A Mental Spaces Analysis of the Answering Machine Paradox: The Agent of the Context of Utterance Revisited

Volume 16
Issue 4
Yoko Mizuta
Kaplan (1989a) claims that sentence P (I am here now) is logically true . i.e. true in every context of utterance. Its negation ~P (I am not here now) would then be logically false. Vision (1985), however, argued that ~P uttered in a voice message apparently stands for a true proposition. In the literature, this puzzle is called the Answering Machine Paradox (AMP) and has received the continuous attention of philosophers. Some scholars identify the reference of ‘I’ in the recording context. Others argue that the reference of ‘I’ is determined by elements such as the speaker’s intention, the linguistically competent and attentive audience, and the convention in which an answering machine is used. In any case, previous works hold, just like Kaplan, that the agent of ~P (and P) should be an individual and therefore that there is no agent in the playback context. In this position, the case of AMP would then be dismissed as an ‘improper utterance’, which goes beyond the scope of Kaplan’s theory. This paper provides a novel analysis of this philosophical issue from a cognitive scientific perspective, using the mental spaces framework. AMP is explained in two steps. The key proposal made in the first step is to introduce the agent of the utterance with one’s logical identity but without his/her physical identity (Agent_log). This notion of Agent_log is given a theoretical basis in terms of a cognitive blend of mental spaces. In the second step, the voice message involves a pragmatic mapping from the Agent_log to a relevant individual, who is the ultimate reference of ‘I’. The apparent puzzle in question is attributed to Kaplan’s empirical assumption that the agent should be an individual, as in a face-to-face communication. With the introduction of the notion of Agent_log, a wider range of messages can be accommodated as proper utterances and Kaplan’s theory of indexicals is essentially defended.

Key words: Indexicals, the answering machine paradox, agent of the context of utterance, mental space theory, pragmatic reference