Skip to content

The Problem Of The Essential Indexical And Other Essays

No word in English is shorter than the word ``I.'' And yet no word is more important in philosophy. When Descartes said ``I think therefore I am'' he produced something that was both about himself and a universal formula. The word ``I'' is called an ``indexical'' because its meaning always depends on who says it. Other examples of indexicals are ``you,'' ``here,'' ``this'' and ``now.''

John Perry discusses how these kinds of words work, and why they express important philosophical thoughts. He shows that indexicals pose a challenge to traditional assumptions about language and thought. Over the years a number of these papers, now included in this book, have sparked lively debates and have been influential in philosophy, linguistics and other areas of cognitive science.

With seven new papers, including the previously unpublished ``What Are Indexicals?,'' the present volume expands on an earlier version of this book published in the early nineties. Also included are the well-known papers ``Frege on Demonstratives,'' ``Cognitive Significance and New Theories of Reference,'' ``Evading the Slingshot,'' ``The Prince and the Phone booth'' (coauthored with Mark Crimmins), ``Fodor on Psychological Explanations'' (coauthored with David Israel), and related papers on situation semantics, direct reference, and the structure of belief. This book also includes afterwords written by the author that discuss responses to his work by Gareth Evans, Robert Stalnaker, Barbara Partee, Howard Wettstein and others.

John Perry’s Web Page

Order from:


Barnes and Noble



For publicity and interviews for The Art of Procrastination, contact John Jenkinson ( For speaking engagements contact Carol Schneider (


His most recent book is The Art of Procrastination, published by Workman.

Other books, recent and less recent, by John Perry

Reference and Reflexivity, 2nd enlarged edition (CSLI Publications)

Korta & Perry Critical Pragmatics (Cambridge University Press)

Liu and Perry (eds) Consciousness and the Self (Cambridge University Press)

John Perry (ed.) Personal Identity (University of California Press)

Identity, Personal Identity and the Self (Hackett Publications)

Knowledge, Possibility and Consciousness (MIT Press)

Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality (Hackett Publications)

Dialogue on Good, Evil and the Existence of God (Hackett Publications)

The Problem of the Essential Indexical and other Essays, 2nd edition (CSLI Publications)

Jon Barwise and John Perry Situations and Attitudes, 2nd edition (CSLI Publications)

Other books of interest:

Michael O’Rourke and Corey Washington (eds.) Situating Semantics: Essays on the Philosophy of John Perry (MIT Press)

Albert Newen and Raphael Van Riell (eds.) Identity, Language and Mind: An Introduction to the Philosophy of John Perry. (CSLI Publications/University of Chicago Press)


C.V. with list of publications; most articles can be downloaded (PDF version)

My page at Amazon

Structured Procrastination and other light essays

The Philosophy Talk Website

Structured Procrastination in Psychology Today

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Interview with JP