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Wednesday, May 04, 2011


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1. We should distinguish what Frege (?) calls ‘tone’ – any semantic property which is not relevant to truth or falsity. Thus ‘Alice [Cooper] is a man’ is true, and so the name ‘Alice’ does not impact its truth. But it ‘sounds’ odd, i.e. ‘tone’. If I begin the sentence ‘Alice is a ….’ you may certainly have some image of a female in your mind. You may be surprised by the predicate ‘man’. But for logic, semantics is only relevant to truth and falsity. Older readers of this blog may remember ‘a man called Sue’.

2. You misrepresent my position somewhat when you say “our friend Edward maintains … that ordinary proper names are tags whose meaning is exhausted by their reference”.

I hold an ‘austere’ or ‘sparse’ theory of singular meaning, in that I aim to explain the meaning of an expression by using that very expression, or a close counterpart of it, in the object language. (Think Tarski). Thus I explain the meaning of ‘Frodo’ by the sentence “’Frodo’ means Frodo”. In this sense, and in this sense only “meaning is exhausted by reference”. I do not hold a ‘tag’ theory in the sense that I hold that the ‘tag’ is a tag of something, for reasons explained in my comment on your post above. “’Frodo’ means Frodo” does not imply “There is something such ’Frodo’ means it”. Nor do I hold that the meaning of ’Frodo’ = Frodo, for that would imply that Frodo is something. But he isn’t. I hold that a proper name – including fictional names – cannot be defined in the sense of decomposing or analysing them into less complex items or elements. Nor do I hold any ‘baptismal’ theory according to which a name acquires significance by being imposed upon some extramental object. We merely say “Once upon a time there was a hobbit called ‘Frodo’”, and we have a ready-to-use singular meaning. Since there is no such object as Frodo, there is no such object to be baptised.

Couldn't someone of Ockham's minimalist view on proper names accommodate some of what Geach says?

Once a name has been bestowed on an individual and accepted by a community of speakers there is clearly right and wrong with regard to its use. We are all aware of the confusions that can arise when two or more individuals are referred to by a single name. Nevertheless, before a (simple) name is bestowed there need be nothing about the word itself that requires it to name a particular sort. A made-up name will have no connotation and there will be no right or wrong as to its application.

A proper name, once bestowed, may come to acquire the connotation of some sort and we may feel it behoves us not to bestow the name on an individual of another sort. But surely we feel just as obliged not to bestow the name on another individual of the same sort. It's ambiguity of referent that we seek to avoid. Merely avoiding ambiguity of connotation doesn't give us what we want.

>>As Geach says, there can be a right and wrong about the use of a proper name.  Having introduced 'Gulky' as the name of a rabbit, I misuse that name if I apply it to a coyote.  But if proper names are tags whose meaning is exhausted by their reference, then this would not be a misuse at all.  Ergo, etc.<<

It's hard to say quite what is wrong with this argument. It strikes me as a rhetorical challenge: If proper names bear no connotation of sort how do you explain that applying the same name to individuals of distinct sorts is a misuse? The minimalist can reply that sorts are irrelevant. Merley applying the same name to two distinct individuals is a misuse.

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