John Perry: Meaning and the Self

"Not long ago," Mach wrote in 1885, "after a trying railway journey by night, when I was very tired, I got into an omnibus, just as another man appeared at the other end. 'What a shabby pedagogue that is, that has just entered,' thought I. It was myself: opposite me hung a large mirror. The physiognomy of my class, accordingly, was better known to me than my own."

Mach acquired a belief at the beginning of the episode, that we can imagine him expressing as:

(1) That man is a shabby pedagogue.

By the end of the episode he has another, which we can imagine him expressing as:

(2) I am a shabby pedagogue.

It will also be convenient to imagine that Mach went on to make an obvious inference and to say,

(3) Mach is a shabby pedagogue.

All three statements are true iff Mach is a shabby pedagogue. But only (2) expresses what we might call a “self-belief”.

There are three questions I want to address in this talk. The first is about beliefs; what makes the belief that (2) expresses a self-belief? The second question has to do with the connection between language and belief. (2) expresses self-belief, while (1) and (3) do not. Why? Finally, I want to say a little bit about the distinction between thought and belief, and their connections to language.


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