Philosophy 1765: Syllabus

Note: You may download the original syllabus as a PDF. The syllabus may (and probably will) change during the semester. The version here should always be current.

As well as a list of readings and such, this page contains links to the various papers we shall be reading.1 The files are usually available in two forms. There are (i) a DjVu file and (ii) a PDF file. It is explained elsewhere why that is.

Class Schedule

DateReadings, Etc
21 January Introductory Meeting
23 & 26 January

Gottlob Frege, "On Sense and Reference", tr. by P. Geach, in M. Black and P. Geach, eds., Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege, 2d ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1960), pp. 56-77 (DjVu, JStor)

Our discussion will focus primarily on pp. 56-65 (209-214 of the JStor version). Note that the JStor PDF is an older translation, but it is usable. Other relevant papers of Frege's are "On Concept and Object" (JStor) and "Function and Concept", as well as Part I of his Basic Laws of Arithmetic. All of these were originally published in the early 1890s.

Show Questions

The central purpose of this paper is to establish a distinction between the reference of an expression—primarily, a proper name—and what Frege calls its sense. The reference of a name is the name's bearer: the thing it is a name of. So the reference of the name "Gottlob Frege" is Gottlob Frege, that very person. It is not so easy to say what the sense of the name is, and Frege does not seem to tell us very much about what it is. Rather, as I said, his purpose here is to argue that names do have sense, and that their sense is different from their reference. In particular, the claim is, it is possible for two names to have the same reference but to have different senses.

The argument for this claim is contained in the first pargraph of the paper. It is not an easy argument to understand. Trust me on this.

Frege begins by mentioning a puzzle about identity statements, such as "Hesperus (the evening star) is the same thing as Phosphorous (the morning star)". As it happens, this is true: Hesperus and Phosphorous are both Venus. The puzzle is generated by the fact that such a statement can be informative and, in particular, that such statements need not be analytic or a priori but, as Frege puts it, may "often contain very valuable extensions of our knowledge". The problem, however, is that if identity is a relation between objects, then it looks as if "Hesperus is Phosophorous" and "Hesperus is Hesperus" assert that exactly the same relation obtains, namely, a relation between Venus and itself. But then how can the former be informative and the latter a mere instance of the law of self-identity? How, as it is put, can the one have a different "cognitive value" from the other?

Frege mentions that, for such reasons, he once held himself (in his first book Begriffsschrift, or Conceptual Notation) that identity was not a relation between objects, but was actually a relation between names. Thus, "Hesperus is Phosphorous" was supposed to mean something like: The names "Hesperus" and "Phosphorous" have the same denotation. In the middle of the paragraph, beginning with the words, "But this relation would hold...", Frege argues against this view. To be kind, it is not obvious what argument Frege is giving here. The key seems to be Frege's observation that the relation between a name and its bearer is arbitrary or, perhaps, conventional. But his underlying thought seems to be that the claim that "Hesperus" and "Phosphorous" have the same denotation is a claim about linguistic practice, whereas "Hesperus is Phosphorous" was meant to be a claim about celestial bodies. So the `name view' of identity gets the subject-matter of such statements wrong.

Frege then transitions, without explicit mention, into the development of his own view. He notes that the mere difference of shape (spelling, pronunciation, whatever) between "Hesperus" and "Phosphorous" cannot be what accounts for the difference in cognitive value that we are trying to explain. Rather, there will be a difference in cognitive value only if there is a difference in the "mode of presentation", which Frege illustrates using a geometrical example.

Can you give an example to show that the mere difference of shape (spelling, pronunciation, whatever) between "Hesperus" and "Phosphorous" cannot be what accounts for the difference in cognitive value that we are trying to explain?

Frege then says that each name has a "sense" that "contains" a "mode of presentation" that is associated with that name, but most commentators have simply supposed that the sense is the mode of presentation. In any event, the implication (which Frege makes explicit elsewhere) is that the fact that "Hesperus is Hesperus" and "Hesperus is Phosphorous" have differ in cognitive value is explained by the fact that "Hesperus" and "Phosphorous" have different senses.

It is important to note that the puzzle here, though particularly stark in connection with identity-statements, is not essentially about identity. The sentences "Hesperus is a planet" and "Phosphorous is a planet" also have different "cognitive values" (in German "Erkenntniswert", literally: value for knowledge), and Frege also holds that this difference is explained by the fact that "Hesperus" and "Phosphorous" have different senses. (Frege does not mention this extension of the point here but does so, again, in other places.)

How exactly is the fact that "Herperus" and "Phosphorous" have different senses supposed to explain the difference in cognitive value between "Hesperus is a planet" and "Phosphorous is a planet"? What assumptions about sense and cognitive value must such an explanation make?

In the next few paragraphs (pp. 57-9), Frege states several theses about sense and its relation to reference:

  • The sense of a name is a linguistic feature of it, one anyone who understands the name must know.
  • Names with the same sense must have the same reference (sense determines reference), but names with the same reference may have different senses.
  • It is possible for a name to have sense without having a reference.
  • Ordinarily, when one uses a name, one uses it to talk about its reference.
  • But when one uses words in 'indirect speech', one uses them to talk about their sense. Thus, if one says, "Lois said that Superman can fly", then one is talking about the sense of Lois's remarks, as is clear from the fact that it is one thing to say that Superman can fly and another to say that Clark can fly. The same is true of such constructs as "Lois believes that Superman can fly". Here it looks as if what one is saying Lois believes is determined by the sense of the name "Superman", since Lois does believe that Superman can fly, but not that Clark can.

Over the next several pargaraphs (pp. 59-62), Frege argues that the sense one associates with a name must "be distinguished from the associated idea", by which he means something like a mental image. The larger point at issue here, though, is whether sense is subjective.

What is Frege's argument that senses are not "ideas"? How much of the argument turns on special features of ideas as oppposed to something else subjective that sense might be? That is: To what extent does the argument show that senses are not only not ideas but are not subjective at all? Perhaps more importantly: What does the way Frege argues here tell us about how he is thinking about 'sense'?

Frege then turns to the question what we should regard as the sense and reference, not of a name, but of a whole (declarative) sentence. Frege says first that "Such a sentence contains a thought", by which he means a certain "objective content, which is capable of being the common property of several thinkers". Frege then argues that the thought "contained" in a sentence cannot be its reference. He then concludes that the thought must instead be the sentence's sense and goes on to argue that the reference of a sentence is just its truth-value. For our purposes, we need not consider the details of this argument, but my own view, for what it is worth, is that Frege's reasons are ultimately logical in character: What lies behind this discussion is the role of truth-functional connectives in formal logic.

What is Frege's argument that the thought "contained" in a sentence cannot be its reference? To what assumptions about thoughts and references does it appeal?

Oddly, Frege does not seem actually to give any argument for the claim that the thought "contained" in a sentence is its sense. Some people therefore have suggested that by a "thought" Frege just means: sense of a sentence, so that "thought" for him is just defined as "sense of a sentence". Does that seem right? What alternative might there be? One might find inspiration for such an alternative in what Frege said earlier about indirect speech.

There is a major issue, by the way, about how one of Frege's key terms is to be translated. The German word is "Bedeutung", and it is the term being translated as "reference" in the title of the paper. It is translated "nominatum" in the older translation available through the JStor link, and it has also been translated "denotation". In ordinary German, however, it just means "meaning", and so it is also sometimes translated that way (for example, in Frege's Collected Papers and Posthumous Writings). So "On Sense and Meaning" is the same paper, as is "On Sense and Denotation".

There are places in Frege's writings that he uses "Bedeutung" with its ordinary meaning of "meaning", but it is mostly a technical term for him, and the closest technical term in current philosophical usage is probably "reference". On the other hand, however, Frege uses "Bedeutung" in a somewhat wider sense from how "reference" is typically used, as one will see from Frege's discussion of the question whether sentences have Bedeutungen, i.e., references. And in this usage, it means something more like "semantic value". But our main focus will be on proper names, where "Bedeutung" pretty much does mean "reference", and our real focus will be more on sense than on reference, anyway.

28 January

Discussion (Canceled due to snow)

30 January

Bertrand Russell, "On Denoting", Mind 14 (1905), pp. 479-93 (DJVu, JStor)

Optional: Emily Elizabeth Constance Jones, "Mr. Russell's Objections to Frege's Analysis of Propositions", Mind 19 (1910), pp. 379-86 (JSTOR)

An excellent resource for questions about descriptions is Stephen Neale's book Descriptions, which covers an enormous amount of material.

Show Questions

Russell is generally interested here in what he calls denoting phrases. The examples he gives are of two types: quantifier phrases, such as "a man" or "every man", and descriptive phrases, such as "the man with the yellow hat". The latter are the main focus of the paper, but it is important to understand what Russell is saying about the former in order to understand what he is saying about the latter.

Russell's central idea is "that denoting phrases never have any meaning in themselves, but that every proposition in whose verbal expression they occur has a meaning" (p. 480). Russell first explains this point in connection with quantifier phrases, and he claims that "Everything is F" means: F(x) is always true (for all values of x). The contrast here is with a view, which Russell seems to have held earlier, in The Principles of Mathematics, that "Everything" names a sort of variable entity. So what Russell is saying is that quantifiers are not names of things. That is right, by our current lights, and much of the discussion on pp. 480-1 explains what is now standard fare in basic logic.

The way Russell puts this point might well be regarded as misleading, however, or even false. Some contemporary theories of quantification (which descend from Frege's) regard quantifiers like "every" as having meanings of their own without regarding them as being names of anything. I will explain this in class by presenting some of the basic ideas behind so-called generalized quantifers. For our purposes, however, the important point is that Russell is claiming that quantifiers behave very differently, from a logical point of view, from how names of things do.

Russell turns at the bottom of p. 481 to descriptive phrases. His view, as he states it, but modernizing the notation, is that a sentence of the form "The F is G" means:

∃x[Fx ∧ ∀y(Fy → x = y) ∧ Gx]
I.e.: There is one, and only one, F, and it is G. As Russell notes, this incorporates an assumption that "The F" always involves an assertion of uniqueness. This can be questioned, and not just in cases of so-called plural descriptions (such as "the books on the table"). We will see Strawson raise questions along these lines later, but it will not be of particular concern to us.

Russell's main point, however, does not concern the specific analysis displayed above (which, as Gareth Evans once quipped, simply massacres the surface structure of the sentence). The main point, rather, is that descriptions are a sort of quantifier, in this case, one might say, a "complex" quantifier. I'll explain in class, again, how this insight can be expressed in terms of generalized quantifier theory.

Russell sees the main alternative to his view as being a version of Frege's, who did indeed hold that descriptive phrases are names. So Frege thought that "the smallest prime number" referred to the number 2, but that this phrase also has a sense different, say, from "two".

Russell's first objection to Frege's theory is that, if a descriptive phrase has no denotation, then sentences containing that phrase should be meaningless. And Frege does indeed accept this consequence: He thinks, e.g., that if Homer never existed, then "Homer wrote the Iliad" is not false but without truth-value (i.e., it has no reference). But, Russell says, "The King of France is bald" is not meaningless but "plainly false".

Why does Russell think "The King of France is bald" is not meaningless but "plainly false"? Is he right? How can one tell? What is the bearing on this question of examples like "If there is a greatest prime number, then the greatest prime number is odd"?

Russell gives another argument against Frege's account on pp. 485-8. This is known as the Gray's Elegy argument, due to an example Russell uses. The argument is extremely confusing, and I would not claim to understand it. There is some good work on this, however: See, for example, this paper by William Demopoulos or this one by Berit Brogaard. But this is more an historical issue, so I do not propose to spend much time on the Gray's Elegy argument, though you should read it.

Feel free to explain the Gray's Elegy argument.

Russell's main defense of his own theory consists in his arguing that it does a good job, and a better job than Frege's (or Meinong's), of solving three puzzles that he describes on p. 485. The first of these is the puzzle about identity that we have already seen in Frege. The second is a puzzle about excluded middle: Mustn't it be the case that either "The King of France is bald" or "The King of France is not bald" is true? The third puzzle, which Russell introduces using a very confusing example, seems mostly to concern claims of non-existence. So one might put it by asking how it could be possible to say, truly, e.g., "The greatest prime number does not exist". On Frege's theory, it again looks as if this ought to be without truth-value.

Russell explains on pp. 488-91 how his view resolves the three puzzles.

In the case of identity, the key move is to deny that "Scott is the author of Waverly" really is an identity-statment at all. In what sense? And what, then, should Russell do about, say, "Twain is Clemens"?

