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

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2020