Simon Prosser (St Andrews): Why are Indexicals Essential?

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2015 Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society - Draft paper to be delivered to the Aristotelian Society on Monday, 11 May 2015. Please visit our website for further details:


<ul><li><p>p r o c e e d i n g s o f t h e a r i s t o t e l i a n s o c i e t y2 0 1 4 / 2 0 1 5 | 1 3 6 t h s e s s i o n | v o l u m e c x v</p><p>w w w . a r i s t o t e l i a n s o c i e t y . o r g . u kmemberships | latest issues | podcasts | virtual issues | the joint session </p><p>W h y a r e I n d e x i c a l s E s s e n t i a l ?</p><p>s i m o n p r o s s e r ( s t . a n d r e w s )</p><p>i s s u e n o . 3</p><p>d r a f t p a p e r</p><p>Edited by m a t t h e w s o t e r i o u ( w a r w i c k )</p></li><li><p>p r o c e e d i n g s o f t h e a r i s t o t e l i a n s o c i e t y1 3 6 t h s e s s i o n</p><p>i s s u e n o . 3v o l u m e c x v2 0 1 4 / 2 0 1 5</p><p>w h y a r e i n d e x i c a l s e s s e n t i a l ?</p><p>s i m o n p r o s s e ru n i v e r s i t y o f s t a n d r e w s</p><p>m o n d a y, 1 1 m a y 2 0 1 5</p><p>1 7 . 3 0 - 1 9 . 1 5</p><p>r o o m 3 4 9s e n a t e h o u s eu n i v e r s i t y o f l o n d o nm a l e t s t r e e tl o n d o n w c 1 e 7 h uu n i t e d k i n g d o m</p><p>This event is catered, free of charge, &amp;open to the general public</p><p>c o n t a c</p><p> 2015 the aristotelian society</p></li><li><p>b i o g r a p h y</p><p>Simon Prosser is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of St Andrews. His main research interests are in the philosophy of mind and in metaphysics. He has published articles on temporal experience, inten-tionalism about conscious experience, indexical thoughts, the metaphys-ics of time, and emergent properties. He is currently adding the finishing touches to a monograph on the experience of time and change, and also writing a couple of papers on the individuation of concepts. In the future he plans to write more about the nature of conscious experience.</p><p>e d i t o r i a l n o t e</p><p>The following paper is a draft version that can only be cited or quoted with the authors permission. The final paper will be published in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Issue No. 3, Volume CXV (2015). Please visit the Societys website for subscription information:</p></li><li><p>4w h y a r e i n d e x i c a l s e s s e n t i a l ?</p><p>s i m o n p r o s s e r</p><p>Despite recent challenges, it is commonly held that certain indexical terms such as I, here and now have a necessary or essential role in certain kinds of action. I argue that this is correct, and I offer an expla-nation. A use of an indexical term of the kind in question connotes a mental representation of a specific relation between the thinking subject and the reference of the indexical. This mental representation has an epistemic feature that I call first-person redundancy. I show through a regress argument that a mental state of this kind is essential for common kinds of action, and perhaps for all actions.</p><p>i. introduction</p><p>FOLLOWING THE WORK of Castaeda (1966, 1967, 1969) and Perry (1977, 1979), many philosophers have held that there is something spe-cial or essential about indexical terms, or about the thoughts that we express by using them. But what exactly does this special role consist in, and what is the argument for its being essential? In their recent book The Inessential Indexical (2014), Herman Cappelen and Josh Dever argue that the doctrine of the essential indexical has not been made adequately clear, and that there are no good arguments for any clear putative version of it.1 Consequently they argue that the common view that indexicality and the first-person perspective play an important and deep role in a variety of philosophical issues is a myth.</p><p>I do not agree; I believe that there is a clear and important distinction to be made between a first-person perspective and a third-person perspec-tive, that the doctrine of the essential indexical can be made clear, and that the doctrine can be defended using a simple regress argument. I shall ex-plain and defend that view in what follows. But I do agree with Cappelen and Dever that existing attempts to defend the doctrine are not adequately </p><p>1 See also Magidor forthcoming for similar views, and Millikan 1990 for an earlier chal-lenge. In fact I agree with much of what these authors say; for example, I do not think that it is indexicality per se that is essential, or that the phenomenon at issue involves a special category of de se content.</p></li><li><p>draft paper</p><p>5</p><p>simon prosser why are indexicals essential?