In the case of excluded middle, the solution rests upon a distinction between "primary" and "secondary" occurrences of a description. Explain why this is really an observation about scope. (If you represent the different "readings" in logical notation, this will become obvious.)

The same distinction allows Russell to explain how "The greatest prime number does not exist" can be both meaningful and true. How so? And what should Russell do about "Homer did not exist"?

Russell concludes the paper by gesturing at epistemological implications of his theory. These are discussed in more detail in "Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description", which we shall read next.

2 February

Canceled due to snow (again)

4 February

Bertrand Russell, "Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 11 (1910-1911), pp. 108-128 (DjVu, JStor)

Russell also discusses these issues further in Problems of Philosophy (Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive) and The Philosophy of Logical Atomism" (Internet Archive)

Show Questions

For our purposes, the main lesson of this paper is that the sorts of logico-linguistic issues about proper names that we have been discussing are not just issues about language. They are intimately tied up with epistemological issues about the nature of our cognitive relationship to the world. That is what makes them interesting. In particular, although "On Denoting" is concerned primarily with logical issues concerning definite descriptions, it is clear that epistemological themes are just under the surface. This paper makes those more explicit and makes it clear what is really motivating Russell.

The topic is "what it is that we know in cases where we know propositions about 'the so-and-so' without knowing who or what the so-and-so is". This is a question about, as Frege might have put it, the "objective content" of our knowledge: about what proposition (or, in Frege's language, Thought) we know in such cases. So, in that sense, it is a question about the logical structure of cognition. But the reason the question is important is because it is really a question about the nature of our cognitive relation to the world.

Russell contrasts cases in which we know an object only by description with cases in which we are acquainted with the object of our knowledge. For the moment, we may think of the basic case of acquaintance as perceptual awareness. So, sitting at my desk, I am visually aware of my keyboard, so that would be a case of my being acquainted with it.

Note that Russell seems to be exploiting here an ambiguity in the English word "know". Other languages have different words for these two notions. But in English, we speak of knowing facts (Sally knows that snow is white), and also of knowing objects (Sally knows John). It is this latter sort of knowledge that one has "by acquaintance" or "by description". Russell's question then is: How does whether one knows an object by acquaintance or by description affect the sort of knowledge (in the knowing facts sense) that one can have about it?

Russell implicitly takes the distinction between acquaintance and description to be exhaustive. (See e.g. p. 110.) I.e., he assumes that, for any given object about which we can think, we must either be acquainted with it or else know it by description. We shall consider at some length later whether this is true.

What reasons might there be to think that the distinction between acquaintance and description was exhaustive? Is it plausible that it is?

Russell suggests, on pp. 109-12, that there are several sorts of things with which we can be acquainted: (i) sense-data, by which he means particular elements of sensory experience, such as color-impressions and sounds; (ii) oneself (which conclusion is reached on pp. 110 by arguing that one could not merely have descriptive knowledge of oneself); (iii) universals, including properties and relations.

On the other hand, Russell denies that we are ever acquainted with physical objects (e.g., my keyboard) or with other minds, insisting that we can only ever know such things by description. Russell does not actually argue for this claim, but it is clear enough from the text (e.g., p. 114) that Russell thinks we are never really perceptually aware of people, say, but only with "certain sense-data" that, perhaps, we are caused to have by that person. And Russell thinks one is never really aware of an entire coffee cup, say, but at most with certain of its surfaces, and even then only with sense-data one is caused to enjoy by light bouncing off those surfaces, or whatever.

As a result, Russell says, "proper names are usually really descriptions". Exactly what does he mean by this claim?

Russell's extremely narrow view of the scope of acquaintance is an optional feature of his overall view: One could think the distinction between acquaintance and description was important but draw the boundaries of acquaintance different from how Russell does. Indeed, in many ways, a recurring theme in many of our later readings will be what sorts of cognitive and perceptual relations to things support knowledge about them that is "direct" in the sense Russell thinks knowledge by acquaintance is "direct".

Russell goes on to argue that, if we know an object only by description, then the knowledge we have about that object is, in a sense, not really knowledge about that object at all. Rather, if we fully "analyze" what we know, we find that it is "directly" about things with which we are acquainted, and that the object we know by description enters only as the value of a variable: the x that is uniquely so-and-so.

At the end of the only full paragraph on p. 116, Russell raises a question about the nature of communication that is strikingly reminiscent of a footnote about "Aristotle" in "On Sense and Reference". How are Frege's and Russell's attitudes towards this issue under discussion similar or different? Or is it not the same issue?

This discussion motivates what Russell calls "[t]he fundamental epistemological principlein the analysis of propositions containing descriptions", and which he states as: Every proposition which we can understand must be composed wholly of constituents with which we are acquainted" (p. 117).

Russell says that it is "plain why [he] advocate[s] this principle". So this should be an easy question: Why does he? Feel free to discuss the argument on pp. 117-8 in answering the question.

Russell says that his "fundamental principle" just amounts to saying that "we cannot make a judgment or a supposition without knowing what it is that we are making our judgment or supposition about". Is that right? What unstated premises might be in play here?

Russell then illustrates the consequences of this principle for the analysis of proper names (pp. 118-21), arguing along the way that the principle does not imply that our judgements are really about our "ideas". (It would be interesting to compare Frege's and Russelll's treatments of this issue.)

There then follows a lengthy discussion (pp. 121-7) that recapitulates central points from "On Denoting". It constitutes a response to a paper by Emily Elizabeth Constance Jones, who had herself published a reply to Russell's criticisms of Frege. Those criticisms, the most central of which is the Gray's Elegy argument, have not been our focus, so we probably will not spend much time on this part of the paper. But anyone who is interested in the Gray's Elegy argument will want to read Jones's paper and these parts of "Knowledge by Acquaintance" carefully.

6 February


9 February

Canceled due to snow (yet again)

11 February

P. F. Strawson, "On Referring", Mind 59 (1950), pp. 320-44 (DjVu, JStor)

Optional: Bertrand Russell, "Mr. Strawson on Referring", Mind 66 (1957), pp. 385-9 (DjVu, JStor)

Our focus will primarily be on pp. 320-35 (sections I–III). What follows is an important early discussion of "context dependence", which is a topic to which we shall return later.

There is now a large literature on so-called "incomplete" definite descriptions. For anyone interested in this topic, here are some places to start: Scott Soames, "Incomplete Definite Descriptions", Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 27 (1986), pp. 349-75 (Project Euclid); Stephen Neale, Descriptions (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990), esp. §3.7; Marga Reimer, "Incomplete Descriptions", Erkenntnis 37 (1992), pp. 347-63 (JSTOR).

Show Questions

Strawson is out to argue that Russell's Theory of Descriptions "embodies some fundamental mistakes". Strawson is particularly concerned to reject Russell's argument for the existence of "logically proper names" and, with it, his argument that 'ordinary' proper names are really descriptions (which, recall, is the Description Theory of Names).

As Strawson sees it, these arguments rest upon the claim that "if there are any sentences which are genuinely of the subject-predicate form, then the very fact of their being significant...guarantees that there is something referred to by the logical (and grammatical) subject" of those sentences (p. 323). So he will argue, by contrast, that a sentence can perfectly well be significant even if its "logical subject" fails to refer to anything.

One might worry here that Strawson is not distinguishing clearly enough between the Theory of Descriptions and the Description Theory: The former does not imply the latter. If we do distinguish these, however, then at which target are Strawson's arguments really directed? Or should they be understood as directed not at these theses themselves, but rather at arguments Russell gives for them?

Strawson begins his argument against Russell by making some distinctions, between:

  • Sentences
  • Uses of sentences
  • Utterances of sentences
And similarly for other expressions, e.g., names or descriptions. The first and last should be fairly clear—though note that an utterance is an action that someone performs, one that involves the intentional 'production' of a sentence, which may be spoken, written, signed, etc. It is not so clear what Strawson means by a 'use', and the example he gives on p. 325 to explain it is not terribly helpful (it seems to me). Fortunately, this does not seem to be a particularly important notion for Strawson: His various claims can, so far as I can see, be stated just in terms of sentences and utterances.

Perhaps the most important thing in this paper is a distinction between two senses of the verb "refer", which emerges at p. 326. So far, we have been speaking of reference as a relation between words and things: "Hesperus" refers to Venus. But one can also speak of reference as an act: To whom were you referring? Strawson seems to want to insist that the latter is really more fundamental: "`Mentioning', or `referring', is not something an expression does; it is something that one can use an expression to do", he says. By contrast, meaning or significance is something an expression (e.g., a sentence) can have (p. 327).

Overall, then, Strawson thinks Russell conflates the question whether, say, "The King of France is bald" is meaningful with the question whether the subject-phrase, on some particular occasion of utterance, refers to anything. What the sentence means is supposed to be revealed by the "general directions" regarding its use, on various occasions, to say different things about, potentially, different objects.

Strawson uses a variety of examples to press this point, one of which involves "I". Another involves what have come to be called "incomplete descriptions", such as: The table is covered with books. These pose a challenge to Russell's theory because it is fairly obvious that there is not a unique table. (Make sure you understand why this is a problem for Russell.)

In Russell's reply (which you do not have to read), he insists that Strawson is confusing different issues. Russell never meant his theory to address issues concerning what he calls `egocentric' words, of which "I" is the best example and tense is another. We can get away from such issues by considering, e.g., "The King of France circa 1905 is bald". Do Strawson's arguments still work as applied to such a case?

Strawson goes on to insist, however, that if someone does seriously use a sentence containing a descriptive phrase without thereby referring to anything, then they are "not making either a true or a false assertion" (p. 329); that is, they are not saying anything at all. In that sense, Strawson is accepting something Russell seemed to find absurd: Russell insisted that, if someone were seriously to claim, right now, that the King of France is bald, then they would have said something that was not meaningless but "plainly false". Strawson is saying that, yes, the sentence they uttered was not meaningless, but their utterance, in effect, was meaningless: They made no significant assertion.

This seems to return us to a question I asked when we read Russell: Why does Russell claim that "The King of France is bald" is plainly false? But we now face a more general question. Forget about whether Russell or Strawson is correct. What kinds of considerations might possibly be brought to bear to help us decide this kind of issue?

In section III, Strawson goes on to explain his view that (contemporary) utterances of "The King of France is bald" somehow 'misfire'. Strawson claims that someone who uttered this sentence would thereby "imply" that there was a (unique) King of France. But he notes that "The King of France is not bald" has the same implication, and that suggests that this is "a very special and odd sense of" implication. It is, in fact, a version of what has come to be called presupposition.

Thus, if I were to ask you, "Have you stopped smoking crack?" you might reasonably want to refuse to answer either "yes" or "no" because, as a lawyer might say, the question presupposes facts not in evidence. In particular, it presupposes that you have smoked crack in the past. But if both "You have stopped A-ing" and "You have not stopped A-ing" presuppose that you used to A, then this cannot be an ordinary logical implication: If both P and ~P imply Q, then Q is itself a logical truth. And surely it is not a logical truth that you used to smoke crack!

Can you think of other natural examples of words, like "stop", that carry presuppositions?

Similarly, Strawson wants to say that, if one utters "The King of France is bald", one does not assert but only presupposes that there is a (unique) King of France. So it is no part of what one is claiming when making such an assertion that there is a (unique) King of France, and the non-existence of such a monarch does not imply that your utterance is false. Rather, in that case, as Strawson puts it, the question whether the King of France is bald simply does not arise.

How satisfying is this suggestion that some assertions involving descriptions 'misfire'?

Strawson goes on to illustrate this sort of point with what has become a very famous example: Someone says, "This is a fine red one", when there is nothing to which "this" might plausibly refer. In this case, indeed, one might reasonably want to say that nothing has really been said by the person who uttered this sentence. But one might reasonably wonder whether is really an example of the same sort as the one involving "the King of France"

Is it really an example of the same sort as the one involving "the King of France"? In what ways might they be similar or different?

13 February

Keith Donnellan, "Reference and Definite Descriptions", Philosophical Review 75 (1966), pp. 281-304 (DjVu, JStor)

Topics for first short paper distributed

Show Questions

Donnellan's main claim in this paper is that there is something wrong with both Russell's and Strawson's account of descriptions, because both of them account for at most one of the uses of descriptions that Donnellan distinguishes. That said, in many ways one might think of Donnellan as trying to build on Strawson's central point about the importance of reference as an act.

