Graham Stevens at LEL seminar

Posted on December 9, 2019 by

Please join us this Tuesday for the last seminar of the semester for a talk by our colleague Graham Stevens from the Department of Philosophy, who specialises in philosophy of language.

Tuesday, 10th December 2019, 4.30pm, Samuel Alexander A7
Dr. Graham Stevens (The University of Manchester)
“Monstrous Messages and Displaced Communications”

::: ABSTRACT :::

David Kaplanís influential semantic theory for indexicals yields a distinctive logic for indexical languages, generating a set of logical truths that are entirely absent from non-indexical languages. These are sentences that Kaplan thinks cannot be uttered without being true, despite the fact that they express non-necessary states of affairs (e.g. ìI am here nowî). Consequently, they are often cited as examples of contingent a priori truths. Recent discussion of indexicality in the philosophical literature has challenged Kaplanís proposal to grant this privileged status to certain indexical constructions, however, by drawing attention to numerous apparent counter-examples in natural language (e.g. ìI am not here nowî on an answerphone message). These challenges unanimously agree that Kaplan is too restrictive in his analysis of the sorts of contexts in which an indexical sentence can be employed. All of the proposed counter-examples appear to show that under certain conditions uses of indexical sentences can align an indexical sentence with a context that is not recognized by Kaplanís theory and, therefore, that Kaplanís apparent cases of contingent a priori truths do not reflect genuine semantic features of English, but only reflect Kaplanís mistaken intuitions about the admissible range of contexts in which indexical sentences may be uttered. In this paper I will defend Kaplanís semantic theory against this challenge. My argument will proceed by first arguing that the proposed counter-examples in question are not just the result of aligning an indexical sentence with an unusual context, they are the result of applying a context-shifting operator on the character of an indexical sentence. Kaplan calls an operator on character a ìmonsterî and argues that monsters are entirely absent from the semantics of English. There are, however, metalinguistic devices such as quotation that do behave like monsters, as acknowledged by Kaplan. I will argue that the proposed counter-examples to Kaplanís account all share important similarities with these metalinguistic operators and are thus better understood as resulting from pragmatically introduced metalinguistic operators on constructions that are perfectly acceptable on Kaplanís analysis. I thus conclude that Kaplanís theory does not stand in need of revision to accommodate these examples, and we have every reason to retain the view that indexicals can generate the sorts of contingent a priori truths predicted by Kaplan.

Posted in: LEL events, semantics