Friday, May 06, 2011

An apparently serious objection

Peter Lupu makes an apparently serious objection to my view that ‘reference’ is not a relation. (Correctly stated, my view is that ‘refers to’ is a logically intransitive verb – the noun phrase which it takes as a grammatical object has no existential import). He writes “By denying that reference is a relation … [Edward] deprives language from its most important and distinctive way of communicating.” And “To deny that reference is a relation, like Edward professes to do, is to undermine one of the central purposes of language which is to communicate about the world.”

I reply as follows.

1. If any piece of language has an important communication function, we should be able to tell whether it has an important communication function. One of the most important features of communicating with someone is that they should know they are being communicated to. They should also be able to say with reasonable certainty what is being communicated.

2. It follows from this that if non-empty proper names have a vitally important communication function that empty proper names don’t have, then we should know whether or not a name is communicating this vital information, and we should be able to say precisely what the name is communicating.

3. The New Testament contains many proper names. If any of these is non-empty, it is communicating information to us in an important and distinctive way, according to Peter. If it is empty, it is communicating nothing of the sort.

4. Thus (from 2 above) we should be able to tell of that name whether it is communicating information to us in the important and distinctive way which is peculiar to non-empty names.  Thus, we should be able to tell which names are empty and which are not.

5. But (assumption) we cannot tell this. We do not know for certain whether the Christ Myth theory is true or not, and thus we don't know whether the name 'Jesus' is empty or not. Thus we do not know whether the name ‘Jesus’ is communicating information to us in the important and distinctive way that is, according to Peter, the peculiar and distinctive mark of a non-empty proper name.

6. I conclude that Peter’s claim is absurd. The information that a proper name communicates to us is exhausted by what it would communicate us even if it had no ‘referent’ at all. The mere fact of the existence of a referent adds no further information to what the name already tells us.

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