The central contribution of this paper is the distinction between attributive and referential uses of descriptions. One uses a description attributively when one wishes to speak about whom- or whatever satisfies it. By contrast, one uses a description referentially when there is a specific object about which one wishes to speak, and one only uses the description in order to help one's audience identify it. Only in the latter case would it make sense to ask, "Who do you mean?" or "Who are you talking about?"

Make absolutely sure you understand this distinction. One good way to do that is to come up with some examples of your own to illustrate it. Better yet, pay attention as you read non-philosophical material, and see if you can find some good, independent examples of each use. If you're having trouble, email me.

And, as Donnellan is at pains to emphasize (pp. 285ff), this is a feature of uses of descriptions, not a matter (as Strawson seems to imply) of where they occur in a sentence (as subject or as predicate). Thus, Donnellan suggests that someone who uttered "Smith's murderer is insane" could be using the description either way, depending upon what sort of thing they were trying to say.

Donnellan uses a variety of locutions in trying to capture what is special about the referential use: He talks of the thing that is "meant"; of something that the speaker has "in mind". Are these helpful? Why or why not? Or better: In what ways are they helpful and in what ways not?

Perhaps the most important difference between these uses, however, appears when we assume that the description is "improper", i.e., that there is no unique object that satisfies it (pp. 286ff). Donnellan claims that, if we utter "The F is G", using the description attributively, and it is improper, then there is no sense in which anything has been said to be G. But if the description is used referentially, then one might still have managed to refer to something and to say of it that it is G. This is a phenomenon that neither Strawson nor Russell seems to have envisaged.

Donnellan notes (pp. 288-9) that, although there is in both of these cases some sort of implication or presupposition that something fits the description, what is implied or presupposed depends upon the kind of use being made. In the attributive case, the implication or presupposition is general: One is implying or presupposing that something fits the description uniquely. In the referential case, by contrast, one is implying or presupposing that some particular thing—namely, the thing about which one wishes to speak—fits the description uniquely.

In section IV, Donnellan extends these claims in two directions. First, he argues that the question whether a description is used referentially or attributively cannot be reduced to the question whether the speaker knows of some particular thing that it fits the description uniquely (p. 289). Second, he argues that it is possible to use a description referentially even if one believes that the object to which one wants to refer does not fit the description, or even that nothing does (pp. 289-90). As Donnellan notes in section V, this latter point qualifies the earlier one about presuppositions (p. 291): In the referential case, it would seem, there is only a "presumption" that the object about which one wishes to speak fits the description.

In section VI, Donnellan argues that his results are inconsistent both with Russell's theory and with Strawson's. Can you briefly summarize why? Which of the two theories would you suppose would have a harder time accomodating the referential–attributive distinction?

In the last couple sections of the paper, Donnellan attempts to say something about the nature of this distinction he has isolated. In section VII, he denies that it is any sort of ambiguity, either syntatic (e.g., a scope difference) or semantic (a difference in the meanings of the words, as with "bank"). He suggests we might think of the ambiguity as "pragmatic", a matter of the speaker's intentions, but it is not clear what this might mean.

The issue here is a very general one. Both Russell and Frege, one might say, tie the proposition the speaker expresses very tightly to the meaning of the words the speaker uses. Strawson to some extent tries to open up some space between these, for example, in the case of incomplete descriptions, such as "The table is covered with books". One might suggest that Donnellan is going even further in this direction. How so?

In section VIII, Donnellan suggests that we might understand the referential use in terms of a notion of "say[ing] something true about someone" (p. 298). Thus, even if Jones did not murder Smith, we might say, in the original example, that we referred to Jones and said of him that he was insane. And it seems as if Donnellan thinks this is the best we can do. He seems to want to deny that any "statement" is made in such cases (i.e., that any definite proposition was expressed), but seems to want to insist that the best we can do is to use the said-of locution. This sort of idea is developed yet further in the final section, in which Donnellan suggests that there is something fundamentally right about Russell's idea that, when we genuinely refer to something, we do so without thereby ascribing any specific properties to it. (Of course, having referred to it, we presumably will then ascribe some properties to it.)

Suppose that the best we can do, in cases of referential use, is to say that the speaker said of a particular object that it is G. Suppose, moreover, that in characterizing what the speaker said, we ourselves can refer to the object to which the speaker was referring using any tool at our disposal: any name of the object, e.g. It would be natural to understand this as a challenge to Frege. Why? (Hint: Consider a case in which, say, "the morning star" is used referentially.)

16 February

No Class: Presidents' Day Holiday

18 February

Saul Kripke, "Speaker's Reference and Semantic Reference", in Philosophical Troubles, Vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 99-124 (PDF, DjVu)

This article was originally published in Midwest Studies in Philosophy 2 (1977), pp. 255-76 (Wiley Online). Unfortunately Brown's subscription does not include access to this paper.

If you have never heard of "implicature", then you should read at least the Wikipedia entry on the topic, and I'd recommend reading the first five sections of Wayne Davis's entry on implicature at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. If you want to go to the original source, you can have a look at Grice's paper "Logic and Conversation" (DjVu).

You can skim or even skip section 2 (pp. 102-7), which briefly addresses some applications some people have wanted to make of the referential–attributive distinction but that are not relevant to the main question Kripke wants to discuss. (These comments also draw upon material we have not yet read or discussed.)

You will see Kripke use notation like: ιxφ(x). This is borrowed from Russell and means: the unique x such that φ(x).

The debate over the referential–attributive distinction has continued, and there is now a large literature on the topic. Some good starting places are Howard Wettstein, "Demonstrative Reference and Definite Descriptions", Philosophical Studies 40 (1981), pp. 241-57; Nathan Salmon, "Assertion and Incomplete Definite Descriptions", Philosophical Studies 42 (1982), pp. 37-45; Howard Wettstein, "The Semantic Significance of the Referential-Attributive Ddistinction, Philosophical Studies 44 (1983), pp. 187–94; Nathan Salmon, "The Pragmatic Fallacy", Philosophical Studies 63 (1991), pp. 83-97; Marga Reimer, "The Wettstein / Salmon Debate: Critique and Resolution", Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 79 (1998), pp. 130-51; and Marga Reimer, "Donnellan's Distinction / Kripke's Test", Analysis 58 (1998), pp. 89-100. There is also a list of papers on the topic on Phil Papers.

Show Questions

Kripke aims to argue "that the considerations in Donnellan's paper, by themselves, do not refute Russell's theory" of descriptions. He remains officially neutral on whether Russell's theory is correct.

Kripke's early discussion, in section 3, presses on Donnellan's unclariy, towards the end of the paper, about (i) what "statement" someone makes when they use a description referentially and (ii) exactly what kind of distinction the referential–attributive distinction is. Kripke insists that if the distinction is merely "pragmatic", and is not any sort of ambiguity, then it is hard to see why Russell should be concerned. He meant to be analyzing the meaning of descriptive statements, not "uses" one might make of them.

The key to Kripke's analysis of the phenomenon Donnellan uses to motive the referential–attributive distinction (henceforth, the "D-phenomenon") is the distinction he draws on p. 111 between speaker's reference and semantic reference. The distinction is inspired by, and is arguably a special case of, Grice's distinction between what one says when one makes a given utterance and what one means, which Kripke briefly explains. The semantic reference of an expression is fixed by linguistic facts or conventions and (ignoring things like tense and demonstratives, for the moment) does not vary from occasion to occasion. The speaker's reference, on the other hand, can vary: It is "that object which the speaker wishes to talk about, on a given occasion, and believes fulfills the conditions for being the semantic referent of the designator" (p. 111).

It is tempting to borrow from Grice and say that the speaker's referent is the object one means. It would be worth exploring whether some such equation can be made to work, i.e., to try to show as precisely as possible how Kripke's distinction can be seen as a special case of Grice's. (This suggestion is only intended for students who have some familiarity with Grice's distinction.)

Kripke suggests further that the reason speaker's reference can come apart from semantic reference is because one can use a name with two sorts of intentions. On the one hand, one can use the name with the sole intention of referring to its semantic reference. In that case, the speaker's reference is guaranteed to be the same as the semantic reference. On the other hand, however, one can intend to refer to some person, say, that one can see, and thinking that this person is NN, one might then go on to use "NN" in saying something about them. If one is wrong about who that person is, them the speaker's reference will not be the same as the semantic reference, but will be the person one can see.

One of Grice's "conversational maxims" is the so-called "maxim of quality", which says that one should only say what one has reason to believe is true. Let's accept this as a general (but not strict) rule of conversation. Then if someone says "The F is G", we may ask what sorts of reasons they might have to believe what they are saying. Broadly speaking, those reasons divide into two sorts. One might have general reasons to believe that the F is G: One might think anything that is F is G and also think that there is exactly one F. Or one might have particular reasons: One might think that some particular thing x is G and also think that x is the one and only F. How might this observation be used to reinforce Kripke's point?

Perhaps one of the most famous features of this paper is the "test" that Kripke describes on p. 113:

If someone alleges that a certain linguistic phenomenon in English is a counterexample to a given analysis, consider a hypothetical language which (as much as possible) is like English except that the analysis is stipulated to be correct. Imagine such a hypothetical language introduced into a community and spoken by it. If the phenomenon in question would still arise in a community that spoke such a hypothetical language (which may not be English), then the fact that it arises in English cannot disprove the hypothesis that the analysis is correct for English.

Kripke then introduces three "Russell languages", in which various stipulations are made about how descriptions behave semantically (pp. 113-4). He goes on to argue that the D-phenomenon would arise in all three of those languages.

Make sure you understand why Kripke's test is supposed to be a good one and how it is supposed to apply to the referential–attributive distinction.

Kripke allows that it is possible that descriptions behave ambiguously, and he introduces the D-languages to illustrate what this hypothesis would involve. He then argues on very general, methodological grounds that we should prefer the hypothesis that English is a Russell language.

In some ways, Kripke's entire case against Donnellan is contained in the example he gives on p. 111 about Smith and Jones. What this example purports to show is that the D-phenomenon has nothing special to do with descriptions, but can also arise with proper names. Why is it such a problem for Donnellan if that is true?

Kripke does not apply his "test" to what he calls the "unambiguous D-language". If we did, I claim, we would find that the D-phenomenon arises within the unambiguous D-language itself. I claim further that this is a much more powerful reason than the ones Kripke gives to think that English is not a D-language. See if you can spell out this argument.

20 February


First short paper due

23 February

John Searle, "Proper Names", Mind 67 (1958), pp. 166-73 (DjVu, JSTOR)

We will not actually discuss Searle's paper in class. Rather, I will spend our class time giving students a Very Brief Introduction to Modal Logic. But you should nonetheless read Searle's paper and post to Canvas about it, as usual.

Show Questions

Searle aims to give an account of the senses of proper names. What he ends up with is a version of what has come to be called the "cluster of descriptions" theory. It is similar to Russell's view in that Searle regards names as associated with descriptive conditions. But his view is more subtle than Russell's in several ways.

Searle begins the paper by revisiting the puzzle about identity that Frege uses to motivate the claim that names have sense. He first considers the suggestion that even a statement like "Tully = Cicero" or "Mark Twain = Samuel Clemens" might be analytic and that the information conveyed by it might be about words, even if the statement itself is not about words. But this turns out to be a bit of a red herring, since this shows at most that such identity statements can be analytic and yet informative, not that all such identity statements are analytic. As Searle says, "...[P]eople who argue that Shakespeare was Bacon are not advancing a thesis about language" (p. 167).

Searle then gives a short argument that names must have sense as well as reference: In teaching someone the use of a name, we must establish for them a connection between the name and its bearer, and we can only do this if we can identify the bearer for them in terms of its "particular characteristics". But, as Searle's interlocutor points out, this is to assume that these characteristics are rules for the use of the name, as opposed to a one-off technique for establishing a connection with its bearer. On the other hand, however, Searle notes that, if a statement of existence or non-existence is to make any sense at all, it seems as if there need to be some descriptive conditions associated with the name.

Many of Searle's arguments, both in this section and later, turn on the fact that "Aristotle", say, may be the name of many different people. How might his opponent resist Searle's appeal to that fact?

But, Searle suggests, this sort of view, in assimilating names to descriptions, seems contrary to the apparently "subject-predicate structure of language", and it leads to the view that "variables of quantification [are] the only referential terms in the language" (p. 169). This is an allusion to an extreme form of the Description Theory developed by Quine, which eliminates names in favor of corresponding predicates (e.g., "Socrates" is replaced by "socratizes") and then treats names as descriptions (e.g., "the one who socratizes").1

In effect, then, Searle's problem becomes to explain why we have names in our language at all if every name is associated with one or more descriptions that determine its reference. Why not just use the descriptions instead? Searle's answer has two parts.

