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Situated metaphysics and locating beliefs

John Perry's insistence that, at least some of its ordinary uses, indexicals are irreplaceable - therefore essential, in his terminology - as they play a role nothing else can play in explaining situated beliefs and action is a crucial point of departure for what I have been calling (metaphysical) indexicalism or, more generally, a situated metaphysics. (Perry and Barwise themselves tried to develop a situated semantics, but for reasons that I'll try to begin to explain below, there could be no situated semantics without an underpinning metaphysics that takes situations seriously from the beginning.) At some point in his 1979 paper ("The problem of the essential indexical"), he despairs of de re propositions. He contrasts them with what he calls locating beliefs that place beliefs in a situation, in a position. Perry's intend is to ensure belief states are not reducible to objects of belief. Those states have to do with a situated, they provide a location to the act of believing. Objects of belief, on the other hand, are complete, Fregean thoughts even if they are construed in terms of objects and not of their de dicto descriptions. This is the starting point of an account of beliefs that make them indifferent to complete, unsituated, Fregean-thought-like propositions (which I call substantive ones). Perry suggests that perhaps we should even do away with the idea of objects of belief and rather take beliefs to be thoroughly indexical. What matters here for me is that there are no ready-made substantive states of affairs that a proposition captures but states of affairs are themselves situated, indexical, deictic. Substantive propositions are not reached and substantive states of affairs are not even intelligible. In fact indexicals cannot even in principle be fully cashed out in terms of substantives. Deferralism (see this post) is a way to begin to understand what would propositions be like so to express indexical states of affairs.

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