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Against the speaker-intention theory of demonstratives


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.


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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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Correspondence to Christopher Gauker.

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Gauker, C. Against the speaker-intention theory of demonstratives. Linguist and Philos 42, 109–129 (2019).

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  • Demonstratives
  • Reference
  • Speaker’s intention
  • Context-relativity