  • First, Searle insists that, when one uses a proper name, one does not assert that the object in question satisfies the descriptive conditions that are associated with the name. Rather, "referring uses [of proper names] presuppose that the object to which they purport to refer has certain characteristics" (p. 171, my emphasis).
  • Second, Searle thinks that there is no very definite set of such characteristics, and that what is presupposed is not that the referent has all of them but only that it has "a sufficient but so far unspecified" number of them.
Names are thus associated with "clusters" of descriptions, whose boundaries are vague and need not be determined in advance, but can be made more precise when and if the need arises.

Searle regards the vagueness just indicated as not a bug but a feature of his view. It is what allows him to explain why we have names in our language and not just descriptions. What is that explanation? And what does he mean when he says that names "function not as descriptions, but as pegs on which to hang descriptions" (p. 172)?

Searle notes that, if we were simply to replace "Aristotle" by "the teacher of Alexander", then this would have an odd consequence: One would normally think it a contingent fact that Aristotle ever taught anyone. But if we make this substitution, then "Aristotle taught someone" would be transformed into "The teacher of Alexander taught someone", and that looks analytic. Searle does allow, however, that "it is a necessary fact that Aristotle has the logical sum, inclusive disjunction, of properties commonly attributed to him" (p. 172). But does that answer the objection or concede it? Will a similar problem arise in that case?

In the last paragraph, Searle sketches an account of how a (true) identity sentence could be used to make a synthetic statement. What is that account? Why might one think that, on Searle's view, the content of the statement "Twain = Clemens" will actually be the same as that of "Twain = Twain"? And if that is right, what does that mean about what sorts of beliefs such a statement might be used to convey?

1 The whole truth about Quine's views on these matters is, as Delia Graff Fara notes, more complicated. See her "Socratizing", American Philosophical Quarterly 48 (2011), pp. 229-38 (JSTOR, Scanned PDF)

25 February

W. V. O. Quine, "Three Grades of Modal Involvement", in The Ways of Paradox (New York: Random House, 1966), pp. 156-74 (DjVu)

Optional: W. V. O. Quine, "Reference and Modality", in From a Logical Point of View (New York: Harper and Row, 1953), pp. 139-59 (DjVu, Note that this paper is an expanded and somewhat altered version of "Notes on Existence and Necessity", Journal of Philosophy 40 (1943), pp. 113-27 (JSTOR). The earlier version may be easier for students to read, as the later version contains fairly lengthy discussions of several objections made to the earlier paper.

Show Questions

Quine is interested in the question to what extent we can make proper sense of the notion of necessity, and what philosophical commitments we must make to do so. And this question is tied up, for him, with the question what our logic of necessity should be like.

There are, Quine says, three ways we might treat necessity and contingency logically.

  1. We may regard them as properties of sentences.
  2. We may regard them as "statement operators", attaching to statments to make other statments.
  3. We may regard them as "sentence operators", attaching, like negation, to a formula to make another formula.
The difference between the second and third is that, in the latter case, the formula may contain free variables, which may later be bound by quantifiers.

Quine's overall point may be summarized this way. Step (1) is relatively harmless. We do this in logic anyway when we speak of a sentence as being valid. Step (2) is mostly harmless, and is completely harmless if understood as a notational variant of step (1). But it is dangerous in so far as it encourages one to move to Step (3), which Quine regards as philosophically suspect.

In section I, Quine introduces the notions of purely referential occurrence and of referential opacity. An occurrence of a term is purely referential if one can substitute any other name of the same object without change of truth-value. A 'context' into which one can substitute a sentence is opaque if occurrences of terms in that context are not purely referential. Quine notes that "Quotation is the referentially opaque context par excellence" (p. 159). A context is truth-functional if substitution of sentences with the same truth-value preserves the truth-value of the whole.

On pp. 161-2, Quine presents an argument known as the Slingshot. (It has antecedents in Frege but probably first appears in Alonzo Church.) The argument purports to show that any context that is (i) non-opaque and (ii) permits substitution of logical equivalents, salva veritate, is also truth-functional.

The argument is extremely simple, but Quine's notation may be confusing, so here it is in more modern notation. Suppose that p and q have the same truth-value. Observe that:

  1. The statement "The x such that (x = Venus & p) or (x = Mars & not-p} = Venus" is logically equivalent to p.
  2. The statement "The x such that (x = Venus & q) or (x = Mars & not-q} = Venus" is logically equivalent to q.
  3. The two terms "The x such that (x = Venus & p) or (x = Mars & not-q}" and "The x such that (x = Venus & q) or (x = Mars & not-q}" refer to the same thing: Venus, if p and q are both true; Mars if p and q are both false.
Now suppose that F(p) is a context satisfying assumptions (i) and (ii), Then the following must all have the same truth-value:
  1. F(p)
  2. F(the x such that (x = Venus & p) or (x = Mars & not-p} = Venus)
  3. F(the x such that (x = Venus & q) or (x = Mars & not-q} = Venus)
  4. F(q)
(i) and (ii) are equivalent by (a); (ii) and (iii) by (c); (iii) and (iv) by (b).

What do you think Russell might say about the Slingshot?

In the context of the paper, the primary lesson of this argument is supposed to be that "quantifying into" referentially opaque contexts is a troublesome matter, to which we shall come shortly.

In section II, Quine notes that we need necessity-like notions in logic (validity, implication), but that these are properly understood as properties of or relations between sentences. He then argues that, with sufficient care taken about quotation, the use of necessity as a statement operator (attaching only to sentences, i.e., formulae with no free variables) can be explained in terms of the `semantical' use: "nec(9 > 5)" just means: Nec('9 > 5').

On the other hand, however, Quine notes that iterated modalities, which are characteristic of modal logic, are not easy to make sense of on this approach. The translation works, but it is not clear what the translated sentences really mean. Quine thinks, then, that, if we explain necessity as logical necessity, that does not really suffice to explain the use of "nec" as a statement operator. In that regard, then, he thinks that even the second grade of modal involvement may not be well-motivated.

In section III, then, Quine turns to the use of "nec" as a sentence operator. With this, we allow such constructs as "(∃x)(nec(x > 5))", meaning: something is necessarily greater than 5.

Quine notes first that, with this move, we make the translation of "nec" to "Nec" impossible, since the variable would have to appear within quotes. A more serious issue, however, is that the context "nec(...)" appears to be referentially opaque, since "nec(9 > 5)" looks true and "nec(the number of planets > 5)" looks false. If so, however, then, as Quine says, "nec(x > 5)" simply isn't true or false of an object at all. (As he tends to ask elsewhere: Which thing is it that is necessarily greater than 5? Is it 9? I.e., the number of planets?) If so, then the value assigned to "x" can't simply be an object.

Articulate this point of Quine's a bit: If we assign "x" the value 9, then is "nec(x > 5)" true or false? Why is the question difficult to answer?

The response Quine envisages is that "nec(the number of planets > 5)" is ambiguous as to the scope of the description.

Explain Quine's point using Russell's notions of primary and secondary occurrence.

Quine notes on p. 173 that, if we are going to quantify into "nec", then we need to be careful about how we apply universal instantiation. Can we formulate the required restriction using Russell's notions of primary and secondary occurrence, again? Why or why not?

Quine concludes by arguing that, if we accept quantification into "nec", then we are committed to "Aristotelian essentialism", i.e., to the doctrine that there is a distinction to be drawn between properties of an object that are essential to it and those that are merely accidental. In particular, Quine notes, it looks as if we are committed to the claim that "being greater than 5" is a property that 9 has essentially, but "being the number of planets" is a property it has only accidentally.

Quine does not say why he regards Aristotelian essentialism as problematic. What sorts of worries do you think he might have?

If we decide to quantify into "nec", then "nec(...)" is a context that is not referentially opaque and, presumably, allows substitution of logical equivalents salva veritate. Why doesn't the Slingshot then imply that "nec(...)" has to be truth-functional? (Hint: Russell again.)

27 February

Ruth Barcan Marcus, "Modality and Intensional Languages", Synthese 13 (1961), pp. 303-22 (DjVu, JSTOR).

You need only read pp. 303-14. We will not discuss the final two sections from Marcus's paper, "The Interpretation of Quantification" and "Semantic Considerations". But if you have some knowledge of and experience with modal logic, you should read the former, at least. (The basic idea here is that Marcus proposes to treat quantification substitutionally.) It is also not essential that you understand the section "Intensional Languages" (pp. 303-7): You should simply skim it if it is too difficult and trust what I say about it below.

W. V. O. Quine, “Reply to Professor Marcus”, Synthese 13 (1961), pp. 323-30 (DjVu, JSTOR).

You need only read pp. 323-7. The rest is concerned with the parts of Marcus's paper we will not discuss.

There is a record of the discussion that followed this exchange (JSTOR). It makes for interesting reading: In the audience was a Harvard senior named "Saul Kripke".

First short paper returned

Show Questions

Ruth Barcan Marcus was one of the early advocates of quantified modal logic. In this paper, she responds to Quine's arguments against the intelligibility of such systems. It's a difficult paper, but also a very important one.

Marcus begins by explaining how she understands the notion of intensionality. Though she expresses some reservations on this point, she regards identity, strictly speaking, as defined in terms of indiscernibility:

xIy iff ∀F(Fx eq Fy)
Note here that this quantifies over properties, and not just over objects. The relation 'eq' is supposed to be some equivalence relation between propositions. As Marcus says, it is a substantial question what eq should be taken to be: material equivalence (≡) or necessary equivalence (which she writes as a quadruple bar).

Marcus then goes on to introduce what she calls extensionality principles. These are principles of the form: x eq y → xIy. I.e., principles that say that identity may be inferred from some other relation. What Marcus has in mind emerges in her discussion of Quine. In first-order logic, one has the schema:

(p ≡ q) → (p' ≡ q')
where p' and q' are the result of making some substutution in p and q. As Marcus notes, this fails if p and q may contain "believes" (or any other non-truth-functional operator). And the problem, as she sees it, is that the relation "p ≡ q" is just too weak: We need not truth-functional equivalence, but identity of propositions.

Marcus's response to Quine is contained in the section "Identity and Substitution in Modal Logic". She begins with some remarks about quantified modal logic, noting in particular the provablity of the necessity of identity: x = y → □(x = y). Marcus then turns to Quine's worry about this: Surely it isn't necessary that the morning star is the evening star?

Marcus responds that if aIb is true, then a and b are names of the same thing, and so aIb must say the same thing as aIa. Since the latter is a "tautology", then so is the former. But this, she says, is true only if a and b are really names. If, on the other hand, one of a and b isn't a name but instead a description, then aIb need not be necessary.

Marcus does not commit herself to any view of descriptions. Explain why, if a and b are descriptions (to be treated a la Russell), then aIb can uncontroversially express a contingent truth.

On the other hand, if a and b are descriptions understood as Strawson would have us understand them, then can aIb express a contingent truth?

Marcus then explains that she regards names as "mere tags", which have no meaning of their own, but merely serve to "tag" things. It follows that, if two expressions "really are names for the same thing, then they must be intersubstitutable in every context" (p. 309). (Quotational contexts are presumably excepted, on the ground that the names do not really occur there at all.) Crucially, this includes epistemic contexts. Thus, Marcus explicitly denies that it could ever be "an empirical fact" that aIb, if a and b are really names. So, for example, if "Hesperus" and "Phosphorous" really are names, then Marcus is denying that it is an empirical fact that Hepserus is Phosphorous.

Marcus's views commit her to the claim that it is impossible for "N believes that a is F" to be true but "N believes that b is F" to be false, if aIb and if a and b are really names. Why? And what options does Marcus have in the face of the obvious alleged counter-examples?

The discussion on pp. 311-4 is confusing, and I confess that I am not sure that I understand it. Marcus seems to be suggesting that, no matter how we handle descriptions, if we regard (say) "the evening star" and "the morning star" as being descriptions, then we should not regard "the evening star is the morning star" as a true identity, since the two expressions are not intersubstitutable in all contexts. Rather, we should regard this as being a "weaker" form of equivalence than identity, one that permits substitution only in some contexts. (It might be defined as: ∀F(Fx ≡ Fy).)

This seems to be the key to Marcus's response to Quine's example about the number of planets, on pp. 314-5: Since "the number of planets" is a description, "9 = the number of planets" cannot be regarded as a true identity, and hence the substitution Quine wants to make is invalid.

For what it's worth, it seems to me that Marcus would be best off by far simply adopting Russell's view of descriptions and insisting, on that ground, that the substitution is not permitted. How would that argument go?