</p><p>clear, and that the source of the essentiality of indexicals has frequently been misidentified. I agree, for example, that the essential nature of index-icals does not derive from any special kind of content, or from indexicality per se. Although I shall note some connections with their work, however, this paper is not primarily a reply to Cappelen and Dever. Instead, I shall focus on giving a positive account of what is essential about indexicals. I shall argue that each member of a certain class of indexicals is associated with a mental representation of a special kind that is essential for cer-tain kinds of action. (By mental representation I just mean any kind of mental state that can usefully be interpreted as having a representational content. My use of this expression implies no commitment to any stronger doctrine.2) The representational states in question have a unique epistemo-logical feature that arises from the fact that each one represents a relation in which the thinking subject is one of the relata.</p><p>ii. the doctrine of the essential indexical</p><p>I shall start by clarifying the view that I wish to defend. The most com-mon view about the essentiality of indexicals is that without the kind of thought normally expressed using an indexical, it is not possible to act. It seems clear enough that indexical language cannot be essential for action; we can perfectly well imagine a language with no indexical terms, but it is not plausible that its speakers would be unable to act. So the claim must concern mental states rather than language. I shall claim that the presence of an essential mental state is indeed indicated by the use of an indexical term, but this does not entail that the thought itself is somehow indexical. In fact, in my view, the mental states that concern us are not indexical in any important way. A fortiori it is not indexicality per se that explains the essential nature of indexicals. Thus when I speak of indexicals being essential I mean only that certain mental states associated with the use of certain indexicals, which I shall call egocentric mental states, are essential for action. I shall not claim that egocentric mental states are, themselves, indexical.</p><p>Some further restrictions are needed. I shall restrict my claim to what I shall call the egocentric indexicals; indexicals such as I, here and now </p><p>2 Throughout this paper I assume without argument that mental states, including ex-periential states, have representational contents. This is a common assumption, but is rejected for experiences by nave realists about perception. I suspect that a nave realist could accept much of what I say here, however, by replacing talk of experiential repre-sentation with talk of the content of experience (construed as whatever the experience is an experience of). The crucial notion of first-person redundancy, described below, can be understood in purely epistemological terms, so it is not clear that the notion of represen-tation is essential to it. </p></li><li><p>6simon prosser draft paperwhy are indexicals essential?</p><p>which, I shall argue, are associated with mental states that capture the subjects perspective. Consider the spatially non-egocentric indexical term hereHC, which refers to the present location of Herman Cappelen. I do not think that advocates of essential indexicality have intended to claim that indexicals such as hereHC are essential in the relevant sense (except insofar as they involve an implicit now), and neither shall I. Neither shall I claim that pure demonstratives such as that are essential, or at least not in the same way.3 The reason for the restriction, and its scope, will become clearer in due course.</p><p>Perhaps not all possible actions require indexicals; for example, per-haps there could be God-like creatures who lived outside space, and per-haps time, who acted just by imagining the world to be in a certain state. This is a subtle matter, and will be more easily addressed once certain other notions have been introduced. I shall return to it below. In any case I shall restrict myself to the claim that there is a class of actions, CA, which humans commonly perform, for which egocentric indexicals are essential. I leave it open, for now, whether there are possible actions not included in CA. Consequently I shall be arguing for a claim of the following form:</p><p>The Doctrine of the Essential IndexicalThere is a class of actions, CA, such that no action in CA can be performed by an agent who lacks the relevant egocentric mental state, the presence of which is normally indicated by the use of an egocentric indexical.</p><p>The reason for putting this in terms of mental states whose presence is in-dicated, rather than expressed, by the use of an indexical will be explained in the next section.</p><p>iii. the connotation principle</p><p>Let L be an egocentric indexical term. Consider a subject, S, who ex-presses a thought by saying something of the form L is F, where L refers to a place, person or time, l. Assuming Ss utterance to be sincere, we can conclude that S believes, of l, that it is F. But in choosing to use the indexi-cal term L, S manifests further beliefs. For example, given that uses of now are governed by the rule that a token of now refers to the time at </p><p>3 John Campbell (2003) suggests that demonstrative thoughts have an essential role be-cause they involve selecting a target object toward which an action can be directed. I do not want to rule out that there may be some such role. But I do not think this explains the essential role of indexicals such as I, here and now. See below.