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Tuesday, January 05, 2016


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>> Or does Kripke allow for subsequent baptisms of a thing? <<

In discussing the causal theory and the problem of reference shift via error, E. Michaelson writes:

"One of the most serious and enduring problems facing the causal theory of reference (as sketched by Kripke, at least) is that it appears to be at odds with the phenomenon of reference shift via error. Gareth Evans cites the case of ‘Madagascar’, once used to refer to a portion of the African mainland, but now used to refer to the great African island. Marco Polo was apparently the first speaker to use the name to refer to the island. He was under the impression — a misimpression — that this was how the name was actually used. The problem is this: when Marco Polo used the name, he surely intended to refer to whatever was referred to by the person(s) from whom he acquired the name. His intention was not to introduce a novel use of the name. But the individual(s) from whom Polo acquired the name intended (by hypothesis) to use the name to refer to a portion of the African mainland. How, then, did it come to refer to the island?"

"Alternatively, the causal theorist can modify her view so as to allow for events subsequent to the initial dubbing to affect what a given name refers to. Devitt (1981) develops a version of the latter strategy by contending that a name is typically ‘grounded’ in its bearer in numerous perceptual confrontations after the initial dubbing. As part of what grounds reference, these perceptual confrontations are thus semantically significant and capable of effecting reference change over time. The basic idea is that, given a sufficient number of such groundings over a sufficient period of time, reference change may occur. Thus, ‘Madagascar’ was able to shift reference from the mainland to the island once perceptually-based groundings in the island became established. The island was effectively dubbed ‘Madagascar’ by means of such groundings."


I'm not a Kripkean on this matter, and I don't know if a Kripkean would call these subsequent dubbings 'baptisms.' However, they seem to function as baptism repetitions, or in the case of the errors, mistaken baptism repetitions.

Here's a rough thought, though it might not work:

Suppose Abraham baptizes Isaac with 'Isaac.' Just before doing so, the philosophically adept Abraham correctly says "This child breathing before me is numerically identical to the child crying (or laughing!) before me."

Arguably, the child has a nature (essential properties), and Abraham sufficiently grasps this nature in order to pick out the child and make the claim about the sameness. At the very least, Abraham understands that the child is human and self-identical.

Abraham is referring to a being that possesses essential properties and stands in an identity relation. Thus, he is referring not only to the substance that is the child, but also to the properties, etc. had by that substance. However, the causal theory can't account for this reference because, as you noted, the theory rules out reference to abstract objects such as properties.

Of course, this point presupposes a substance/natural kind ontology, which some (e.g., an event-ontologist) would deny. It also rests on the assumption that properties and relations are objectively real abstract objects.

A causal theorist could say that instantiated properties, or property instantiations, enter into causal relations even if uninstantiated properties do not. I believe that Jaegwon Kim thinks of an event as an individual's instatiating a property at a time (mutatis mutandis for the relational case) with events as the relata of the causal relation.

I agree there are problems with the causal theory. As you know, I am interested in how or whether we refer to characters whose existence is evident from historical texts. It is difficult to see how the causal theory can help us. I have a brief outline of the problem here. Mark (14:51) says “And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.”

Mark never gives a name for the character, who is introduced by the indefinite and non-unique description ‘a young man’. Mark refers back to him twice, first with the pronoun ‘him’, then with ‘he’. And that’s all we know. The causal theory doesn’t really help us because his name is not mentioned. Clearly he must have had a name, but the gospel writer may not have known this. Remember that they were probably written some time after the death of Christ, perhaps at the end of the first century. So the writer was relying on oral or other written records now lost. These may not have mentioned a name, perhaps they just talk about ‘some young man in a linen cloth present at the arrest of Jesus’. So initial baptism almost certainly irrelevant, as is the intention to use the name with the same reference.

Yet it seems to me that we can refer to this man. Indeed, I just have! I said ‘this man’. So does the Wikipedia article about him. It says “Since ancient times, many have speculated on the identity of this young man”.


I'd say you are equivocating on 'reference.' Isn't it perfectly obvious that there is an important difference between word-world reference and word-word reference, an example of which is the back 'reference' of 'his' and 'him' to 'a young man'?

The causal theory is supposed to cater to the former, not the latter.

>>I'd say you are equivocating on 'reference.' Isn't it perfectly obvious that there is an important difference between word-world reference and word-word reference, an example of which is the back 'reference' of 'his' and 'him' to 'a young man'? <<

Just to be clear, do you mean that the expression 'the naked fugitive' as used in Wikipedia is a form of back-reference? Not a rhetorical question, just a question to aid clarification.

Francis: is your comment a reduction ad absurdum of the 'characteristic understanding' theory? It seems to be.

Sorry reductio ad absurdum. The browser 'corrects' it.

The causal theorist would be saying that instantiated properties are events? It's hard to see how God's properties are events, since God is timeless -- at least timeless logically prior to creation.

Another apparent problem for the causal theorist:

A (human) baptism is a temporal process. The baptismal tagger tags the target of reference, and this tagging occurs in time. But suppose God is timeless. How can a timeless being be tagged by a temporal tagger?

One might reply that the tagging only occurs from the temporal POV of Abraham, not from God's timeless POV. But then the reference seems unsuccessful.