2 March

W. V. O. Quine, "Quantifiers and Propositional Attitudes", Journal of Philosophy 53 (1956), pp. 177-87 (DjVu, JSTOR)

There is a huge literature on this sort of problem. If you are interested to learn more, a good place to start is with two papers by David Kaplan, "Quantifying In" (Synthese 19 (1968), pp. 178-214) and "Opacity" (in L. Hahn, ed., W. V. Quine (Open Court, 1986).

Show Questions

In this paper, Quine is concerned with an issue that is related to those about modality we have just been discussing: the contrast beween what he calls notional and relational readings of sentences like "I want a sloop". This leads to examples involving belief, such as "Ralph believes that someone is a spy", in which, on the relational reading, we are "quantifying into" a propositional attitude context. But this, Quine says, "is a dubious business".

Quine suggests that only on the relational reading is Ralph really related to the person he believes is a spy. Why does he say that? How might that thought be related to Russell's notion of acquaintance?

The basic problem is that, if we regard it as true that "There is someone Ralph believes to be a spy", then it seems as if we ought to accept as true "Ralph believes that Ortcutt is a spy", which seems wrong. The question is what to do.

See if you can construct similar examples, and explain the problem they pose, using pairs like Hesperus–Phosphorous or Twain–Clemens.

Quine remarks that "we are scarcely prepared to sacrifice the relational construction". By contrast, he seems utterly prepared to sacrifice the relational reading of modals (i.e., to ban quantification into modalities). Why the difference?

Quine's first proposal is to distinguish belief1, which does not permit quantification into it and prohibits substitution of identicals, from belief2 which allows both. But he turns in section II to a different proposal, or perhaps better a way of developing that one: In the simplest case, we can regard belief2 as a three-place relation between a believer (Ralph), the subject of his belief (Ortcutt), and the property (attribute) Ralph believes Ortcutt to have. As Quine notes at (17), this allows a natural representation of the relational reading. (It is sometimes read: Ralph believes of Ortcutt that he is a spy; or Ralph believes Ortcutt to be a spy.)

One thing Quine mentions but does not discuss in detail is the problem of "exportation", which is the inference from "Ralph believes that Ortcutt is a spy" to "Ralph believes of Ortcutt that he is a spy" or directly to "There is someone Ralph believes to be a spy". I.e., the problem concerns the logical relations between belief1 and belief2, or however we explain the contrast between notional and relational. Can you see why an appeal to something like acquaintance might be natural here?

In section III, Quine shows how this apparatus can be used to deal with the original examples involving hunting and wanting. An additional complication arises, as Quine notes, with such examples as "Someone wants a sloop", read as: ∃x(x desires that x has a sloop"), since the quantifier binds into "that...". So it has to be read as: ∃x(x desires y(y has a sloop) of x).

In section IV, Quine reworks this analysis in terms that do not require the use of intensional entities. The idea is simply to replace mention of intensions by mention of expressions. The dyadic notion of belief becomes "N believes-true S in L", for some language L; the triadic notion becomes "N believes-true S of x in L"; etc.

Quine considers several objections to this. He impatiently dismisses the objection that it is "unnatural", but also notes that a friend of intensions cannot object to it as unintelligible, since it is definable in terms they would accept. He also dismisses an objection due to Church about translation. The worry concerns:

  1. Hans believes that snow is white
  2. Hans glaubt, dass schnee ist weiss
  3. Hans believes "Snow is white" in English
  4. Hans glaubt "Snow is white" in English
The objection is that (2) translates (1), and (3) translates (4)—note that we do not translate the quoted sentence—but (3) was supposed to give the meaning of (1), and yet (4) surely does not give the meaning of (2). Quine responds that he was seeking only "a systematic agreement in truth-value".

How worrying does Church's objection seem to you? Is there some other way to try to bring out what is weird about Quine's appeal to language (which Quine himself finds somewhat problematic)?

All the views Quine considers seem to imply that "believes" is ambiguous: between belief1 and belief2, or dyadic and triadic, or whatever. Is that plausible?

4 March

Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), Lecture I

I would suggest you read all of Lecture I for this meeting, but we will focus on pp. 22-53. You do not need to read the Preface, which considers some objections that were made after the lectures were originally published.

For a review of the literature on rigidity, see Jason Stanley, "Names and Rigid Designation", in B. Hale and C. Wright, eds., A Companion to the Philosophy of Language (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), pp. 555-85 (PDF).

Optional: Jason Stanley, "Rigidity and Content", in R.G. Heck, ed., Language, Truth, and Logic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 131-56 (PDF); Scott Soames, The Modal Argument: Wide Scope and Rigidified Descriptions, Noûs 32 (1998), pp. 1-22 (JSTOR).

Show Questions

There are four crucial things to understand in this lecture:

  1. The distinction between necessity and a priority
  2. The distinction between rigid and non-rigid designators
  3. The argument Kripke gives against the description theory of names
  4. The distinction between a description's "giving the meaning" of a name and its merely "fixing the reference" of that name
I'd suggest writing, just for yourself, a couple sentences about each of these.

On pp. 22-34, Kripke quickly summarizes a lot of the history we have just studied. Is there anything about this description that strikes you as wrong? or perhaps as biased? (I'm not necessarily saying there is anything wrong or biased.)

On pp. 34-9, Kripke introduces the crucial distinction between what is a priori and what is necessary. As he notes, these had largely been conflated. The key point here, really, is that the two notions apply to two diferent things. The term "a priori" should be regarded as an epistemic adverb: It denotes a way of believing or knowing something. So we can say that someone knows a priori that 2+2=4, say. What is necessary, by contrast, is a proposition (or something along those lines), and whether a proposition is necessary does not depend upon what anyone knows.

To tease these apart, Kripke gives a few examples. Kripke remarks that one could know a certain mathematical fact becaue it has been proven by a computer. But that knowledge would not, he claims, be a priori, though the mathematical fact, if true, would of course be necessary, like any mathematical fact. More strongly, if Goldbach's conjecture is true, it is necessary; but perhaps there is no possible proof of it, and it is not even possible (for a person at least) to know it a priori.

It is not obvious that one does not know mathematical facts that are proven by computers a priori, and Tyler Burge has argued the opposite, in "Computer Proof, A Priori Knowledge, and Other Minds" (PhilPapers). But there are better examples. Can you come up with a case in which someone might have empirical verification even for what turns out to be a logical truth?

As Kripke notes, this does not by itself show that there isn't some connection between a priority and necessity. It does show that these are different notions and that, if there is such a connection, it needs to be established by argument.

Kripke then turns to the sorts of issues raised by Quine about de re and de dicto necessity, or essentialism. He first argues that the notion of an essential property (a property an object necessarily has) is well-grounded intuitively (pp. 41-2). For example, it seems obvious that Barack Obama might not ever have been the US President—that, as Kripke keeps saying, he might not have been—even though, if we describe him as "the first black President", then it's equally obvious that it's a necessary truth that the first black President was at some time the President.

The sentence "The first black President might not have been the President" exhibits a scope ambiguity. How could it be represented? Why does pointing this out not help Quine?

Kripke then turns, on pp. 42-53, to a set of questions about the nature of possible worlds and our cognitive access to them. (These issues will not be our focus, but it is important to understand what is going on here.) Kripke's main target is David Lewis, who holds an extreme form of "modal realism" (see his Plurality of Worlds) according to which (i) possible worlds are something like "alternative universes", containing real people, e.g., just like you and me, and (ii) for every way things might have been, there is a possible world (an alternative universe) in which things are that way. So, according to Lewis, there is a possible world in which Mitt Romney won the 2012 US election and is now President of the US, and another in which he won but was assassinated by a crazed former president who went insane after her his affair with an intern was revealed. But note that, in these worlds, it isn't really Mitt Romney who wins. That's because Mitt lives in our universe, not in some alternative universe, and that raises the question of "transworld identity": How do we know which of these other people in this other universe is Mitt's "counterpart"? It is hard to see what other sort of answer might be given than one that involves some sort of qualitative similarity.

If transworld identity has to be explained in terms of qualitative similarity, then that might suggests that every proper name must be associated with "purely qualitative necessary and sufficient conditions for being" its referent (p. 46). And that seems, at least, to be very friendly to the description theory of names. Why?

It's against this view that Kripke argues. His central claim is that we should not think of possible worlds as "alternative universes", so that we have to figure out who is playing the Mitt Romney character in one. Rather, we should think of them simply as situations we imagine and that include Mitt Romney by stipulation. (It might be better if we called these possible situations, since they are usually just fragments of complete worlds. And whether imagination is the right faculty is not obvious, but it helps to fix ideas.) So, contra Quine, again, Kripke claims we can simply consider Mitt himself and ask: Could he have won the 2012 election? Note that this question is not supposed to be epistemic: Could it turn out that Romney actually won? We're assuming he lost and asking if it's possible that he could have won.

Kripke then introduces the second really important distinction in this lecture: between rigid and non-rigid designators. A rigid designator, he says, is one that always denotes the same object in every possible world. So, he says, "9" always picks out the same thing in every possible situation, namely, the number 9, whereas "the number of planets" could pick out different numbers in different situations. Note that the claim here is not that "9" couldn't have meant something different and that, as it would have been used in some different situation, it couldn't have referred to something else. Rather, Kripke's claim is that when we use "9" to describe a possible situation, it always refers to 9; whereas we can use "the number of planets" in describing a possible situation and use it to refer to the number of planets in that situation, which need not be 9.

(There is then a brief return to questions about transworld identity, which elaborates some of the earlier themes.)

On p. 53, Kripke turns to his criticisms of the description theory. First, however, he introduces his distinction between using a description to "give the meaning" of a name and using it only to "fix the reference". Kripke never really explains this distinction very clearly, simply illustrating it with examples, but what he seems to have in mind is that, if one uses a description to "give the meaning", then the name i ssynonymous with the description and functions largely as an abbreviation for that description (see the top of p. 32). If, by contrast, one uses the description just to "fix the reference", then it does not.

Kripke explains this using the example of the standard meter stick, but there are more natural (even real-life) examples that can be used instead. One, noted by Sir Michael Dummett, is the name "St Anne", which was stipulatively introduced as a name for the mother of the Virgin Mary. But certainly we do not use "St Anne" as an abbreviation for "the mother of Mary". If we did, then "St Anne had a child" would be equivalent to "The mother of Mary had a child" and so would be a necessary truth. But St Anne, like anyone, might have died in infancy, succumbing to a childhood illness, and then she wouldn't have had a child. So "St Anne had a child" is no necessary truth, and the description is only being used to fix the reference, not to give the meaning. Note, on the other hand, that "St Anne had a child" is arguably a priori: Anyone who understands the name "St Anne" knows that she had a child (assuming that Mary was a real person, etc).

6 March

Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), Lecture I

We will focus today on pp. 53-70.

Show Questions

On p. 53, Kripke turns to criticisms of the description theory. First, however, he introduces his distinction between using a description to "give the meaning" of a name and using it only to "fix the reference". Kripke never really explains this distinction very clearly, simply illustrating it with examples. But what he seems to have in mind is that, if one uses a description to "give the meaning", then the name is synonymous with the description and functions largely as an abbreviation for that description (see the top of p. 32). If, by contrast, one uses the description just to "fix the reference", then the name is not an abbreviation for the description.

Kripke explores this distinction (on pp. 54-7) using the example of the standard meter stick, but there are real-life examples that can be used instead. One, noted by Sir Michael Dummett, is the name "St Anne", which was stipulatively introduced as a name for the mother of the Virgin Mary. But certainly we do not use "St Anne" as an abbreviation for "the mother of Mary". If we did, then "St Anne had a child" would be equivalent to "The mother of Mary had a child" and so would be a necessary truth. But St Anne, like anyone, might have died in infancy, succumbing to a childhood illness, and then she wouldn't have had a child. So "St Anne had a child" is no necessary truth, and the description is only being used to fix the reference, not to give the meaning. Note, on the other hand, that "St Anne had a child" is arguably a priori: Anyone who understands the name "St Anne" knows that she had a child (assuming that Mary was a real person, etc). So this is an example of the sort of statement that Kripke claims is contingent even though a priori.

Note here again that Kripke's point is that when we use the name "St Anne" to describe a possible situation, we always use the name to refer to (our) St Anne. He is not saying that, in other worlds, people could not use the name "St Anne" to refer to a different woman, and if they fixed its reference the same way we do, then they might. (This particular example is complicated by some claims Kripke wants to make about essence, but those claims are irrelevant to the example.)

