Date of Award

Spring 4-6-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Jason Waller


How do indexical words acquire their referents? Since the publication of David Kaplan’s “Demonstratives,” a certain response to this question has become standard: to each indexical word corresponds a constant, conventional, descriptive rule (what Kaplan calls a “character”) which fixes the referent for any possible occurrence of the indexical word relative to the context in which it occurs. In this thesis I argue, first, that this account, which I call the Description Theory of indexical reference, is ultimately incoherent, and, second, that any attempt to explain the referential function of indexicals on the model of either descriptive or causal relations must ultimately fail. In light of this failure, I suggest that there is good reason to acknowledge indexicality as a unique and ultimately irreducible mode of reference. I conclude the thesis with a brief account of what such a primitive mechanism of indexical reference might look like.

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