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Indexical Words and Possible Worlds

SomaliaLinguists sometimes use the term "indexical" for a type of word or sign.

If I understand the point, a word is "indexical" if it presupposes some aspect of the situation in which it is employed.

"Here" is indexical. So, for that matter, is "there." Each presupposes that the speaker is located at a particular place, and that the listener has some idea what that place is.  You ask a friend over the phone, "Do you know where my folder is?" Your friend replies, "Yes, you left it over here." In that case, the speech situation includes the fact that both he and I know that I was at his place the previous night, and I presume (he knows that I will presume) that he is speaking to me now from that home. So, because I understand the indexical use of the term, I know where my folder is.

Likewise "now" is indexical. If I record the phrase "I am having trouble breathing now" and someone plays back that recording the next day, the statement may or may not be true the next day. I might be dead. Or my respiratory distress might be safely in my past, and I might be breathing fine. That doesn't matter. the word "now" is indexical, and it only informs the listener to the extent the listener has some idea when the recording was made.

All of that is critical background for the wonderful metaphysical and contemporary-science question, "Is the word 'actual' indexical?"

From one point of view, "actual" resembles "now" and "here." It is a statement about where/when I (the speaker) am. Perhaps 10 years ago I was nearly in an accident that could have taken my arm off. One possible world is that world in which that accident did happen, and I by this time would be getting quite proficient at the use of my prosthetic arm. But that isn't the "actual" world. I have two arms here. I have two arms now. I have two arms in actuality.

The question, "why is this world the actual one," is (on this line of thought) incoherent. The word "this" in such a context and the word "actual" are both indexical, and are synonyms. So the question resembles, "why is this century the present century?"

Here's a link for those who might want to examine this thought further.


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