Kripke does not deny, then, that there are at least some cases in which a description is used to fix the referent of a name. But he does deny that a description ever gives the meaning of a name. The argument is just a generalization of the one just given. What description might we associate with the name "Otto von Bismark"? Perhaps "the first chancellor of the 19th century German Empire". But, obviously, "Bismark was a politician" is no necessary truth, whereas "The first chancellor of the 19th century German Empire" was a politician looks to be. And, Kripke suggests, the same sort of thing will happen with any description one might choose, unless one just happened to choose one that expressed an essential property of the object. (Indeed, it is not obvious that objects have enough essential properites that there will always be a description, given entirely in terms of essential properties, that picks it out uniquely.)

Kripke takes these considerations, then, to refute the "ordinary" description theory, construed as a theory of the meanings of names (and not just as a theory of what fixes reference). He then turns, on p. 60, to the cluster theory and argues that it succumbs to similar objections.

Kripke takes the cluster theory to consist of six theses:

  1. The "cluster" that a speaker S associates with a name 'N' is the family of properties φ such that S believes 'φ(N)'.
  2. One of the properties, or some conjointly, are believed by S to pick out some individual uniquely.
  3. If most, or a weighted most, of the φ's are satisfied by one unique object y, then y is the referent of 'N'.
  4. If the vote yields no unique object, 'N' does not refer.
  5. The statement, 'If N exists, then N has most of the φs' is known a priori by the speaker.
  6. The statement, 'If N exists, then N has most of the φs' expresses a necessary truth (in S's language).

Note, as Kripke says, that (6) will be part of the theory only if one thinks that the cluster "gives the meaning" of the name. There is also an additional condition, (C), that specifies that the account must not be circular.

Formulate Kripke's argument against thesis (6) of the cluster theory in your own terms.

There is a response to this argument that is nowadays fairly common: Instead of 'ordinary' descriptions like "the φ", we can use so-called 'actualized' or 'rigidified' descriptions of the form "the actual φ". So, in the case of "St Anne", the associated description would be "the actual mother of Mary" or, perhaps, "the woman who was Mary's mother in the actual world".

If "St Anne" abbreviates "the actual mother of Mary", then "St Anne had a child" abbreviates "The actual mother of Mary had a child". The former, as we saw, is contingent. Is the latter contingent or necessary? It may help to consider "The woman who was the mother of Mary in the actual world might have died in infancy". (Be careful about necessity vs a priority!!)

My own view is that the real purpose of Lecture I, overall, is to introduce the distinction between necessity and a priority and, with it in place, to eliminate the "strong" form of the description theory that takes descriptions to "give the meaning" of names. The real action is hten in Lecture II, to which we turn next.

I am inclined to think that no one ever held the strong form of the description theory, except possibly for Russell. Have a close look at the passage from Searle that Kripke quotes on p. 61 (and the surrounding remarks). If we assume that Searle (like everyone else at that time) is conflating necessity and a priority, then we need to ask what exactly Searle means here: We need to disambiguate his use of "necessary". What do you think he means?

9 March


Revised version of first short paper due

11 March

Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity, Lecture II

I would suggest you read all of Lecture II for this meeting, but we will focus on pp. 71-90. You should read Lecture III at some point. We will not be discussing it in class, however.

Show Questions

Recall that the cluster theory consists of six theses:

  1. The "cluster" that a speaker S associates with a name 'N' is the family of properties φ such that S believes 'φ(N)'.
  2. One of the properties, or some conjointly, are believed by S to pick out some individual uniquely.
  3. If most, or a weighted most, of the φ's are satisfied by one unique object y, then y is the referent of 'N'.
  4. If the vote yields no unique object, 'N' does not refer.
  5. The statement, 'If N exists, then N has most of the φs' is known a priori by the speaker.
  6. The statement, 'If N exists, then N has most of the φs' expresses a necessary truth (in S's language).

Thesis (6) is part of the theory only if one thinks that the cluster "gives the meaning" of the name.

Kripke begins Lecture II by re-emphasizing the importance of the additional condition, (C), that specifies that the account must not be circular. He then summarizes the arguments given against thesis (6) in the first lecture, remarking that it seems to be contingent that Aristotle has any of the properties commonly attributed to him. This is clearly too strong, since being human is such a property, and Kripke himself regards this as an essential property. (This is not argued until Lecture III.) But this does not really matter: If thesis (6) is to be true, then it has to be necessary that Aristotle enough properties to individuate him uniquely, and properties like being human are not likely to do that.

With thesis (6) disposed of, then, Kripke turns to the remaining theses, which constitute the cluster theory of reference-fixing. And Kripke allows that, for some names (Neptune, Jack the Ripper, St Anne), it may be a good account. But he claims that it does not give a good account of how reference is fixed for most names.

Kripke gives two main arguments against the cluster theory. So far as I know, there are no standard names for these, but I call them the argument from ignorance and the argument from error. (Collectively, these are sometimes called the epistemological arguments, to distinguish them from the modal arguments given in Lecture I.)

In the argument from ignorance (pp. 81-2), Kripke claims that people can refer to an object even if they do not have enough information about that object to individuate it. Kripke uses the example of "Richard Feynmann", noting that many people who understand this name know little more about Feynmann than that he is a physicist, and do not know enough about him to distinguish him from many other physicists. And, indeed, this seems quite common.

Can you give some other examples like Kripke's "Feynmann" example?

Kripke presents this as an argument against thesis (2): that speakers generally believe that they have enough information to individuate an object. In fact, however, it seems better directed at thesis (4): that if the information a speaker has does not pick out a unique object, the name does not refer. What speakers believe about this sort of thing does not seem terribly interesting, let alone crucial.

In the argument from error (pp. 82-5), Kripke claims that people can refer to an object even if the information they have about that object fails to apply to anyone, or applies to someone else. Here, the central example is the Gödel–Schmidt example. Most people, Kripke says, probably believe no more about Gödel than that he proved the incompleteness theorem. But, he insists, even if that were not true—if someone else proved the theorem and Gödel stole it from them—they would still use the name "Gödel" to refer to Gödel.

Kripke also mentions some real-life examples, involving Peano (who did not discover the so-called Peano axioms); Columbus (who was not the first Eurpoean to visit the Americas); and Einstein (who did not invent the atomic bomb). Can you think of other such examples?

When we make the judgement that someone who knew nothing else about Gödel than that he proved the incompleteness theorem could still refer to Gödel in the circumstances described, what kind of judgement are we making? On what basis do we make it? Is this a case where we are relying upon "intuition"? Do the real-life examples seem somehow different from the invented example about Gödel and Schmidt?

This argument is directed primarily against thesis (3): The information the speaker has does pick out an object uniquely, but it is the wrong one. It also constitutes an argument against thesis (5): Even if it is true that Gödel proved the incompleteness theorem, it is not a priori that he did so; and, Kripke claims, that is true even for a speaker who knows nothing more about Gödel than that he proved the incompleteness theorem.

Note that this is a stronger claim than the one made in Lecture I: Kripke is not just saying that it is not a necessary truth that Gödel proved the incompleteness theorem, i.e., that there are other possible worlds in which he did not prove it; he is claiming that we can at least make sense of the suggestion that Gödel did not in fact prove the incompleteness theorem in the actual world.

One of the things that makes these arguments difficult to evaluate is that they depend, in a way the "modal" argument does not, upon exactly what sorts of descriptions one thinks ought to form part of the "cluster". The sort of view Kripke spends most of his time discussing is sometimes called "famous deeds" descriptivism, since the descriptions all seem to concern the "famous deeds" of the referent. On pp. 87-90, then, Kripke considers some other suggestions about what the descriptions ought to be. Do any of these seem promising?

13 March

Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity, Lecture II

We will focus today on pp. 90-105.

Optional: Michael Devitt, "Singular Terms", Journal of Philosophy 71 (1974), pp. 183-205 (JSTOR); Gareth Evans, "The Causal Theory of Names", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, sup. vol. 47 (1973), pp. 187-208 (JSTOR)

Topics for second short paper distributed

Show Questions

At the bottom of p. 90, Kripke turns to his positive account of how the reference of a name is fixed. The view he describes is an antecedent of, or perhaps a version of, the so-called "Causal Theory of Reference", though I'll register some caveats about that attribution below.

Kripke divides the question how a name refers to its bearer into two parts.

  • First, there is an initial "baptism" or "dubbing", during which the reference of the name is originally fixed. Thus, the name "Richard Feynmann" originally referred to Richard Feynmann because it was bestowed upon him by his parents.
  • Second, as the name is used in communciation, it is "passed from link to link", and the name "Richard Feynmann" refers to Richard Feynmann for those of us who were not present at the initial dubbing because of the complex chain connecting us to the original use.
Kripke offers this only as a "rough statement of a theory", and he is particularly cagey about the second condition, which needs careful statement.

Kripke mentions a number of problems that affect the second condition, the key examples being Napoleon the pig and the neighbor George Smith. Explain how these examples motivate the suggestion that, when one picks up a name from someone else, one will inherit the reference of that name only if one intends to use the name with the same reference as the original speaker. How well does this condition deal with the original problem?

Kripke remarks at one point that "A certain passage of communication reaching ultimately to [Feynmann] himself does reach the speaker" (p. 91). This suggests that, for Kripke, reference is sustained by a causal relationship between a speaker and the object of reference. In fact, however, this is misleading. Kripke allows that the reference of the name may originally be fixed by description, and he again gives the example of "Neptune" (p. 96, fn 42). The causal connection, then, is supposed to be not between the speaker and the object but between a speaker not present at the baptism and those who were.

As Kripke notes (p. 92), the theory he proposes is somewhat similar to one suggested by Strawson. The difference is supposed to be that, on Strawson's account, you have to remember from whom you learned the name, so that "Gödel" might mean: the man Jones calls "Gödel". On Kripke's account, by contrast, you don't need to know from whom you learned the name. How significant a difference is this?

In fact, Kripke emphasizes that he is not giving an "analysis" or a "reductive account" of reference. This is in part because the second condition itself involves the notion of an intention to preserve reference. But, at a deeper level, it seems to me, it is because Kripke does not really offer any account of what it is for the name to refer to the object at the initial stage. I.e., he offers no account of how "dubbing" works.

On p. 97, Kripke begins a discussion of the modal status of identity statements, such as "Hesperus is Phosphorous". Kripke of course agrees that if the statements involve descriptions, then they can be contingent. If an identity statement involves names, however, then, Kripke argues, it is necessarily true if true at all: There is no possible world in which Hesperus is not Phosphorous. So Kripke endorses the "necessity of identity".

Marcus had claimed before Kripke that true identities are necessary, but she had also claimed that, as Kripke puts it, "...if you really have names, a good dictionary should be able to tell you whether they have the same reference (p. 101), so that it cannot have been an empirical discovery that Hesperus is Phosphorous. Why isn't Kripke committed to the same combination of views?

It's very important to see exactly what Kripke is and is not claiming here. He is not claiming that we could not find out that, shocking as it may seem, Hesperus is not Phosphorous after all. Nor is he claiming that there is not a possible situation in which "Hesperus" and "Phosphorous" are used much like we use them, but in which these names refer to different objects; so that, in that situation, the sentence "Hesperus is Phosphorous" would be false. What Kripke is claiming, rather, is that there is no possible situation that we could correctly describe as one in which Hesperus is not Phosphorous. This is because names are rigid designators: "Hesperus" always refers to Hesperus (i.e., Venus) when we use it, and "Phosphorous" always refers to Phosphorous (i.e., Venus). So it is not possible to use these names to describe a situation in which Hesperus would not be Phosphorouss. To do so would be to describe a situation in which Venus was not Venus.

Kripke also endorses the "necessity of diversity": the claim that every false identity statement is necessarily false. What kind of argument might one give for this claim? How does it compare to Kripke's argument for the necessity of identity?

Here's a case to think about. Mario and Aldo Andretti (the race car drivers) are identical twins. Presumably it is possible that the zygote from which they both developed should not have twinned and so should have produced only one child. Consider, then, such a situation, and call the single child born in that situation "Ennio". Could one correctly describe this situation as one in which both Mario and Aldo were Ennio and so were the same person?

16 March

Hilary Putnam, "The Meaning of 'Meaning'", Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 7 (1975), pp. 131-193 (DjVu, PDF)

You only need to read up to the section "Indexicality and Rigidity", which begins on p. 146 in the original article. (If you have the reprint from Putnam's Mind, Language, and Reality, that section begins on p. 229.) But those of you who have some prior experience with this material should read further into the paper.

