De dicto and de re

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The terms de re (Latin: "about the thing") and de dicto (Latin: "about what is said") refer to two distinct interpretations of Noun Phrases that emerge in intensional environments involving a participant's knowledge or belief states about a proposition (also known as propositional attitude reports). A classic example from Quine (1956) is (i), which displays the two readings.

(i) Ralph believes that someone is a spy.
      de re reading:    Ralph believes of somebody x that x is a spy.
      de dicto reading: Ralph believes that there is a spy, though he doesn't know who in particular it is.

The de re reading of (i) states that Ralph has a belief about a particular person being a spy. For example if Ralph observes his coworker Hubert making photocopies of top-secret documents, (i) would be appropriately used because Ralph believes that someone (namely Hubert) is a spy. The de dicto reading is a statement about the subject's beliefs about the more general existence of a spy. For example, if Ralph has not directly observed behavior indicative of spying, but has suspicions that there is a spy in his midst (e.g. if the enemy intelligence agency is consistently receiving top-secret intelligence information), then (i) would describe Ralph's beliefs de dicto that somebody is a spy.

 (ii) Estefan thinks a dog bit him.
      de re reading:    Estefan believes he was bitten by Fido.
      de dicto reading: Estefan believes he was bitten by some dog (or other)

Scope Ambiguity Theory

de se


Stanford Encyclopedia Entry


Cresswell, Maxwell J. and Arnim von Stechow. 1982. "De re" belief generalized. Linguistics and Philosophy (5: 505-535)
Kaplan, David. 1969. "Quantifying in" Synthese (19: 178-214)
Lewis, David. 1979. "Attitudes de dicto and de se". The Philosophical Review (88: 513-543)
Quine, W. V. 1956. "Quantifiers and Propositional Attitudes", The Journal of Philosophy (53: 177-187)