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Tuesday, April 15, 2014


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Hello Bill –

I nearly missed this!

1. On the distinction between empty and 'fictional', agreed, and it would be a useful addition to an introductory chapter. Non-fictional but empty names like 'Vulcan' also individuate. When people in 1860 used the name 'Vulcan' as Le Verrier used it, the name distinguished it from Venus, Mars etc. Although I note that Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fictional_planets_of_the_Solar_System#Vulcan mentions it in a list of fictional planets. What about Atlantis? Plato used the name seriously, no? But I could write a work of fiction about Atlantis. I could even write a 'parallel history' story set in the time of Plato, where Atlantis really existed. One could make many distinctions, I am not sure all of them would be helpful. My point stands, though. All empty names individuate.

2. "I grant that every purely fictional name is empty, at least in the sense that no purely fictional name has an existing bearer or referent" Agreed

3. "You maintain that purely fictional names like 'Frodo' do not refer to anything. They don't refer to anything that exists, obviously, but they also do not refer to Meinongian nonexistent objects or to merely intentional objects. " Agreed. I have drafted a taxonomy of singular reference theories in which Meinongianism features, also theories of Free Logic, Direct Reference, Russell's Theory of Descriptions etc. We could discuss this.

4. "So I take it you do not make the following distinction that I make between two senses of 'empty'… " You guess well, but any theory of singular reference would have to deal with theories that do make this distinction. This is where a taxonomy is useful.

5. Here is a question for you. [actually five questions] If 'Frodo' and 'Gandalf' do not refer to anything at all, and therefore are without referents of any sort, then they have the same extension, the null extension or null set.

5a. "Does it follow that the names have the same meaning? " It depends on the theory of singular reference. For non-Meinongian direct reference theories, they don't have any kind of meaning. For a Meinongian direct reference theory (though I'm not sure one has ever been proposed), the meaning of the name is its bearer, so the meaning of 'Frodo' is a non-existing hobbit, the meaning of 'Gandalf' is a non-existing wizard etc.

5b. "Is meaning exhausted by reference?" For direct reference theories yes. "If yes, then the two names have the same meaning, which is wrong". No. For the non-Meinongian direct reference theorist, both names are meaningless, and have the same meaning only in a trivial sense. For the Meinongian DR theorist, the names don't have the same extension, since the domain splits into existing and non-existing things.

5c. "Or do the names differ in sense? " For what I call 'dual scope' theories of singular reference, then yes.

5d. "If yes, then what are senses? " For Russellian descriptivist theories, the difference in sense corresponds to a non-haecceity property. Such theories were dealt a devastating blow by Kripke and others. For haecceity theories, the difference corresponds to an purely individuating feature. For Scotus's theory, the purely individuating feature is real. For a nominalist haecceity theory such as mine, purely conceptual.

5e. "What is the sense of an empty proper name? " See above – depends on the theory.

6. "To talk about Frodo is not the same as to talk about Gandalf. But you don't admit that there is anything at all that these names refer to. So how can one talk about either character? Can a term be about something if there is nothing the term refers to? What is aboutness? How can it be the case that both (i) 'Frodo' does not refer to anything and (ii) one can use 'Frodo' to talk about Frodo? Is talk about Frodo talk about the sense of 'Frodo'? Surely talk about is talk about something." Many questions here. The idea at the centre is Moorean: empty names individuate. They tell us which character we are talking about. It is also Moorean that the author is talking about some character or another (Frodo, Gandalf …). It is Moorean that LOTR is about hobbits, whereas Pride and Prejudice is about upper-class people from the Regency era. It is also Moorean that there are no such things as hobbits, and that there was no such person as Mr Darcy or Lizzie Bennet. "Surely talk about is talk about something". Of course. The aim of the book is to propose the Moorean truths, and steer a careful course around them.

7a. "You maintain that fictional names individuate". To individuate is to tell us (or use the name to tell us) which character is being talked about.

7b "What would it be for them not to individuate? " For them not to individuate would be for them not to tell us which character is being talked about. A brief example "A man called Gerald and a boy called Eustace were standing by some biscuits. One of them ate a biscuit". The noun phrase 'one of them' does not individuate, it does not tell us which of the two characters ate a biscuit. But in the story "A man called Gerald and a boy called Eustace were standing by some biscuits. Gerald ate a biscuit", the use of the name in the second sentence tells us which character ate the biscuit. Nonetheless both stories are made up, invented. There was no such person as Gerald, and no such person as Eustace. This is all Moorean.

7c. "Which theory or theories are you opposing? " Direct reference theories, Meinongian theories of any stripe, Russell's theory of descriptions, Scotus's theory of a real individuating difference, etc.

7d. "And what exactly do you mean by 'individuate'?" To tell us which character is being talked about. In the two versions of the mini-story above, the first version does not tell us which character ate the biscuit, although it does tell us that one of them did. The second version does tell us, by using the proper name 'Gerald'.

7e. "There are no fictional individuals on your view, so how could any name individuate one?" Well, a good question, and one to write a book about. I am starting with a few claims, with the additional claim that the claims are Moorean. Not only do I claim we use fictional or empty names to tell people which individual we are talking about, I claim that this is uncontroversial. Developing a theory to explain the apparent contractions that arise from these Moorean facts is more difficult. But that's the business of philosophy: start with facts that are apparently uncontroversial, move to the contradictions that appear to arise from them, and uncover the hidden assumptions or premisses that lead to the contradictions. Deduce the falsity of the hidden premisses. We have already stumbled across one hidden premiss, hardly noticing it. We agree that the sentence " 'Frodo' refers to Frodo" is relational in form. That's also Moorean. But does it follow that a sentence which is relational in form, really expresses a relation?

So in overall summary. It is Moorean that there aren't and never were such things as hobbits, and hence never such persons as Frodo, Bilbo, Sam, Smeagol. But it is also Moorean that at the end of Lord of the Rings, Tolkien tells us which hobbits carried the ring to Mount Doom, and which hobbit fell into the fiery depths of the mountain, carrying the Ring. The rest is philosophy: is there any contradiction buried in these Moorean facts, and if not, how do we explain the appearance of contradiction.

Bill, this is useful. All these questions are questions that would naturally arise, and could easily be put into a narrative structure that would explicate the central idea of the book. Thanks.

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