If you have not previously encountered the notion of a natural kind, have a look at the Wikipedia entry on the topic for a quick summary. Or check out the Stanford Encyclopedia article for more detail.

Show Questions

After some introductory remarks, Putnam begins by sketching and then criticizing the traditional distinction between intension and extension. As he notes, intensions were often taken to be "concepts" and therefore to be a sort of mental entity. Frege—think here of his remarks about ideas—rejected this view, insisting that senses are objective. But, as Putnam notes, Frege nonetheless regards grasping a sense as a psychological act or state. Frege of course also held that sense determines reference, or that intension determines extension.

Thus, Putnam claims, traditional views about meaning are committed to two claims:

  1. "...[K]nowing the meaning of a term is just a matter of being in a certain pyschological state..." (p. 135).
  2. "...[T]he [intension] of a term...determines its extension..." (p. 136).
Putnam's central claim is that these two conditions are incompatible, and that is because they jointly entail:
  • 3. The extension that a term has for a given speaker is determined by that speaker's psychological state.
The argument for (3) is that (1) entails that what intension a term has for the speaker is determined by her psychological state; the intension then determines the extension, by (2). (See pp. 137-8.)

One of the most important issues here is exactly what a "psychological state" is supposed to be, and Putnam has in mind a very particular conception of such a state. He explains on pp. 136-9 that he takes "traditional" philosophy to be committed to a doctrine he calls methodological solipsism but is nowadays often called "Cartesianism": whether someone is in a given psychological state depends upon nothing "outside" that particular individual; it does not depend upon the existence of any other individual, nor even of the external world.

To be kind, it isn't entirely clear what Putnam means by a psychological state in the narrow sense. In fact, Putnam expresses a great deal of skepticism about the very notion. (See the remarks on jealousy, etc.) But one way to try to make it more precise would be to say that, at the very least, if two people have all their intrinsic physical properties in common, then they must have all their (narrow) psychological properties in common. Explain why that helps. Or not. (Hint: This would assume a weak form of mental–physical supervenience.)

We can understand this as a sort of supervenience claim: What psychological states one is in depend only upon (i.e., supervene upon) one's "intrinsic" features, i.e., upon how things are "from the skin in". Putnam calls pyschological states that that satisfy this sort of condition "pyschological states in the narrow sense" and then says that he will understand (1) above as:

  • 1'. Knowing the meaning of a term is a matter of being in a certain pyschological state in the narrow sense.
We can therefore also strengthen (3) to:
  • 3'. The extension that a term has for a given speaker is determined by that speaker's psychological state in the narrow sense.
  • 4. Hence, if two speakers are in the same psychological state in the narrow sense, then each term they understand must have the same extension for them.
It is (4) that is the target of the examples that follow.

On pp. 138-9, Putnam argues that Frege's insistence that senses are public and objective is really irrelevant to the central issues. Why? And does that seem right?

What follows, on pp. 139-42, is the now famous "Twin Earth" thought experiment. Putnam has us imagine a distant planet that is exactly like Earth except that what's in the lakes, etc, isn't H2O but something else: XYZ. The argument then proceeds in a few steps:

  1. If astronauts today were to visit Twin Earth, they'd report back that there was no water in the lakes there, but some other substance, XYZ, and that the Twin Earth term "water" didn't mean water at all, but 'twater' (which is XYZ).
  2. Even before the advent of chemistry, it was still true that, on Earth, "water" was true only of H2O and, by parity, on Twin Earth, only of XYZ.
  3. Now let Twin Oscar be Oscar's physical duplicate on Twin Earth in 1750. Then Oscar and his Twin are in the same psychological state in the narrow sense, but the term "water" has different extensions for them.
As Putnam notes, it's crucial to this particular thought experiment that "water" is a "natural kind term": It's a presupposition of our use of it that we use it to pick out a certain kind of stuff; water is whatever is the same kind of stuff as typical examples of water. And what "same kind of stuff" means will not necessarily be obvious but require empirical investigation.

It is often pointed out that, since people are mostly water, there is no way that Twin Oscar can be a physical duplicate of Oscar. How serious is this worry?

The conclusion we are meant to draw from this example is that the extension that a word has for a particular speaker can depend upon facts about the physical environment in which she lives. More precisely, much as with Kripke, the thought is that what extension a term has for someone is in part a matter of causal relationships between her and her physical environment. This view is nowadays known as (semantic) externalism, in contrast to internalism, which is the view Putnam is arguing against.

On p. 143, Putnam introduces another now-famous example, which he takes to be of roughly the same form. Putnam says that he cannot personally tell elms from beeches (though let's assume he can tell them from other sorts of trees), then claims that his "concept" of a beech is the same as his "concept" of an elm. (I take it that he means he has the same beliefs about each, so that the "cluster of descriptions" he associates with each is the same.) Nonetheless, Putnam claims, his word "elm" applies only to elms and his word "beech" applies only to beeches: If he points at a beech and says "That's an elm", he speaks falsely. But there is a different Twin Earth on which the words "elm" and "beech" are switched, so that Twin Putnam's word "elm" applies to beeches.

Putnam takes this example to show "that there is a division of linguistic labor" (p. 144): People who do not know how to identify elms and beeches (or whatever) can depend upon people who do, and the extension the word has for me can be determined by the extension it has for the "experts". Thus, as in the original Twin Earth case, the lesson is supposed to be that a person's "individual psychological state...does not fix [the] extension" of a term that is subject to a division of linguistic labor (p. 146).

So the conclusion we are meant to draw from this sort of example is that the extension a word has for a particular speaker can depend upon the social environment in which she lives. This view is nowadays known as anti-individualism, in contrast to individualism, which is the view Putnam is arguing against.

Like the H2O–XYZ example, the one Putnam uses to argue for anti-indvidualism also involves "natural kind" terms: "elm" and "beech", which are of course names of types of trees. Can you come up with a similar example that doesn't involve natural kind terms? Can you come up with an example that might be used to argue for externalism that doesn't involve natural kind terms?

Suppose Putnam is correct that (1) and (2) above are incompatible. Which should be jettisoned? Should we conclude that knowing the meaning of a term is not just a matter of being in a certain psychological state in the narrow sense? I.e., that Oscar and Twin Oscar disagree about what "water" means? Or should we conclude that intension does not determine extension? I.e., that "water" means the same for them, but applies to different things? For that matter, is either option comfortable?

Putnam largely seems to run together issues about externalism (the role of the physical environment) and issues about anti-individualism (the role of the social environment) in this paper. It took some time for these to be disentangled. The locus classicus for the distinction, and for a careful formulation of the arguments for anti-individualism, is Tyler Burge's paper "Individualism and the Mental", Midwest Studies in Philosophy 4 (1979), pp. 73-121 (Wiley Online, DjVu).

18 March

Brian Loar, "Social Content and Psychological Content", in R.H. Grimm and D.D. Merrill, eds, Contents of Thoughts (Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1988), pp. 99-197 (DjVu)

Optional: Brie Gertler, "Understanding the Internalism-Externalism Debate", Philosophical Perspectives 26 (2012), pp. 51-75 (DjVu, Wiley Online); Katalin Farkas, "What Is Externalism?" Philosophical Studies 112 (2003), pp.187-208 (DjVu, JSTOR); Curtis Brown, "Narrow Content", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Show Questions

It was quickly realized, after "The Meaning of 'Meaning'" was published, that Putnam's point extends naturally from language to belief. (See, e.g., Colin McGinn, "Charity, Interpretation, and Belief", Journal of Philosophy, 74 (1977), pp. 521–535 (PhilPapers).) So most people who found Putnam's arguments appealing concluded that Oscar and Twin Oscar not only mean different things by the word "water" but actually have different beliefs: Oscar believes that water is wet, but Twin Oscar has no such belief; he, rather, believes that twater is wet. If so, then ordinary psychological states are not "psychological states in the narrow sense". Indeed, many concluded that there are no "psychological states in the narrow sense".

It is against this sort of view that Loar argues here. He wants to concede that Putnam has a point as far as language is concerned, but deny that the point extends to what he calls "psychological content". More precisely, he takes Putnam to have a point about what we might call "attitude ascription": the way we report or describe the mental states of other people. As a matter of linguistic usage, it would be wrong for us to say "Twin Oscar believes that water is wet". But Loar denies that we should conclude that the beliefs Twin Oscar expresses using the word "water" have a different psychological content from Oscar's. The 'that-clause' that water is wet simply does not, according to Loar, pick out what Twin Oscar actually believes.

Loar explains his notion of psychological content at the very beginning of the paper:

By psychological content I shall mean whatever individuates beliefs and other propositional attitudes in commonsense psychological explanation, so that they explanatorily interact with each other and with other factors such as perception in familiar ways. (p. 99)
The key point here is that claims about psychological content are supposed to be responsive to the needs of psychological explanation.

Loar insists, on several occasions, that his focus is on "commonsense" psychological explanation, by which he means the sort of explanation of people's actions in which we engage on an everyday basis. A similar but different thesis would focus on the sort of explanation that might be given in scientific psychology. For that sort of view, see Jerry Fodor, "Methodological Solipsism Considered as a Research Strategy in Cognitive Psychology", in his RePresentations (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1983), pp. 225-53) (DjVu). My own view, for what it's worth, is that Fodor's approach is preferable.

Loar sketches three sorts of arguments against particular theses about psychological content, the second being an argument due to Tyler Burge that has much the same structure as the Twin Earth case. Loar sees this argument as directed against the thesis that psychological content is determined by "conceptual or cognitive-functional roles". It does not matter for our purposes exactly what that means. (If you want to know, read section 4.2 of the SEP article on narrow content.) What matters is that this view is a form of internalism and individualism.

Loar takes these sorts of arguments to rest upon two sorts of assumptions:

  1. Sameness of de dicto or oblique ascription implies sameness of psychological content.
  2. Difference of de dicto or oblique ascription implies difference of psychological content.
Here, "de dicto" or "oblique" ascriptions are "notional" ascriptions, in Quine's sense: Ones that resist substitution of identicals.

One of the two theses (A) and (B) is implausible if the sort of ascription at issue is de re or relational. Which? In the case of the other thesis, one might actually think that Putnam's argument only needs the de re version. Why?

Loar begins his counter-argument by recounting an example due to Kripke (in "A Puzzle about Belief" (PhilPapers)). The example concerns a character Pierre who does not realize that "London" and "Londres" are the same place. It seems difficult for us to describe Pierre's beliefs: It seems right to say that he believes London is pretty, and also to say that he believes London is not pretty. But, Loar insists, it just seems obvious that Pierre has two different beliefs, because they "interact differently with other beliefs in ordinary psychological explanation". Thus, Loar thinks, the facts about Pierre's beliefs and the facts about how one might correctly report them come apart.

Loar gives one example, on p. 103, to illustrate what he means by the claim that Pierre's two beliefs "interact differently with other beliefs in ordinary psychological explanation". Give another such example. What work if any is being done by the phrase "in ordinary psychological explanation"?

Loar goes on to say that Pierre not only has two beliefs, but that "it...seems quite appropriate to regard them as distinct in content". Does he have an argument for this claim? If so, what is it? (See also p. 105.)

On pp. 102-5, Loar gives several arguments against thesis (A). Our main interest will be in (B), however, which he begins discussing at the bottom of p. 105. He focuses on a claim of Burge's that is parallel to the sort of claim for which Putnam argues using the elm–beech example. Burge has us imagine a Twin Earth on which "arthritis" means not rheumatoid inflammation of the joints but rather rheumatoid inflammation more generally, so that on Twin Earth one can truly say: Bert has arthritis in his thigh. Bert, however, knows very little about arthritis other than this his grandmother had it, that it's painful, and so forth: too little to determine for himself what it is. And of course the same is true of Bert's twin. So, like Putnam, Burge claims that, even if Bert and Twin Bert are internally identical, it is wrong to say that Twin Bert believes he has arthritis (rather than 'tharthristis') in his thigh.

Loar claims, to the contrary, that the contents of Bert's and Twin Bert's beliefs about what they each call "arthritis" are the same, "because they have the same potential for explanatory interaction with other beliefs" (p. 106). And he makes the same claim about Oscar and Twin Oscar's beliefs about water. Loar claims to find this account "intuitive", but also argues for it using two sorts of examples.

A real-life version of the first (mentioned by Gabriel Segal) concerns the word "pie". In Britain, something is only rightly called a "pie" if it has a crust on top. So, in Britain, a Key Lime Pie is not called a "pie" but rather a "tart". Suppose Bert reguarly travels between Britain and America—perhaps he lives in both, as well—and is unaware of this difference. Loar would claim here that, although the word "pie" seems to be ambiguous in Bert's mouth, he has just one belief that, say, pies are tasty.

