Consider the term: "the actual world". It means, transparently enough, something along the lines of "that possible world which is actual". As with many definite descriptions, this displays a sort of de dicto/de re ambiguity. On the one hand, we might take the term 'the actual world' as a straightforward description (or a kind of modal indexical), so that any possible world can refer to itself by using the term, if we conceive of that world as "counteractual" rather than merely counterfactual, i.e. when we conceive of that world as having been actualized in place of our own world. This is analogous to how the de dicto reading of "the U.S. president" allows it to refer to John Kerry in some possible worlds, even though Kerry isn't president in our world. Much like Kerry could have been president in place of Bush, so, perhaps, some other possible world could have been actual in place of our own. (I'm actually not convinced that's a meaningful suggestion. But I'll ignore such worries for now.)
Alternatively, we might take the term to be a sort of name or rigid designator, the description picking out an actual object, but thereafter holding the reference fixed throughout all possible worlds. So, for example, if we rigidly designate X = "the [actual] U.S. president", then 'X' is just another name for George W. Bush, and in counterfactual worlds where Kerry is president, it would be false to say "X is the U.S. President", because Bush wouldn't be. Applying this to our present problem, we might take "the actual world" to be a name rigidly designating our own particular world. On this reading, if my counterpart on a frozen possible world were to say "I'm actually cold" (in the philosophical sense of "I'm cold in the actual world"), then he would be saying something false, since in the actual world - i.e. our one - I'm not cold. On the de dicto reading previously mentioned, however, he might well be saying something true. It would be true just in case he was cold, on his world.
Okay, hopefully that's all clear. Now, I bring this up because it's relevant to a couple of recent posts over at Fake Barn Country. In one, Jonathan argues that we cannot believe metaphysical contingencies, because a belief that p just is a belief that actually p, but the truth value of the latter belief's content is metaphysically necessary (if true, it's necessarily true; if false, it's necessarily false). But this argument equivocates between the two senses of 'actually' described above.
A belief that p is only equivalent to a belief that actually p in the de dicto sense, i.e. where 'actually p' just means 'p in this world (conceived as actual)', that is, just plain 'p'. And there's nothing metaphysically necessary about the truth value of that. The stronger version doesn't work, because my frozen counterpart believes he is cold (i.e. "RC is cold"), but he doesn't necessarily believe that I, his actualized counterpart, am cold. He doesn't know anything about my situation. His beliefs are about his possible world, not mine. And a belief about his world is clearly not the same as a belief about my world. So, these counterfactual people show that a belief that p is not the same as a belief that actually p -- not in the strong (de re) sense that Jonathan requires.
In an earlier post, Jonathan made the following claim:
"Claim: To imagine a scenario is to imagine that the scenario obtains in the actual world."
I suggested in comments that this is only true in the de dicto sense. A better way to put it might be that we imagine scenarios as counter-actual, rather than actual. We don't imagine them taking place in this very world [the de re actual world], where I'm warm and Bush is president. Rather, it seems to me, we imagine scenarios (fictions especially) as taking place in some other world, a world which we then conceive of as being actual in place of our world.
None of the FBC guys seemed especially taken by the idea, which is odd, because it strikes me as obviously correct. (Then again, Jonathan thought his claim was obviously true too, which I strongly disagree with, so perhaps 'obvious' is a dangerous word to be throwing around in this discussion!) What do you guys think?