February 02, 2004

You Don't Know Me

Supacrush writes (at 4:32 AM!) "At least one of them didn't know that Supacrush = me." The usual suspects crack wise about that remark in his comments, but I thought of another one--his/her sentence gives real trouble to the Israel-Perry monstrous theory of how indexicals work within epistemic contexts--roughly, that "X knows that p" is true iff p is true in every context of utterance that is epistemically possible for X.

The problem is, Supacrush wrote that sentence on the Supacrush blog. So there's no way anyone can encounter his utterance without knowing that Supacrush = the author of that sentence, unless they have a very short memory. So it seems as though, in any epistemically possible context (for whoever), "Supacrush = me" comes out true.

You might be able to fiddle this based on X's failure to know that the sentence will be uttered at all--but since no one (except maybe Supacrush) knew that the sentence would be uttered at all, that doesn't account for the one who did know that "Supacrush = me."

I wrote a paper exploiting some similar cases to boost Geoff Nunberg's theory [UPDATE: link fixed] that, in some contexts, indexicals contribute a property of the referent to the truth-conditions of the sentence. For instance, in "Today is always the biggest day of the year in Punxsutawney," today contributes its property of being Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day actually comes up in my paper--since it's the only day that can occur more than once in the same year, if you're Bill Murray. Anyway, I may post this paper, if I get over my scruples about circulating some pretty rough stuff.

Posted by Matt Weiner at February 2, 2004 06:41 PM