans [1982], The Varieties of Reference;Google Scholar
  6. 1f.
    Colin McGinn [1983], The Subjective View: Secondary Qualities and Indexical Thoughts;Google Scholar
  7. 1g.
    Christopher Peacocke [1983], Sense and Content: Experience, Thought, and their Relations.Google Scholar
  8. 2a.
    I have carefully separated intentional, or mental, reference from linguistic reference (in accord with Smith and McIntyre [1982], Husserl and Intentionality). But there are connections between indexical awareness and indexical reference in language: on one theory, the latter is founded on the former.Google Scholar
  9. 2b.
    See D. W. Smith [1981a], “Indexical Sense and Reference”,Google Scholar
  10. 2c.
    See D. W. Smith [1982b], “What’s the Meaning of ‘This’?”.Google Scholar
  11. 2d.
    Cf. Husserl [1900–01], Logical Investigations, I, §26, and VI, §§3–5;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 2d.
    D. W. Smith [1982c], “Husserl on Demonstrative Reference and Perception”.Google Scholar
  13. 2e.
    Some seminal studies of indexical reference include: Arthur Burk [1949], “Icon, Index, and Symbol”, a summary of C. S. Peirce’s pioneering account of indexicals;Google Scholar
  14. 2f.
    Y. Bar-Hillel [1954], “Indexical Expressions”;Google Scholar
  15. 2g.
    David Kaplan [1977], Demonstratives, as well as its predecessors from the early 1970’s published as [1979], “Dthat” and “On the Logic of Demonstratives”;Google Scholar
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    John Perry [1977], “Frege on Demonstratives”;Google Scholar
  17. 2i.
    Hans Reichenbach [1947], Elements of Symbolic Logic, §50, “Token-Reflexive Words”;Google Scholar
  18. 2j.
    Bertrand Russell [1948], Human Knowledge: its Scope and Limitations, Part Two, Chapter IV, “Egocentric Particulars”; as well as Castañeda [1966] and [1967] cited in note 1 above. Some important related works on formal pragmatics include Richard Montague [1968], “Pragmatics”, and [1970], “Pragmatics and Intensional Logic”, both in Montague [1974], Formal Philosophy: Selected Papers of Richard Montague; and Robert Stalnaker [1972], “Pragmatics”. Kaplan’s definitive study of the logic of demonstratives has been most helpful as a foil in developing certain aspects of the views on acquaintance presented in this chapter. “Causal” or “historical” theories of reference also find something like indexicality in reference of proper names and natural kind or substance terms.Google Scholar
  19. 2k.
    Cf. Keith Donnellan [1972], “Proper Names and Identifying Descriptions”;Google Scholar
  20. 2l.
    Saul Kripke [1972], “Naming and Necessity”;Google Scholar
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    Hilary Putnam [1973], “Meaning and Reference”, and [1975], “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’”.Google Scholar
  22. 3a.
    Some related examples are posed in H. P. Grice [1961], “The Causal Theory of Perception”,Google Scholar
  23. 3b.
    D. F. Pears [1976], “The Causal Conditions of Perception”. Grice and Pears lay out notorious problems of exactly what causal conditions are necessary for veridical perception. We should be aware of these problems, but shall not pursue them for our purposes here. We shall simply speak of “appropriate” spatiotemporal-causal conditions of perception, sweeping these problems under the rug of “appropriateness”.Google Scholar
  24. 4.
    The mind parasite is a fictional being given birth in Colin Wilson’s very philosophical science-fiction — or philosophy-fiction — novel, [1967], The Mind Parasites.Google Scholar
  25. 7.
    We shall make use of Hilary Putnam’s famous “Twin Earth”-type cases, presented in Putnam [1975], in “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’”. However, the morals we shall draw from twin-Earth cases will be very different from those drawn in the tradtion of the “causal” theory of reference or the theory of “direct reference”. Cf. Nathan Salmon [1981], Reference and Essence, in that tradition. Contrasting my position with those in regard to perception is D. W. Smith [1986b], “The Ins and Outs of Perception”.Google Scholar
  26. 8.
    Romane Clark observed that different perceptual judgments might have the same “conceptual content” but different objects because they occur in different “sensory contexts”, and likewise judgments expressible by indexicals can generally have the same content but different objects: cf. Clark [1973], “Sensuous Judgments”, p. 49. Hilary Putnam observed that speakers can be in the same psychological state while uttering an indexical expression but refer to different things: cf. Putnam [1975], p. 234. David Kaplan independently stressed the same observation in his [1977], Demonstratives.Google Scholar
  27. 9a.
    Frege’s general theory of senses is indicated in his [1892], “On Sense and Reference”. His suggestive remarks on indexicals are in his [1918], “The Thought: a Logical Inquiry”, pp. 24–26. The interpretation assumed here is sketched in John Perry [1977], “Frege on Demonstratives”, wherein footnote 4 credits the interpretation to Dagfinn Føllesdal. Cf. Burge [1979], “Sinning against Frege”. Nontraditional interpretations of Frege, allowing for context-dependence, have been developed recently: cf. Evans [1982], The Varieties of Reference,Google Scholar
  28. 9b.
