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Sunday, December 27, 2015


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I think that there are several confusions going on at the same time. For instance, it would be useful to clearly distinguish, throughout, between meaning (or sense) and reference; purely descriptive theories of reference vs. causal or direct theories of reference; definite descriptions (e.g., 'The Flying Spaghetti Monster') and names (e.g., 'God', 'Allah', etc.). But, hey, there it goes.

I think that the position of Lydia (and perhaps Bill), as stated, is untenable. For instance, leaving aside matters of translation, when I say that the Earth is round and it goes around the Sun, am I talking "about the same Earth and the same Sun" as the people from the Biblical period did when they said that the Earth is flat and the Sun rotates the Earth, etc? I venture to say that the Biblical period people and those of today are talking about the very same astronomical objects, the Earth and the Sun. And, surely, the shape of the Earth is an essential property of the Earth and so forth. Yet according to Lydia, if I understand her correctly, the Biblical people and we are not talking about the same astronomical entity. Or consider gold. I think it is fairly obvious that today we refer to the same metal by the term ‘gold’ as ancient people did, even though they did not know, and therefore could not have associated with the term, its most essential property (i.e., atomic number 79). Moreover, many people even today use the term ‘gold’ to refer to the metal with atomic number 79, although they do not know anything about the atomic number of gold. Yet the theories espoused by Lydia (and perhaps Bill) would have it that people who fail to associate with the term ‘gold’ that its atomic number is 79, fail to refer to gold by the term. Moreover, someone who today doubts that gold’s atomic number is 79 still intends to refer to the metal gold by the term (when for instance they wish to purchase a gold wedding ring).

You say: “I am struck in particular by the comment that Muslims are attributing to him essential properties that are not his. Both of the pronouns (‘him’ and ‘his’) refer back to the God that Lydia aims to be talking about.”

I am assuming that your issue here is this. How can Lydia deny that Muslim’s refer to the same God (as Lydia does) when she uses certain anaphoric pronouns that refer to an antecedent use of the term ‘God’ (in Lydia’s pen, as it were). That is, how can Lydia say that Muslims attribute to God certain essential properties that (as she believes) are not truly God’s? I think that you need to take seriously Lydia’s purely descriptivist views. That is, systematically replace names as well as pronouns with suitable descriptions. Reference, strictly speaking, falls out of the picture and you got a purely Russellian reconstruction of these statements. Perhaps doing so consistently will resolve your puzzles.

Your comment about the role of intention in Kripke’s causal theory is correct, although I might add that, with the exception of unusual circumstances, the intention to use the term with the same referent as previous uses is a “standing” or “tacit” intention, rather than an explicit intention on each occasion of use.

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