Metalinguistic Monstrosity and Displaced Communications

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David Kaplan’s semantic theory for indexicals yields a distinct logic for indexical languages that generates contingent a priori truths. These special truths of the logic of indexicals include examples like “I am here now”, an utterance of which expresses a contingent state of affairs and yet which, according to Kaplan, cannot fail to be true when it is uttered. This claim is threatened by the problem of displaced communications: answerphone messages, for example, seem to facilitate true instances of the negation of this supposed logical truth as they allow the agent of the message to no longer be at the location of the message when it is encountered by an audience. Many such displaced communications can be identified in everyday natural language uses of indexicals. Recent discussion has suggested that Kaplan’s error is to be overly restrictive in the possible contexts of utterance his semantic theory recognizes, as he fails to acknowledge the possibility of utterances that occur at a context distinct from that in which they are constructed. I reject this diagnosis and defend Kaplan’s semantic theory. Displaced communications, I argue, are best understood as resulting from a pragmatically introduced metalinguistic context-shifting operation and hence do not demand revision of Kaplan’s semantic theory. I provide an analysis of the pragmatic process underlying this operation and make the case for its merits over those of rival accounts of displaced communications.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2020


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