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Thursday, March 01, 2018


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Now we are stuck in exegetical questions about what Frege meant by ‘sense’, what John McDowell, Evans etc meant by it. This strikes me as incredibly picky.
Frege says that the part of the thought which corresponds to the word ‘Etna’ cannot be the Bedeutung of the name. Otherwise each piece of molten lava would then be part of the thought.
Another way of characterising the direct reference view: no empty name can be intelligible.

But then you will quibble that the word ‘intelligible’ is unclear, vague etc. I should have given up philosophy a long time ago. Hair splitting.

We are not caught in Frege exegesis. I am making a very simple point. Regardless of the terminology we use, when we speak of the meaning of a word we need to distinguish between intension and extension, (objective) connotation and denotation, sense and reference.

Now you know the way I feel when you fail to grasp the simple points I make about existence and other topics.

Philosophy is indeed an exasperating subject.

As Epictetus said in a different connection, "If the room is too smoky, the door is unlocked and you are free to leave."

It is late in your day. You need a good night's sleep. I predict you'll be back at it tomorrow.

You predict right. I apologise for my irritableness.

Let’s avoid the confusion caused by the technical considerations and just use the word ‘meaning’. I define the meaning of a word as what we must grasp in order to understand a sentence or group of sentences. I am unable to define ‘understand’.

Then my position is (1) that the meaning of a proper name is not object-dependent, i.e. we can understand a proper name even though it has no bearer, and its meaning does not depend or change depending on whether it has a bearer. We can understand ‘Moses’, i.e. the OT prophet, whether or not there was such person as Moses.
And (2) its meaning cannot be any transferable property or properties of the bearer, for the reasons Kripke has so cogently argued. By ‘transferable’ I mean a property that any other object could have, such as ‘wise’, ‘tall’ etc. And (3) it cannot be a non-transferable property or ‘haecceity’, i.e. a property that only that object could have, and no other, for this leads to absurdities.

I believe this makes sense to you, and further, based on what you have said in the past, I believe you agree up to here.

Moving on. I argue that the three candidates above do not exhaust the possible ways a proper name can be meaningful. For consider

(*) Some hobbit is called ‘Frodo’. Frodo has large feet

From those two sentences we can infer ‘some hobbit has large feet’. I.e. although the sentences are not true, they could be not be true without the conclusion ‘some hobbit has large feet’ being true. But the validity of the inference depends on the meaning of the proper name ‘Frodo’. If we replace it with ‘Gandalf’, the inference no longer follows.

But the validity cannot depend on the proper name signifying the object (as direct reference holds) or some property, either transferable or non-transferable. If so, the inference would be valid even if we changed the order of the premises. But this

(**) Frodo has large feet. Some hobbit is called ‘Frodo’.

does not imply ‘some hobbit has large feet’. The second (in this ordering) sentence could be true of any hobbits called ‘Frodo’, including hobbits without large feet.

So we have at least one case where the meaning of a proper name is neither its bearer, nor some kind of property of the bearer.

This does not exhaust my argument. You may accept that this is a special case, but not a paradigm case. But I will stop here for now. Do you accept this is at least one case where my claim holds?

I agree with (1). This is a Moorean fact. It cannot be reasonably denied.

(2) goes beyond the Moorean level, but I agree with it too.

Ditto for (3). I agree.

How does your first argument differ from this:

Some hobbit is called 'X'
X has large feet
Some hobbit has large feet.

Think of 'X' as a placeholder for a name, not as a variable. 'X' has no meaning; it is just a bit of syntax.

So I am wondering whether what you have really shown is that proper names do not have meaning as opposed to showing that proper names have meaning but that this meaning is neither their bearers nor some property of the bearers. Are you perhaps proposing, willy nilly, a purely syntactical theory of proper names?

On ‘X’, do you mean that names consisting of a letter of the alphabet aren’t names? Yet there was a man called ‘X’, an African-American orator. Or do you mean that names introduced by indefinite description aren’t really proper names? That would rule out ‘Moses’, which is introduced as a proper name in Exodus 2:10, also ‘Adam’ as introduced in Genesis 2.19, in the KJV. (The Hebrew term it translates is actually first introduced before that, in 2:7, but that is another story).

Or perhaps you mean that if the name occurs in the sentence immediately after the indefinite introduction, its meaning is anaphoric, but as the story progresses, it solidifies into a paradigmatic proper name. That strikes as wildly implausible, although Geach apparently subscribes to something like it.

Or do you mean that, when introduced by indefinite description, it is not a true proper name, but it is a true proper name without such an introduction. E.g. Mark 1:4 ‘John did baptize in the wilderness’, which is what screenwriters call a ‘cold intro’ (?).

Or do you mean that in any history whatsoever, such as the Old Testament, the proper names therein are not true proper names. The name ‘Moses’ occurs throughout the OT, therefore is not a true proper name. Presumably the same applies to it as used in the NT. It follows that when we say ‘the 10th word of Exodus 2:10, KJV version, refers to Moses’, the name as we use it is a genuine proper name, but the name mentioned, i.e. the 10th word of that verse of that verse, is not. That seems problematic.

The usual test for (logical) meaning is whether it has an effect on truth. Clearly the meaning in question, whether a syntactic phenomenon or not, has an effect on truth.

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