Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Direct reference and existence

Maverick asked me the other day what connection could possibly be between the theory of direct reference and existence. Well, there is certainly a connection between direct reference and the verb 'exists'. If the direct reference theory is correct, then this verb cannot take a singular term as a subject. So we can say 'An American philosopher exists', meaning that 'philosopher' is truly predicated of at least one singular term referring to an American, (e.g. 'William Lane Craig'). But we can't say 'William Lane Craig exists', because it is ill-formed. We can predicate 'exists' of general terms only. See the argument I gave here.

The direct reference theory is not to be confused with 'linguistic idealism' – whatever that is. The theory does not deny there is any 'extra linguistic reality'. It simply denies that 'William Lane Craig exists' is meaningful, in the strictest sense of 'meaningful'. If it means anything, the sentence means that the proper name 'William Lane Craig' refers to something. But if it referred to nothing, it would not be a proper name – for the direct reference theory says that whatever counts as a proper name must be meaningful (as opposed to a string of letters or an utterance), and that its meaning is what it refers to. Therefore if the utterance refers to nothing, it means nothing, and so cannot be a proper name. And the fact it refers to something guarantees that it refers to something in 'extra linguistic reality'.

As far 'existence', which is an abstract noun formed from the verb 'exists' – well, 'The existence of William Lane Craig' presumably alludes to the fact that 'William Lane Craig' refers to something. Simple.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Anthony said...

I need to read more about "the strictest sense of 'meaningful'" in terms of sentences, under the direct reference theory.

But if the meaning of a particular is the particular itself. And if the meaning of a concept is all the particulars (or concepts) which are subsumed by that concept. Then the meaning of sentence would be all the facts/truthmakers which are subsumed by that sentence.

That would nicely bring us back to http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2011/11/an-infinite-regress-argument-against-truth-makers-round-two-1.html

Although, perhaps in a role reversal, considering the arguments about circularity/infinite regress.

11:16 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>I need to read more about "the strictest sense of 'meaningful'" in terms of sentences, under the direct reference theory.

Roughly, under direct reference, to be meaningful = to have truth conditions. But a sentence containing an empty name has no truth conditions, ergo not meaningful. But the predicate is meaningful, ergo not the empty name, ergo etc.

12:48 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> But a sentence containing an empty name has no truth conditions, ergo not meaningful.

Okay, but "William Lane Craig" is not an empty name.

8:00 pm  

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