Analytic truth and the Daily Show

Many philosophers have suggested that the sentence 'I am here' is an analytic truth. The view goes back to Kaplan, and it has recently been vigorously defended by Gillian Russell in her recent book Truth in Virtue of Meaning (which I'm currently reading).

On The Daily Show with Jon Stewart recently (May 11th), there was an exchange that made me wonder whether 'I am here' really is analytically true. On the Daily Show, the correspondents are often presented as 'on location' in Washington DC or Kabul etc., but are actually in the studio standing in front of a backdrop of DC or Kabul. On this show, there was a particularly unconvincing backdrop of DC behind correspondent John Oliver. There was then the following exchange (cleaned up transcript -- the full video is available online; start at about 5:00):

Stewart: "For more on this story, we go to John Oliver, who joins us live from Washington. [Audience laughs] Washington."
Oliver: "That's right, I'm here. [Audience laughs] I'm here."

Oliver seems to be saying that he is in DC. But he's clearly not; he's in New York. So we appear to have an utterance of 'I am here' that is false (which is why the audience laughs), and thus it seems that 'I am here' cannot be analytic.

What to do? Here's one suggestion for how to save at least the truth (if not necessarily the analyticity) of 'I am here': say that 'I am here' is true both literally and in the pretense/fiction, but that what 'I' and 'here' refer to in the fiction differs from what they refer to literally. Literally, 'I' refers to John Oliver, and 'here' to the Daily Show studios in New York. In the pretense, 'I' refers to the journalist character (who happens to be named 'John Oliver'), and 'here' refers to DC. Then, 'I am here' is both true in the pretense and true literally. (The statement 'That's right' is true in the pretense but false literally.)

However, this maneuver does not get us all the way to 'I am here' being analytically true in the pretense -- more details about the meanings of indexicals in fiction would have to be spelled out to get there, and this post is long enough already. (Plus, I haven't thought the matter through.)

Does anyone have other thoughts about this instance of 'I am here'?


Unknown said...

How about "here" has a demonstrative and a "pure indexical" use?

On the demonstrative reading, the demonstration demonstrates DC. (Cf. saying, "I am here" while pointing to a place on a map.).

On the indexical reading, "here" means something like place of utterance and it is the indexical reading of "I am here" that is analytic.

Chris said...

I think the defender of the analyticity of "I am here" can insist that it expresses the propostion that John Oliver is in New York. As you say, this is true. But I am not sure why the defender of analyticity has to say anything more about what is true in some fiction or pretense. The laughter still has to be explained somehow, but I would not try to explain it by introducing a different kind of analytic truth!

Greg Frost-Arnold said...

Hi Ken --

That's a really interesting suggestion, which I hadn't thought of. Is this an already-established position in the literature, or an idea of your own devising? (And as you say, on the demonstrative sense of 'I', 'I am here' is no longer analytic.)

Hi Chris --

Fair point. Re your: "But I am not sure why the defender of analyticity has to say anything more about what is true in some fiction or pretense." I was thinking that analytic truths should also be analytically true in a pretense/ fiction (unless part of the pretense is that words don't mean what they do in English.) "All bachelors are unmarried" and "If grass is purple, then grass is purple" are analytic (if anything is) both literally and in all fictions. After all, the meanings of English words don't change in fictional works written in English, so if something is true in virtue of meaning, it should be so in fiction as well as literally.

Unknown said...


I have no idea what the literature on this topic is.

I just learned the indexical-demonstrative distinction as an undergrad.

I had been thinking of applying the distinction to "here", but maybe it could also be applied to "I".

Greg Frost-Arnold said...

oops, you're right -- I meant to write 'here'.