</p></li><li><p>draft paper</p><p>7</p><p>simon prosser why are indexicals essential?</p><p>which the token is uttered, if S uses now to refer to a time t then the fact that S uses now indicates that S believes that t is the time at which now was uttered. Similarly, a use of here, referring to location l, indicates that S believes that l is the place in which here was uttered, and a use of I, referring to person S, indicates that S believes that S is the person who uttered I. Let us call beliefs of this kind indicated linguistic beliefs, thus distinguishing them from the beliefs expressed by the utterances.</p><p>Notoriously, however, the linguistic belief indicated by the use of an egocentric indexical does not fully account for the psychological signifi-cance of the indexical. The point was perhaps first noticed by Arthur Prior (1959) who observed that while it makes sense to say thank goodness thats over about a traumatic event, it would make no sense to thank goodness for the fact that completion of the traumatic event occurred at an earlier time than the time of the utterance; for that would have been just as true before the traumatic event as after.4 Prior drew controversial conclusions about the metaphysics of time, but in fact the thank good-ness case has close parallels with other indexicals. For example, it makes sense for me to thank goodness that the ferocious tiger is not here, and that it will not attack me, but without supplementary premises it does not makes sense to thank goodness that the ferocious tiger is not at the loca-tion of some specified utterance, or will not attack the speaker of some specified utterance. Franois Recanati (1993, pp. 69-72) has argued that we must thus distinguish what he calls linguistic and psychological modes of presentation; the former embody the rule that determines the reference of a token indexical, but only the latter capture the psychological role as-sociated with egocentric indexicals.</p><p>The need for this distinction arises because what ultimately matters for the subjects actions is a relation between the reference and the thinking subject, not a relation between the reference and a linguistic token. The latter is significant only insofar as it entails the former. I suggest, then, that a use of an egocentric indexical manifests a further belief one that the subject would often have even in the absence of an utterance - which I shall call the indicated egocentric belief. This concerns a relation between the reference and the thinking subject. In the case of spatial indexicals this is highly plausible. If S refers to a place l using the word here then normally S believes that l is where S is located. l is, as S might put it, here-abouts. Suppose that Smith, while located at l, believes there is danger here while Jones, located elsewhere, believes there is danger there, where Joness token of there also refers to l. Then Smith and Jones both believe </p><p>4 For my own positive account of the thank goodness case, see Prosser forthcoming a: chapter 3.</p></li><li><p>8simon prosser draft paperwhy are indexicals essential?</p><p>that there is danger at l.5 In addition, however, Smith also believes that l is where Smith is located. Jones might also happen to believe that l is where Smith is located, but this belief is not manifested by Joness use of there. Moreover, as I shall explain below, even if Smith and Jones both believe that l is where Smith is located, they do not believe this in the same way. Smith believes it in a way that is essential for certain kinds of action; Jones does not.</p><p>The equivalent claim about now is that when Smith believes there is danger now, Smith believes, of some time t, that there is danger at t, but Smiths use of now indicates that Smith also believes that t is pres-ent. This much, I think, is hard to deny; one could not coherently make an ordinary, sincere use of now while denying that the time in question was present. The temporal case is more complicated than the spatial case, however, because there is a debate in metaphysics about whether present-ness is a primitive property of times (or perhaps events). If so, then insofar as now thoughts have a special significance for action, this is because it makes a difference for ones actions whether or not a certain time or event is present. Those of us who accept the B-theory of time, however, and who thus deny that times have properties like pastness, presentness or futurity, must instead regard pastness, presentness and futurity as relations. There is some debate concerning the relata, given that persons exist at more than one time. However there is much to be said for a theory according to which presentness is a relation between a time or event, and a person-stage.6</p><p>It might seem less clear that there is any comparable relation associ-ated with I, but in fact there is such a relation. Consider Smith and Jones, sitting facing one another, and both wanting to raise Smiths arm. Smith and Jones can both raise Smiths arm. But they must do this in different ways, and this is because of their different...</p></li></ul>