Philosophical Studies

, Volume 138, Issue 2, pp 193–209 | Cite as

The impurity of “pure” indexicals

Original Paper


Within the class of indexicals, a distinction is often made between “pure” or “automatic” indexicals on one hand, and demonstratives or “discretionary” indexicals on the other. The idea is supposed to be that certain indexicals refer automatically and invariably to a particular feature of the utterance context: ‘I’ refers to the speaker, ‘now’ to the time of utterance, ‘here’ to the place of utterance, etc. Against this view, I present cases where reference shifts from the speaker, time, or place of utterance to some other object, time, or place. I consider and reject the claim that these counterexamples to the automatic indexical theory all involve non-literal uses of indexicals and argue that they cannot be explained away on the grounds that they involve conversational implicature or pretense.


Indexicality Pure indexicals Automatic indexicals Demonstratives Discretionary indexicals Speaker intentions Context-sensitivity 


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I am deeply grateful to Zoltán Gendler Szabó for many hours of discussion throughout the development of this paper, and to Delia Graff and Michael Fara for comments at several crucial points. I also benefitted from comments on an earlier draft by participants in the fall 2004 Department Workshop at The Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMount Holyoke CollegeSouth HadleyUSA

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