Monday, January 02, 2012

Kripke on reference fixing

Anthony comments here about the difficulty of making sense of 'reference fixing'.  Let's see what Gareth Evans and Saul Kripke say about it.  In section 1.7 of The Varieties of Reference, Evans gives what he calls a 'particularly clear example' of the phenomenon.
Even if we follow Russell, and hive off definite descriptions for separate treatment as quantifiers, there still remain terms which would intuitively be regarded as singular terms, but for which the 'no referent - no thought (sense) position seems quite incorrect.  A particularly clear example can be produced by introducing a name into the language by some such 'reference fixing' stipulation as* "Let us call who invented the zip 'Julius'". I call such names, whose reference is fixed by description, 'descriptive names'.  Here, as with definite descriptions, it seems impossible to deny that someone speaking, and known to be speaking, 'within the scope of' this stipulation could express a thought, and convey that thought to another person, by uttering "Julius was an Englishman", even if the name is empty.
I'm not sure it is altogether clear, for the reasons that Kripke mentions in lecture III of Naming and Necessity.  He asks whether the referent of 'Godel' could be fixed as 'the person who discovered the incompleteness of arithmetic', then imagines a situation where a man called 'Schmidt' was actually the author of the theorem. His body was found in Vienna in mysterious circumstances many years ago, and his friend Godel got hold of the manuscript, and published it as his own.
On the view in question, then, when our ordinary man uses the name 'Godel', he really means to refer to Schmidt, because Schmidt is the unique person satisfying the description 'the man who discovered the incompleteness of arithmetic' ... So, since the man who discovered the incompleteness of arithmetic is in fact Schnidt, we, when we talk about 'Godel', are in fact always referring to Schmidt.  But it seems to me that we are not.
Perhaps a similar problem attaches to our Shakespeare example?  If the name 'Shakespeare' simply means 'whoever wrote the plays such as Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet', and if Edward de Vere did in fact write those plays, then when we are talking about and referring to Shakespeare, we are in fact talking about and referring to De Vere.  But it seems we are not, as Kripke puts it.

*I have modifed Evans' wording to avoid indent problems

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Blogger J said...

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5:22 p.m.  
Blogger J said...

A case of mistaken identity!-- another analytical pseudo-problem, for the most part. Russell himself had issues but had moved away from the logic-chopping game post-Tractatus (and never made a claim of completeness--indeed Goedel proved the completeness of first order logic, regardless of the undecidability issue (and Russell and Whitehead had not finished PM, re second order/math.foundations/set theory et al).

Kripke like other...conservative philo-types obviously had some axe to grind against Russell. Maybe ..the aged Uncle Bertie's occasional ..critical remarks re the founding of Izrael (helped out by his nemesis Churchill)bugged Kripke,, not to say BR's opposition to the Kissinger-Nixon doctrine?? Could be.

5:32 p.m.  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

You say it's an analytical pseudo-problem. Why is it an analytical pseudo-problem?

10:32 p.m.  
Blogger J said...

Russell offers the definite descriptions--Im not sure that was the final word, but his point on uniqueness seems solid. Yet it seems to revolve around the empirical/verification issue--ie, who really wrote Shakespeare, etc. You say something exists or existed (ie king of france, or the person who wrote the plays attributed to shakespeare) you're looking at the world (or drawing inferences from historical reports, etc), not just logic-chopping. It's essentially variations on "the King of France is bald" chestnut (the existence quantifier being false--there is no King of france--so he's neither bald, or not bald). Russell wasn't one for these bizarre modal/possible worlds. But...I don't think it's that important.

4:47 a.m.  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>Russell offers the definite descriptions

And Kripke's arguments that names are not truncated descriptions are generally acknowledged to have been devastating. No?

8:48 p.m.  
Blogger J said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:52 a.m.  
Blogger David Brightly said...

I don't really see why Kripke's 'Gödel/Schmidt' argument casts doubt on the clarity of Evans's 'Julius' example. Isn't Evans simply baptising the individual who invented the zip with a temporary name that can be used instead of a pronoun or instead of repeating 'whoever invented the zip'? Mathematics is rife with this kind of naming.

And Kripke's point is surely that once a name has become established we can't in general characterise its referent by selecting some piece of descriptive information that someone might associate with the name. Even if, as possibly is the case with the ordinary man's beliefs about Gödel, it's the only piece of information associated with the name.

But Kripke's conclusion, that names are exact and rigid, as if some golden arrow ran from name to referent seems to me wrong, or at best an idealisation. In general there is something inherently statistical about naming, perhaps involving some critical mass of name users with a common referent. Which maybe brings us to your Aardvark post.

1:05 p.m.  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>Mathematics is rife with this kind of naming.

Of course. We can agree to call the cup now sitting on the right of my desk 'Nigel'. But the question behind Kripke's question is whether a whole community of users can fix the designation of a name in that kind of way.

But that brings us to the Aardvark problem.

2:38 p.m.  
Blogger J said...

Via his analysis of descriptions Russell also made an interesting grammatical point--ie, the demonstrative "The", or "this" or "that" indicates uniqueness whereas the indefinite article doesn't. Perhaps obvious at this stage, but logic enters syntax more or less.

BR also provided a solution (or it seems so) to the negative existential problem--as Quine pointed out "in On What there Is." (As you probably know. ) Ie, "Pegasus is tired." Since there is no object that Pegasus refers to ( might quibble..does the existence quantifier cover the world...or universe, etc) any supposed attributes are false as well (unless perhaps one is indulging in mythology). Wouldn't St Ockham sort of approve? (and no need for the mystic-modality of Kripke & Co).

7:11 p.m.  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

J: you need to understand Kripke's objections to the description theory of names. It does not involve any mystical possible worlds stuff. I will post about it this weekend.

7:24 p.m.  
Blogger J said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:36 p.m.  
Blogger J said...

And are you denying Quine's point (based on def. descriptions) in OWTI, on neg.ex. propositions, and the separation of reference from meaning? Now, Russell-bashing's easy (and Ive never claimed he was a guru or admirable person in all respects--what much philosophizing comes down to). Quine-bashing however will take a bit more spine. Quine-spine.

8:02 p.m.  

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