Archives For PHIL 420 Philosophy of Language

Introduction

How names refer to objects has been a perennial problem in the philosophy of language. The descriptivist account has long prevailed. But is it correct? Before Kripke came along and attacked it, many philosophers thought it was. Since Kripke, however, many philosophers have changed their minds and agree with Kripke, but not all of them. Some are die hard descriptivists. John R. Searle is one of these. Searle argues in Proper Names and Intentionality that Kripke failed to address the actual beliefs of descriptivists, accusing him of what can only be seen as straw man arguments. This is ironic, since Searle’s argument against Kripke is a straw man argument. I will argue against Searle in favor of Kripke. I will argue that Searle’s critique of Kripke is a straw man argument and that intentionality, though necessary, is not sufficient to give the meaning of a name. In fact, I will argue with Kripke, names do not have meanings, all they do is reference objects.

Background

Frege

Frege, whose contribution to the philosophy of language was inspired by his work in logic and mathematics, and, ultimately, directed towards it, worked in the semantic tradition. That is, he attempted to explain how language works by appealing to properties of the symbols it uses. He was concerned with the epistemic issues of how language is cognitively significant, how it represents the thoughts of its users, and how it connects those thoughts to the world. Frege proposed a two-part theory to answer these questions, in which words and sentences have two semantic properties: (1) a sense, or mode of presentation, and (2) a reference. Words and sentences represent the thoughts of the user through the sense, while they connect to the world through reference. Frege’s theory of proper names is that they are shorthand for definite descriptions.

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Introduction

Strawson argued that Russell conflated meaning and reference because Russell held that to be meaningful, expressions and sentences had to have a reference. Russell argued that for every meaningful piece of language there has to be a chunk of reality to which it refers, even if it is just a propositional function. Strawson asserted that the meaning of a word is not its reference, but the rules for the use of that word. Prima facie, this seems like it might work with indexicals, if not with with non-indexicals. However, I will argue that, despite the intuitive appeal of  Strawson’s theory, he is ultimately begging the question in arguing against Russell. Rules for the use of words, whether indexical or non-indexical, cannot be significantly specified without relying on Russellian reference.

Background

A perennial problem in the philosophy of language is how expressions and sentences with no reference have meaning. For example, the sentence “The king of France is wise” is meaningful even though France is no longer a monarchy. “The king of France” is the subject of the sentence. So, if the sentence is meaningful, it is about the king of France. But if France is no longer a monarchy, then what is the sentence about? Furthermore, according to Russell, if the sentence is meaningful, it must be either true or false. If the king of France is wise, then the sentence is true. If the king of France is not wise, it is false. But for the sentence to be true or false, France would have to be a monarchy. In 1905, Russell gave a theory to explain the meaning of sentences with no reference in On Denoting. In it, he proposed an answer to both of the above paradoxes.

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