I want to discuss a certain class of paradoxes, which I will call ‘pragmatic paradoxes.’ The term reflects the role of indexical elements in some familiar instances of the class, such as the statements ‘I am not here,’ or ‘I am not now speaking,’ and serves to distinguish the paradoxes in which I’m interested, from the semantic paradoxes, like the Liar.
An analysis of the Surprise Exam paradox affords a natural approach. Here is one version of the paradox. On Friday the teacher informs the class that one day next week (Monday- Friday) an exam will take place, and that it will be unexpected until announced, on the day it is to take place. The students reason that it can’t take place on Friday, since, were it not to occur by Thursday, they would be expecting it Friday, contrary to the teacher’s specification. If it can’t take place Friday, then it can’t take place Thursday either, for similar reasons. And so forth. The students conclude that no such exam can take place. But of course it can. So, what went wrong?