Philosophy of Language
A recent defence of analyzing names as predicates that relies on a calling relation to explain their meanings,an account developed by Fara, is claimed to escape the problems afflicting standard meta-linguistic analyses. For Fara, this is because the calling relation itself is not essentially meta-linguistic; there are attributive uses of the calling relation as well. Distinguishing between meta-linguistic and attributive notions of calling is supposed to disperse with the common objection to calling accounts, specifically, Kripke's objection that these kinds of accounts cannot be informative. I argue that while the account may be informative in some superficial sense, it does not in fact increase our understanding of acts of naming. Indeed, I offer an objection to the account that shows that it cannot be the correct account of acts of naming.
There are many examples offered as evidence that proper names are predicates. Not all of these cases speak to a name’s semantic content, but many of them do. These include attribution, quantificational, and disambiguation cases. We will explore those cases here, and we will see that none of them conclusively show that names are predicates. In fact, all of these constructions can be given alternative analyses that eliminate the predicative characteristics of the names they feature. These analyses do not involve having names functioning as predicates in any way whatsoever. In attribution cases, the names within them are to be understood as occurring in a comparative construction, not an attributive construction. In the last two kinds of cases, the names that occur are analyzed as part of a more complex name for a specific domain, rather than functioning as predicates. Both paraphrases can be given plausible semantic treatments that have significant advantages over their competitors. For this reason, there is less motivation to focus on predicative views of proper names. The alternative semantic treatments are tailored to the different cases, and are therefore different from another, but the treatments do not entail an ambiguity hypothesis, since the second of them is not a semantic treatment of the specific proper names occurring within them at all.
My aim in this paper is to show that the existence of empty names raise problems for the Millian that go beyond the traditional problems of accounting for their meanings. Specifically, they have implications for Millian strategies for dealing with puzzles about belief. The standard move of positing a referent for a fictional name to avoid the problem of meaning, because of its distinctly Millian motivation, implies that solving puzzles about belief, when they involve empty names, do in fact hang on Millian assumptions after all.
Standard rigid designator accounts of a name’s meaning have trouble accommodating what I will call a descriptive name’s “shifty” character -- its tendency to shift its referent over time in response to a discovery that the conventional referent of that name does not satisfy the description with which that name was introduced. I offer a variant of Kripke’s historical semantic theory of how names function, a variant that can accommodate the character of descriptive names while maintaining rigidity for proper names. A descriptive name’s shiftiness calls for a semantic account of names that makes their semantic values bipartite, containing both traditional semantic contents and what I call "modes of introduction." Both parts of a name's semantic value are derived from the way a name gets introduced into discourse -- from what I refer to as its "context of introduction." Making a name's semantic value bipartite in this way allows for a definite description to be a part of proper name's meaning without thereby sacrificing that name’s status as a rigid designator. On my view, a definite description is part of descriptive name’s mode of introduction. That is, it is part of what determines the content assigned to that name. As it turns out, making a definite description part of a descriptive name’s mode of introduction allows for that definite description to play the role of a mere reference-fixer regarding that name’s content, as Kripke would have it. However, unlike Kripke's account, my account allows a definite description to fix a descriptive name’s content actively over time, thereby explaining its inherent shiftiness.
Empty names vary in their referential features. Some of them, as Kripke argues, are necessarily empty -- those that are used to create works of fiction. Others appear to be contingently empty -- those which fail to refer at this world, but which do uniquely identify particular objects in other possible worlds. I argue against Kripke's metaphysical and semantic reasons for thinking that either some or all empty names are necessarily non-referring, because these reasons are either not the right reasons for thinking that a name necessarily must fail to refer, or they are too broad -- they make every empty name necessarily non-referential. Plausibly, the explanation for the necessary non-reference of fictional names should be semantic, yet the explanation should not rule out a priori the contingent non-reference of certain other empty names. In light of this, I argue that a name's semantic value needs to carry information about its referential potential. I claim that names do so by encoding information about the way they were introduced into discourse. Names that are fictional will be marked as being non-referential -- they will fail to refer as a matter of their semantics. In contrast, names that are contingently empty will be marked as referential, but they will be failed referential names that could have been successful. The reason, then, for the non-referential status of a fictional name, will be semantic, as our intuitions suggest it should be. Likewise, the reason for the non-referential status of other empty names, those created by acts of failed attempts to refer, will be metaphysical, again, in keeping with our intuitions.
The Truth and Nothing But the Truth: Non-literalism and The Habits of Sherlock Holmes (under revision)
If names from fiction, names like ‘Sherlock Holmes’, fail to refer, and if all simple predicative sentences including a sentence like ‘Sherlock Holmes smokes’ are true if and only if the referent of the name has the property encoded by the predicate, then ‘Sherlock Holmes smokes’ could not be literally true -- call this “non-literalism” about fictional discourse. Still, natural language speakers engage in sensible conversations using these kinds of sentences, and convey information to one another in doing so. What should the non-literalist say about this? Most non-literalists say that fictional discourse is not about the real world, but a story, and the sentences uttered by speakers in such contexts ought not to be taken at face value. Instead, we should represent these sentences as qualified by operators like 'according to the story' or 'it is make-believe that'. First, I argue that these story operator accounts cannot capture all of the true readings of an utterance of a sentence like ‘Sherlock Holmes smokes’. Second, I argue that not only are there other true readings, those readings should be taken as what is literally said by speakers in uttering sentences like ‘Sherlock Holmes smokes’.
