Analysis 47 (1):58-60 (1986)

Duncan MacIntosh
Dalhousie University
The indexical thesis says that the indexical terms, “I”, “here” and “now” necessarily refer to the person, place and time of utterance, respectively, with the result that the sentence, “I am here now” cannot express a false proposition. Gerald Vision offers supposed counter-examples: he says, “I am here now”, while pointing to the wrong place on a map; or he says it in a note he puts in the kitchen for his wife so she’ll know he’s home even though he’s gone upstairs for a nap, but then he leaves the house, forgetting to remove the note. The first sentence is false by virtue of “here” not necessarily referring to the place of utterance, the second sentence, by virtue of “now” not necessarily referring to the time of utterance. We argue that these sentences express falsehoods only because the terms are being used demonstratively, not indexically – the distinction pertains not to words simpliciter, but to uses of words. When used indexically, the terms refer in accord with the indexical thesis; but when used demonstratively, their referents depend on how devices of ostension are used with their utterance – pointings, and the like. Thus Vision’s first sentence really says, “I am there now”, referring to the place on the map the finger is pointing to. As for his second sentence, we distinguish the time of utterance or production of a sentence from the time of its uptake. Due to the pragmatics of interpretation, the sentence really says “I” – the person ‘uttering’ the note – “am here” – here where the note is, with the note serving as a kind of proxy ‘finger’ – “now” – where “now” refers to the time of uptake of the note, i.e., when it is read. “I” refers indexically, “here”, demonstratively, and “now”, indexically, but indexically to the time of uptake. Since the sentence is not purely indexical, its falsehood doesn’t threaten the indexical thesis. A similar treatment is given of teletyped messages about the typer’s location.
Keywords indexicals  demonstratives  propositions  reference  necessary truths  Gerald Vision  the indexical thesis  ostension  pragmatics
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Reprint years 1987
DOI 10.1093/analys/47.1.58
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