Shifty characters

Philosophical Studies 167 (3):519-540 (2014)
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In “Demonstratives”, David Kaplan introduced a simple and remarkably robust semantics for indexicals. Unfortunately, Kaplan’s semantics is open to a number of apparent counterexamples, many of which involve recording devices. The classic case is the sentence “I am not here now” as recorded and played back on an answering machine. In this essay, I argue that the best way to accommodate these data is to conceive of recording technologies as introducing special, non-basic sorts of contexts, accompanied by non-basic conventions governing the use of indexicals in those contexts. The idea is that recording devices allow us to use indexicals in new and innovative ways to coordinate on objects. And, given sufficient regularity in the use of indexicals on such devices, linguistic conventions will, over time, come to reflect this innovation. I consider several alternatives to this ‘character-shifting’ theory, but none is able to account for the data as well as the present proposal. Many face additional theoretical difficulties as well. I conclude by explaining how the character-shifting theory not only retains many of the virtues of Kaplan’s original semantics, but also coheres with a plausible view on the nature of semantic theorizing more generally

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Eliot Michaelson
King's College London


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