Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Diary of a Narcissist

This is a recent diary entry by Reginald, a confused narcissist. 
Dear Diary,
I am perturbed. As you know, I've long thought that, if I'm not perfection itself, I must at least be the next best thing to it. I thank Providence every day for so far elevating me above the common man. It is no exaggeration to say that hitherto, I have counted myself among the very most beautiful and significant people in the world. But today I received a terrible shock. While searching the internet for further discussions of me, I happened across a paper by a philosopher called David Kaplan. What I found there shook my deepest convictions to the core. Kaplan argues that certain words—'demonstratives' or 'indexicals', he calls them—are context sensitive; that is to say, the referent of these terms can vary according to the conversational context in which they're used. My first thought, on reading this, was that it seemed like an interesting and plausible semantic claim. The referent of the word 'that', for example, is simply whatever it is at which my flawless finger happens to be pointing when I speak.
But that isn't all.[*] It's one thing to recognise the general semantic framework—it's quite another to make particular entries in the list of context-dependent terms. Among Kaplan's list of context-dependent terms are the very dearest and most important to me! He includes on his list, for example, such touchstones as 'I' and 'me'! Can you imagine, diary? I—Reginald the all-right—dependent on such contingencies as conversational contexts? Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that anyone would so trivialise me. Needless to say, I am deeply shaken. Can I really accept that I am so unimportant? That there is nothing special about me, but rather than I'm just whoever happens to be speaking in a given conversation? The thought terrifies me. Tomorrow I shall read works by Gareth Evans and Christopher Peacocke to see if they might restore me to the glory I thought I deserved.