    James Zaiss [1988], Fregean Senses (doctoral dissertation, University of California, Irvine, 1988). On Zaiss’ reading, the relation of a sense’s “determining” a referent is ontologically primitive; it is not a matter of the referent’s fitting a description or descriptive sense, and it is always a contextual relation in the wide sense that it obtains in the one actual world which is always the context of sense determining referent (there is no question of the sense’s picking out the referent descriptively in various possible worlds, since Frege’sGoogle Scholar
  29. 11.
    See Husserl [1900–01], Logical Investigations, I, §26, VI, §5. Husserl’s theory of indexicals is developed in relation to his later doctrine of X’s (see note 14 above) in D. W. Smith [1982c], “Husserl on Demonstrative Reference and Perception”.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 13a.
    On the causal theory of perception see: R. J. Hirst [1959], The Problems of Perception, Chapter VI; Grice [1961];Google Scholar
  31. 13b.
    Pears [1976]. Note that we avoid the specific forms of causal theory that assume sense-data.Google Scholar
  32. 14.
    A sensitive contextualist theory of perception is sketched by Romane Clark in his [1973], “Sensuous Judgments”, pp. 54–55: the structure or content of a “basic” perception or sensuous judgment, Clark holds, is expressible by “This, sensuously before me, is qualitatively thus and so”, and the object to which the judgment “refers” is determined by the “sensory context” of the judgment, in just the way indexical reference is determined by context. Also, the contextualist accounts of de re belief discernible in Kaplan [1969] and Burge [1977] (see note 12 above) are also both “sensitive” contextualist theories, as each recognizes something like content and allows it some kind of role in the relation between the belief and the object the belief is “of” or about.Google Scholar
  33. 15.
    John Searle in his [1983], Intentionality, analyzes intentionality in terms of the “conditions of satisfaction” of experiences — generalizing from his earlier theory of speech acts, and from the form of modern semantics (which specifies truth-conditions for various types of sentences or statements). Here I specify “conditions of satisfaction” not for acquainting experiences, but for indexical contents in acquainting experiences. There are important similarities but also differences between Searle’s framework and my own, some of which are detailed in D. W. Smith [1986b], “The Ins and Outs of Perception”.Google Scholar
  34. 16a.
    This type of content or sense — that of indexical contents — seems not to have been recognized before in the literature. Frege did not have a notion of such senses. Husserl did not have such a notion of indexical senses, even though he recognized “essentially occasional” expressions: cf. D. W. Smith [1982c]. Hintikka’s notion of perceptually individuating functions, in his [1969], “On the Logic of Perception”, originally stimulated my thinking along these lines, culminating in this notion of indexical contents; however, indexical contents behave differently than perceptually individuating functions — and such contents do not strictly reduce to such “meaning functions”. Castañeda’s notion of “demonstrative guises” lines up partly with my notion of indexical, or specifically demonstrative, contents: see his [1977]. However, guises are a different kind of entity than contents, and they yield a different kind of approach to intentionality in Castañeda’s work, a radical “object” approach. By contrast, within my approach to intentionality, guises would be parts of the objects, not the contents, of intentional experiences.Google Scholar
  35. 16b.
    Cf. Castañeda [1974], “Thinking and the Structure of the World”, and [1977];Google Scholar
  36. 16c.
    D. W. Smith [1986a], “Mind and Guise in Castañeda’s Philosophy of Mind”. There is a strong awareness of indexicality in the recent neo-Fregean works of Evans [1982], McGinn [1983], and Peacocke [1983]; however, their results, I believe, fall under the “externalist” approach that I contrast with my own “internalist” approach.Google Scholar
  37. 16d.
    John Searle, adopting an explicitly “internalist” approach to intentionality, has developed an insightful account of the “experience of causation” in perception: in his [1983], Intentionality. Analyzing the intentional content of perception in this regard, Searle has held that a visual experience is “causally self-referential” in that the experienced causal relation between the experience and its object is part of the “conditions of satisfaction” of the intentional content of the experience. This claim could be seen as a consequence of an account like my own of the demonstrative content of a visual experience — except that my notion of content is much more loaded than Searle’s. Searle’s view and my view were developed independently from different directions, he stressing the experience of causation in perception and I stressing the demonstrative content in perception and its appeal to the contextual relation in perceptual acquaintance. Yet I think our views clearly converge. And I take that fact as so much phenomenological confirmation. Although I have not here appraised the recent proposals of the English indexicalists — in Evans [1982], McGinn [1983], and Peacocke [1983] — it appears to me that their proposals work very differently from mine and Searle’s and are framed in a quite different program. The account of indexical contents developed here was used in Smith and McIntyre [1982], Husserl and Intentionality, Chapter VIII, and in D. W. Smith [1981a] and [1982b].Google Scholar
  38. 18a.
    More or less implicit in Heidegger [1927], Being and Time,Google Scholar
  39. 18b.
    Merleau-Ponty [1945], Phenomenology of Perception.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

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