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.
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’.
The Meaning of Language 2nd Edition (in production)
Philosophy of language is one of the hardest areas for the beginning student; it is full of difficult questions technical arguments, and jargon. Written in a straightforward and explanatory way and filled with examples, this text provides a comprehensive introduction to the field, suitable for students with no background in the philosophy of language or formal logic.The eleven chapters in the book's first part take up a variety of matters connected to questions about what language is for - what meaning has to do with people's ideas and intentions, and with social communication. Included are chapters on the innateness controversy, the private language argument, the possibility of animal and machine language, language as rule-governed or conventional behavior, and the speech act theory.In the second part, thirteen chapters concentrate on what language is about; treating sense and reference, extensionality, truth conditions, and the theories of proper names, definite descriptions, indexicals, general terms, and psychological attributions.Many recent books and courses in the philosophy of language treat the issues and approaches covered in the first or second part of this book; however, this is the first time they are presented together (although either part may be read and/or taught independently). The book's style is pedagogic, not polemical. It shows students how much has been accomplished by philosophers of language in this century while making them keenly aware of the fundamental controversies that remain.
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.
What Matters in Survival: The Fission Problem, Life Trajectories, and the Possibility of Virtual Immersion (under review)
The immediate goal of this paper is to establish that one can both agree with that identity is not what matters in survival and yet still maintain that the concept of a persisting person requires singularity over time. That is, fission cannot preserve what matters in survival. This can be maintained once we recognize an externalist constraint on preserving what matters in survival. Specifically, what matters in the survival of persons is something Parfit might call the “quasi-continuation” of what I term their “life trajectories.” The motivation for this externalist conception of what matters in survival 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, a world in which her experiences are de-correlated with events in the objective world. Replacing standard psychological continuity theory with 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 also can be used to explain our reactions to different virtual immersion scenarios. Therefore, simply on explanatory grounds alone, the life trajectory account is to be preferred over pure psychological continuity accounts.