Consider a simpler example. 'John became ill because he drank too much.' Suppose I assertively utter this sentence in your presence about our mutual friend John. 'John' refers extralinguistically to a man. But 'he' by itself does not refer to anything outside language; it it picks up its extralinguistic reference from 'John.' Now what is the relation between the pronoun and its antecedent? If you call that 'reference' then you are equivocating.


Sure, with regards to the pronominal back-reference in Mark. But I ask the question again: with regard to the expression 'the naked fugitive' as used in the Wikipedia article about the man in Mark, is that also a form of back-reference or not?

Simple yes or no will do.

I just noticed that Francis's comment was referring to the more recent post above, where he has copied it.


Yes. 'The naked fugitive' back-refers to 'a certain young man.'

>>Yes. 'The naked fugitive' back-refers to 'a certain young man.'

Thanks. And I should have asked a further question at the same time. You hold that the 'he' which refers back to ‘John’ does refer extra-linguistically, but inherits its reference from ‘John’. I.e. the proper name refers per se, but that the pronoun refers per alium, through another. Do you in that case hold that ‘a young man’ refers? Or are we dealing with a separate case entirely?

I ask because Geach explicitly denies that an indefinite noun phrase like ‘a young man’ can refer. (‘Back Reference’, Essays in Memory of Yohoshua Bar-Hillel 1976, p. 31-2).

A thought:

Earlier in this thread, Ed from London referred to a 'browser correction.' Apparently, the computer browser found what it took to be a misspelled word, underlined it, and auto-changed it.

Can browsers linguistically refer?

Plausibly not. Arguably, deliberate use of language requires mentality/intentionality. Presumably, a browser lacks intentionality. So the browser can't deliberately use language. The browser can't refer. If reference is achieved at all, it's on the part of the computer programmer via the browser. It's not the browser alone.

Mutatis mutandis, this point applies in the causal theory case of a human baptismal tagger. His use of language requires mentality. As a rational and intentional agent, he achieves reference via his use of a name. But on the causal theory, the mere name achieves reference via a tagging process. That seems to suggest that the human being (the tagger) is like a mere browser!

As Bill noted in another post, people refer using words. But on the causal theory, it seems words refer using people and their tagging processes. The causal theory seems to give words agency status and to reduce persons (taggers) to tools used by words in order to refer.

By the way, I hope the causal theory doesn't reduce persons to tools. That Kant be right.

No it Kant.

But the causal theory is a natural choice for naturalists who are not kind to persons and who in some cases aim to reduce them right out of existence.

The idea that reference can be explained by causation is crazy, if I may slam my cards down on the table.

One problem for any teacher of philosophy is how to pronounce 'Kant.' Giving it the sound of the Western American 'can't' is out. I always pronounce it correctly in the German way. The problem with that is that it sounds uncomfortably close to the ugliest word in the English language, a word that will elicit snickers and such from students from time to time, even those of the female persuasion.

A Bostonian prof I knew would pronounce 'can't' in the New England way, but 'Kant' in the first way I mentioned.

And then there was JFK who would pronounce 'Cuba' as 'Cuber' but 'Bar Harbor' as 'Bah Hahbah.' Figure that one out.

Off topic but I'm intrigued by the Kant thing. I always pronounced it to rhyme with 'ant', but some English people rhyme it with 'aunt'. I have never heard of the German pronunciation before. Is it not that the German way sounds similar to the way Americans pronounce the offensive word?

I may be wrong.


'Kant' pronounced as it is pronounced in German sounds like 'aunt' as you pronounce it.

As for the C-word, you pronounce it the same way we do, don't you? As rhyming with 'shunt'?

Curiously, here in the Western USA and in other regions too, 'aunt' is pronounced like 'ant.' That's the way I say it. In New England, however, 'aunt' is said the way the English say it.

The Bostonian prof once said, "I can't understand what Kant is saying in this passage." Reversing my pronunciation of 'can't' and 'Kant.'


Your point about the pronunciation of 'Kant' underscores the importance of intentionality, of people intelligently using words to refer.

Once, a colleague asked me about Hegel's ideas. I brought up Kant, thinking the colleague was interested in discussing philosophy. Instead, he immediately changed the subject with a vulgar joke. I didn't laugh. He probably thought I didn't get it. I concluded he wasn't interested in philosophy.

It's hard to determine whether a person who appears interested in philosophy actually is so. Often, the person doesn't want to discuss it, despite appearances. He seems to refer to it, but not really.

>>'Kant' pronounced as it is pronounced in German sounds like 'aunt' as you pronounce it.

Right that would be the posh way of saying it.

>>As for the C-word, you pronounce it the same way we do, don't you? As rhyming with 'shunt'?
I'm puzzled now - if UK and US pronounce 'shunt' in the same way, and if the German pronunciation rhymes with our 'aunt', doesn't it follow that to an American, the German pronunciation does not sound offensive?

I'm puzzled by your puzzlement, Ed.


Here is the 'acid test' for a real philosopher: would he have anything to do with it if he couldn't fill his belly from it? Truth is, most academic functionaries in phil. depts. have no real interest in philosophy. Their real life is elsewhere. When I was a young man this would make me indignant; now I simply chalk it up to the way of the world.


One reason I appreciate blogs such as yours is that people who take philosophy seriously go to the blog and carefully discuss philosophy. No belly-filling. Just real philosophers doing real philosophy in the Socratic spirit.

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