When Shapes and Sounds become Words: Indexicals and the Metaphysics of Semantic Tokens

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To avoid difficulties that arise when we appeal to speaker intentions or multiple rules to determine the meaning of indexicals, Cohen (2013) recently defends a conventionalist account of these terms that focuses on their context of tokening. Apart from some tricky cases already discussed in the literature, however, such an account faces a serious difficulty: in many speech acts, multiple apparent tokens are produced – for example when a speaker speaks on a telephone, and her utterance is heard both where she speaks, and at the location of the receiver of the call. The ‘token-contextual’ account seems to imply that in such cases a speaker will simultaneously produce multiple contradictory utterances. Here I argue that to resolve such problems we cannot help but to invoke speaker intentions. However, by appealing to intentions at the level of the metaphysics of semantic tokens, rather than to decide their meaning, the token-contextualist can make this appeal without reintroducing the difficulties associated with intentionalist accounts that she hopes to avoid. The resulting metaphysics of semantic tokens is, interestingly, more complex than we might have expected.
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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