Several philosophers I spoke with at the Pacific meeting are working on the issue of the confirmational relevance of de se information. I’m working on it as part of a defense of what I’ve called propositionalism (which turns out now to be ill-named), Dave Chalmers has a new piece on it (I think he’s using it for the online philosophy conference), and Mike Titelbaum, one of Branden Fitelson’s students at Berkeley, is writing a dissertation on how to model the relevance of such information. (Dave’s paper is here and Mike’s is here.)
To begin addressing the issue, one needs a clean characterization of the difference between de se and de dicto information. David Lewis says that all beliefs are de se and the de dicto ones limit the class of worlds to which their subjects belong, whereas irreducibly de se beliefs indicate a subject’s identity or location in space or time. The distinction is thus a distinction between beliefs about logical space and those about “location” within a world. I find this characterization to be unhelpful, but perhaps I don’t understand it. Suppose I believe that tomorrow I will win the lottery. There are worlds in which I will win the lottery tomorrow and worlds where I don’t; so this belief appears to limit the class of worlds to which their subjects belong, and is thus de dicto. But it clearly is a de se belief, as opposed to the belief that JK will win the lottery on April 14, 2006 (the indexical character of calendar claims ignored for present purposes).
Perhaps the problem is that of trying to extend the concept of de se attitudes to encompass more than beliefs involving self-awareness.
The original use of the language of de se attitudes was used to talk about self-awareness, whereas the confirmational problem is one that arises for any informational content expressed using indexicals or demonstratives, or put more vaguely, any content expressed by sentences involving contextuality.
Thought of in this way, the problem of de se information is just a special case of a more general problem, the problem often labelled since Frege as the problem of cognitive significance. If we think of propositional content in Russellian terms, we will think of propositions as having individuals, properties, and relations as elements. Since Frege, however, it has been relatively well-known that confirmation can’t depend solely on relations between Russellian propositions for the simple reason that cognitive significance can’t be explained solely by appeal to Russellian propositions. So the problem of de se information is best thought of in terms of the more general phenomenon of trying to account for cognitive significance. In this way, de dicto information is just propositional information, and if one assumes the Russellian standpoint, propositional information can’t account for epistemic support relations. What is needed for that is content-plus-sense, or content-plus-mode-of-presentation. If you’re a Fodor fan, you might say: content-plus-sentence-in-the-language-of-thought (requiring of course that LOT has indexicals, demonstratives, contextual terms, and all the other things that allow different sentences in English to express one and the same Russellian proposition).
One might try to develop a non-Russellian account of propositional content, holding out the idea that cognitive significance and confirmational considerations are the best guides we have to the notion of intentional content. There are well-known problems here, however, so I’ll drop that suggestion for now, at least.
What’s troubling about the endpoint here, however, is that it is not a neutral characterization of the problem in question, since it assumes that Russellian propositions are the (alethically relevant) contents of intentional states.