Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 109–129 | Cite as

Against the speaker-intention theory of demonstratives

  • Christopher GaukerEmail author
Open Access


It is commonly supposed that an utterance of a demonstrative, such as “that”, refers to a given object only if the speaker intends it to refer to that object. This paper poses three challenges to this theory. First, the theory threatens to beg the question by defining the content of the speaker’s intention in terms of reference. Second, the theory makes psychologically implausible demands on the speaker. Third, the theory entails that there can be no demonstratives in thought.


Demonstratives Reference Speaker’s intention Context-relativity 



Open access funding provided by Paris Lodron University of Salzburg. Versions of this paper were presented at the conference “Conceptual Thought and Linguistic Communication” in Salzburg, May 2016, at the conference "What is Said / What is Meant" in Berlin, September 2016, and at the University of Milan, February 2018. I thank the audiences on those occasions, an anonymous reviewer for this journal and Graeme Forbes, in his capacity as an editor, for their comments and questions.


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© The Author(s) 2018

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Cultural and Social SciencesUniversity of SalzburgSalzburgAustria

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