Thought: A Journal of Philosophy

Volume 3, Issue 1, March 2014

Cathal O’Madagain
Pages 71-79

Indexicals and the Metaphysics of Semantic Tokens
When Shapes and Sounds become Utterances

To avoid difficulties facing intention-based accounts of indexicals, Cohen (2013) recently defends a conventionalist account that focuses on the context of tokening. On this view, a token of ‘here’ or ‘now’ refers to the place or time at which it tokens. However, although promising, such an account faces a serious problem: in many speech acts,multiple apparent tokens are produced. If I call Alaska from Paris and say ‘I’m here now’, an apparent token of my utterance will be produced in both Paris and Alaska. The token-contextual account seems to imply that in such cases I will refer to both places and contradict myself. Here I argue that to resolve this and similar puzzles we must realize that not all apparent semantic tokens really are semantic tokens, and that to decide which ones count we must appeal to speaker intentions. However, because this appeal is made at the level of the metaphysics of semantic tokens rather than to determine their meaning, it does not raise the problems associated with intentionalism that the conventionalist hopes to avoid. The metaphysics of semantic tokens uncovered is surprisingly complex, showing that shapes and sounds can transition in and out of being utterances.