One goal here is to motivate and illustrate the possibility that we can accept Parfitian arguments about the importance of personal identity, while rejecting fission as an instance of preserving what matters in survival. That is, singular existence over time is required for preserving what matters, even if identity is not. The second goal is to develop a particular externalist view of what matters in the survival of persons that can accommodate and explain this possibility. The motivation for this conception of what matters comes from considering the implications of certain kinds of cases of complete virtual immersion – the immersion of a psychological subject in a completely virtual world, in some cases, a world in which her experiences are entirely de-correlated with events in the objective world. Replacing the standard psychological continuity theory of what matters in survival with what shall be called the “life trajectory” theory not only rules out fission cases as those in which we have what matters equally as well as in single cases, on metaphysical grounds, it can also explain our reactions to different virtual immersion scenarios, unlike a simple internalist psychological continuity theory.
Fractured Selves and Personal Identity
Selves or persons are fundamentally psychological in nature. However, many accounts of that psychological nature involve making two separate assumptions: (a) that selves should be integrated, and (b) that we can understand ourselves as psychological beings independent of our embedding environments. These assumptions are intertwined in a particular way: the possibility of an integrated self depends upon whether a person can be understood independently of its embedding environment.
Both assumptions are mistaken for a specific reason. While the integrated self is an ideal we hold dear, it is one that can be pursued only by those who have adequate control over their environments, a luxury reserved only for the most privileged among us. For many of us, even attempting to achieve an integrated self is beyond our grasp, those of us who may have been raped, who live as outsiders within, who have mental health issues, or who are members of groups that have faced historical and current forms of oppression. Such circumstances produce what we might call “fractured selves,” selves that face a multitude of environmental forces many times thrusting contradictory norms, roles, and traits, upon those subjected to them. These considerations raise the issue of whether an integrated self is a goal even worth pursuing. That is, the facts about who can pursue and potentially achieve an integrated self make assumption (a) questionable, at the least. Secondly, the role that many persons’ standing plays in undermining (a), a standing which does not permit much in the way of environmental manipulation, results in undermining assumption (b).
It is therefore plausible to think that understanding selves or persons correctly requires rejecting (b), and replacing it with an alternative view on which we understand persons as fundamentally dependent upon their environments — that their identities ought to be understood as constituted not only by internal psychological relations, but also by their external relations to their surrounding environments. This is a view that can accommodate fractured selves as full persons, and it can allow for various psychological configurations to satisfy the criteria for being a person.
Having a view that can accommodate those with fractured selves as persons is preferable to views that require integration. It is preferable, for instance, even to narrative views of the self — the idea that we construct our personal identities by constructing a coherent narrative about ourselves. While this view allows for some fluidity in what counts as psychological continuity than the standard theories of what constitutes psychological continuity, which require similarity between adjacent stages of a person, it nevertheless makes being a person depend upon having an integrated self, again, a condition not met by many who plausibly count as persons by anyone's measure. Even further, however, and perhaps surprisingly, it is also preferable to views that are externalist, but that bind selves to their socio-political contexts. Such theories are often offered as replacement theories for internalist psychological views, known as social constitution views; persons should not be understood as having an intrinsic nature independent of their social environment. Selves are socially relational, and this relationality can accommodate various kinds of psychologies as satisfying the criteria for being a person. Nevertheless, the idea that selves are constituted by social relations may bind persons too closely to their particular socio-cultural context. In contrast, a view like the one advocated for above, understands persons as dependent not only on social relations, but also upon other non-social relations to their environments. This view has the advantage of allowing not only for various kinds of psychologies to satisfy the criteria for personhood, it also frees persons from particular socio-cultural contexts, a welcome alternative for those whose privilege does not allow them the luxury of pursuing an integrated self, and who yet need an avenue of resistance against their current socio-cultural
Why Narrative and Social Constitution Views of the Self are not Enough
An alternative view to standard psychological continuity theories is the idea that we construct our personal identities by constructing a coherent narrative about ourselves. While this view allows for more fluidity in what counts as psychological continuity, it nevertheless makes being a person depend upon having an integrated self, a condition not met by many who plausibly count as persons by anyone's measure. A replacement theory often put forward is the social constitution view. Persons should not be understood as having an intrinsic nature independent of their social environment. Selves are socially relational, and this relationality can accommodate various kinds of psychologies as satisfying the criteria for being a person. Still, the idea that selves are constituted by social relations may bind persons too closely to their particular socio-cultural context. I argue that we should understand persons as dependent not only on social relations, but other non-social relations to the environment. This view has the advantage of allowing not only for various kinds of psychologies to satisfy the criteria for personhood, it also frees persons from particular socio-cultural contexts, a welcome alternative for those whose privilege does not allow them the luxury of an integrated self, and who yet need an avenue of resistance against their current socio-cultural context.
Books and Book Chapters
This book is about whether reference to an individual is the essential feature of a proper name -- a widely held view -- or whether referring to an individual is simply a contingent feature. Three questions need resolving, then. First, whether all names in particular contexts are themselves referring devices. Second, whether recognizing names types and the consequent issue of their ambiguity can be resolved simply by distinguishing between name types and tokens thereof. Last, whether names are ever referential in the way Kripke and others have convincingly argued. The answer to first two questions is negative. The answer to third is a qualified "yes." I explain the theory that allows for these answers in the manuscript, as well as addressing other issues such as: the problem of fictional names; descriptive names; empty names; what an act of naming consists of; an account of ontological commitment; and the data that suggests that names are predicates.
In this chapter I offer the fundamental theory of proper names upon which the rest the book is based. I explain, motivate, and apply the view, and then address some objections.
This is one of the chapters added to the new edition of The Meaning of Language that explains a Montague-style approach to semantics.