Suppose Bert wrongly believes that the word "arthritis" is ambiguous: He thinks there are two different sorts of diseases, both called "arthritis". What would Loar have us say about Bert's beliefs in this case? How might such a case be thought to put pressure on Loar's claim that Bert and Twin Bert have the same beliefs?

The second sort of example concerns a case in which one is given a diary written by someone who is either from Earth or Twin Earth, but one does not know which. In it, we find: "I think I might have arthritis". What does Loar want to say about this case? How is that supposed to answer Burge and Putnam?

Loar considers two sorts of objections to his view:

  1. Oscar's belief is true in different circumstances from those in which Twin Oscar's is true. So the "narrow content" that Oscar and Twin Oscar share is not "intentional" or "representational".
  2. There is no sensible way to say what the common content of Oscar's and Twin Oscar's common belief is.

On pp. 107-8, Loar sketches but does not develop a response to the first objection. The locus classicus for this sort of view, which is known as a "two-factor theory", is probably Ned Block, "Advertisement for a Semantics for Psychology", Midwest Studies in Philosophy 10 (1986), pp. 615-78 (DjVu).

Loar's main response to objection (1), given on pp. 108-9, is that, even if we do not know whether "The water is cold today" was written on Earth or Twin Earth, we still know how the world would need to be for the description to be true. So there is a set of possible worlds in which it would be true, which Loar calls the realization condition for the belief. Which worlds are those worlds? (Remember that they have to be worlds that work for both Oscar and Twin Oscar.)

Loar's response to objection (2), given on pp. 109-10, is that, even if that-clauses do not specify realization conditions—which are all that are needed for ordinary psychological explanation—we have other methods by which we can express them. What are these? The obvious objection here is that ordinary psychological explanation certainly seems to proceed in terms of attributions of beliefs, etc, made using ordinary that-clauses. (Just think about how we actually explain other people's behavior.) How worrying should that objection be?

20 March


Second short paper due

23-27 March

No class: Spring Break!

30 March

David Kaplan, "Dthat", in P. Cole, ed., Pragmatics (New York: Academic Press, 1978), pp. 221-43 (DjVu)

Optional: Davis Lewis, "Index, Context, and Content", in Philosophical Papers, Volume 1 (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 21-44 (DjVu). Kaplan's ideas are developed in much greater detail in his paper "Demonstratives", in J. Almog, J. Perry, and H. Wettstein, eds., Themes From Kaplan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 481-563 (PhilPapers Archive, DjVu). Note that this paper actually dates to 1977. The paper "Afterthoughts", on pp. 656-614 of the same volume (DjVu), contains later reflections on these issues.

Second short paper returned

Show Questions

At the beginning of the paper, Kaplan recounts some of the developments in what he dubs the "Golden Age of Semantics". In particular, he explains why proper names came to be treated as descriptions: largely for Russell's reasons. But, he notes, the development of intensional logic put pressure on this view, largely as a result of problems surrounding quantification into intensional contexts. The issue—which we have encountered earlier, in Quine and Marcus—is, as Kaplan puts it:

Under what circumstances does a given individual, taken as value of `x, satisfy th[e] formula ["John asserted that x is a spy"? Answer: If the appropriate singular proposition was the content of John's assertive utterance. (pp. 225-6)
Kaplan goes on to explain his notion of singular proposition. The presentation is a bit idiosyncratic.

Some spy is smart. <<'Some', spyhood>, smartness>
Every spy is smart. <<'Every', spyhood>, smartness>
The spy is smart. <<'The', spyhood>, smartness>
John is smart. <John, smartness>

The details of how Kaplan is representing quantifier phrases do not much matter (viz., the idea that the quantifier words are syncategorematic). What does matter is that the last sentence, "John is smart", is being treated very differently from the others: as expressing a proposition that contains John himself.

The difference manifests itself when when we evaluate these propositions at different possible worlds. If we ask whether <<'Some', spyhood>, smartness> is true in some given world, we are asking a question about the things in that world that are spies and are smart, namely: Is there anything that is both? By contrast, if we want evaluate the proposition <John, smartness> at a given possible world, then Kaplan thinks this amounts to asking, quite simply, whether John is smart in that world.

One might have thought that we could also ask whether the person who is John in that world is smart in that world. Is that different? Why or why not?

One might well say that the notion of a singular proposition has rigidity 'built into it'. Why? And in what sense?

This leads Kaplan to the statement of the view he wants to defend:

...[S]ome or all of the denoting phrases used in an utterance should not be considered part of the content of what is said but should rather be thought of as contextual factors which help us to interpret the actual physical utterance as having a certain content. (p. 228)
The main payoff of making this move is what it allows us to say about the semantics of demonstratives ("this", "that") and indexicals ("I", "here", "now").

My own view—and, I think, the general view—is that the examples Kaplan initially uses to motivate this idea, on pp. 228-9, are poorly chosen. The examples primarily concern various sorts of ambiguity, which has nothing to do with context-sensitivity. But this point will not matter to us, and there is a way in which the examples can be help one at least get an initial idea what sort of distinction Kaplan wants to make.

At the bottom of p. 229, then, Kaplan turns to the case of demonstratives, such as "that book" or "this man". There is a pronominal use of such expressions—as in "If you see someone who needs help, then give that man a hand"—which Kaplan sets aside. He is interested, rather, in what we might call the "referring" use of demonstratives and which he calls the "demonstrative" use, which (he says) is typically associated with a "demonstration" that serves somehow to pick out the referent of the uttered demonstrative. The central question in which Kaplan is interested can then be put as follows: What sort of contribution to the proposition expressed does the demonstration (e.g., pointing) make?

There are two possible views.

  1. We can take the demonstration to be a contextual factor that helps to determine the content of the utterance. The content itself is then a singular proposition.
  2. We can make the demonstration part of the content of the utterance, so that the content is a general proposition, e.g.: The thing at which I am pointing is suspicious.
Kaplan suggests that the former is the correct analysis, but he sets the issue aside and adopts a strategy not unlike the one Kripke uses in "Speaker's Reference and Semantic Reference": He stipulates that the word "dthat", in his mouth, will have the semantics stated by (1), and then explores what that would be like. So a sentence of the form "Dthat['the F'] is G" will express the singular proposition <a, G>, where a the object that is the unique F.

Tough question: How does "dthat['the F']" compare to the actualized description "the actual F"? (There is some debate about this.)

There follows, on pp. 235-8, an extremely convoluted, and therefore difficult, discussion of the relation between an utterance, its meaning, and its content. (It's worth the effort to try to understand Kaplan's discussion, but if it's too difficult just skip to the top of p. 238.) The distinction towards which Kaplan is moving here is now known as the distinction between the context of utterance and the world of evaluation. Here's the gist of the argument.

First, consider an "eternal" sentence like "The President of the United States on 10 March 2015 speaks Spanish". The truth-value of this sentence does not depend upon the time at which it is uttered. Its truth-value does, of course, depend upon the facts: There are some ways the world could be that would make it true and others that would make it false. So one might think of its meaning as being its "truth-condition", which we can represent as a function from possible worlds to truth-values (the truth-value the sentence has in that world).

Now consider a "fugitive" sentence such as "The President of the United States speaks Spanish". The truth-value of this sentence will vary with the time at which it is uttered (who the President is then), as well as with other facts (what languages that person speaks). So in this case one might think of the meaning of the sentence as a function from worlds and times to truth-values.

Kaplan thinks this idea (which traces to Richard Montague) is right, in a way, but that it misses an important subtlety. Suppose I say now, "The President of the United States is a woman". Then what I say is false. Might what I said have been true? One might think so: Hilary Clinton might have been the President instead. But, and here's the point: It does not show that what I said might have been true that Hilary Clinton might be the President in 2018, so that I might truly utter the sentence "The President of the United States is a woman" three years from now. The utterance of the sentence that I make now fixes its "temporal co-ordinate", so to speak, so that what I say when I utter the sentence now is not "fugitive" or "time-relative" but "eternal", almost as if I'd explicitly added "in 2015".

The best sort of example of this sort of phenomenon is a sentence like "I am here now", which Kaplan mentions on p. 237. This sentence is context-dependent along even more dimensions: not just time of utterance, but also location and speaker. But any utterance of this sentence will be true. So, if one thinks of its meaning as a function from speakers, times, locations, and worlds to truth-values, then its meaning is the "constant function" that is always true. But that, again, seems to miss something important. Suppose I now utter "I am here now". Then if we ask whether what I said might have been false, the answer seems to be "Yes, of course". I might have been somewhere else. So, Kaplan would suggest, we should think of the context in which I make my utterance as fixing its various contextual parameters—speaker, time, location—so that the content of my utterance ends up being something like: RH is in his study at 2:21 EDT on 10 March 2015. The content is not the same as that of: The person making this utterance is where this utterance is being made at the time this utterance is being made.

Actually, it is easy to think of cases in which an utterance of "I am here now" would not be true. Can you think of one? Alternatively, can you think of utterances of "I am not here now" that might be true? (The bearing of this phenomenon on Kaplan's theory is not entirely clear, however, so ignore it henceforth.)

Thus, Kaplan thinks that there is a sense in which "I" means: the person making this utterance. But that description only fixes the reference of "I" on a given occasion; it does not "give the meaning", in Kripke's sense.

This is why Kaplan says at the bottom of p. 238 that it would be better to think of the meaning of a fugitive sentence as a function from "contexts" to contents, that is: from the circumstances in which an utterance might be made to the proposition an utterance of that sentence would express if made in those circumstances.

In his later writings, Kaplan distinguises between content and what he calls character. The latter is supposed to capture the notion of "the meaning of a word". So the content of any given utterance of "I" will just be a person, but the character of "I" is a function from contexts of utterance to people: from contexts to the person uttering "I". Similarly, the character of "now" is a function from contexts to times (the time "now" is being uttered); the character of "yesterday" is a function from contexts to days (the day before it is being uttered); and so forth.

All of this is supposed to help us better understand the difference between:

  1. The President in 2015 speaks Spanish.
  2. Dthat['the President in 2015'] speaks Spanish.
What's puzzling is that, on the one hand, according to Kaplan, these sentences express different sorts of propositions (general vs singular). But, on the other hand, in any given world, an utterance of (i) will be true if, and only if, the corresponding utterance of (ii) would be true. If we think of meaning of a sentence S, then, as a function from worlds to truth values that gives you the truth-value a sentence would have if uttered in that world, then (i) and (ii) have the same meaning. But, Kaplan says, that is a mistake: The meaning of a sentence should be thought of as a function from worlds to contents, and the content of an utterance of (i) is different from the content of an utterance of (ii) in the same situation, even though those utterances will always have the same truth-value.

Kaplan suggests that his machinery helps us make proper sense of Donnellan's distinction between referential and attributive uses. How so? And to what extent? (Hint: Does Kaplan agree with Donnellan that "the man drinking champagne" can be used to refer to someone who is not drinking champagne?)

Finally, Kaplan discusses a question that has been in the background of much of his discussion, namely: How exactly is the referent of an uttered demonstrative, such as "that picture", determined? There are three options:

  1. The demonstrative refers to the object to which the speaker intends to refer.
  2. The demonstrative refers to the object that various 'contextual cues' would lead a "linguistically competent public observer" to pick out.
  3. Kaplan's own view: (2), but with intentions playing a limited "disambiguating" role if the demonstration itself is too vague.
We'll spend some time discussing this issue in our next class, when we read Marga Reimer's paper "Demonstratives, Demonstrations, and Demonstrata", so do not worry too much about it for now.

1 April

Marga Reimer, "Demonstratives, Demonstrations, and Demonstrata", Philosophical Studies 63 (1991), pp. 187-202 (DjVu, JSTOR)

Optional: David Kaplan, "Afterthoughts", in J. Almog, J. Perry, and H. Wettstein, eds., Themes From Kaplan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 565-614 (DjVu). Section II, on pp. 582-90, is what is relevant for our purposes.

There is now a very large literature on this issue—which this paper in some ways started. For some relevant work. For a response to Reimer, see Susanna Siegel, "The Role of Perception in Demonstrative Reference", Philosophers' Imprint 2:1 (2002), pp. 1-21 (PDF). For some recent work, see Allyson Mount, "Intentions, Gestures, and Salience in Ordinary and Deferred Demonstrative Reference", Mind and Language 23 (2008), pp. 145–164 (PhilPapers); Jeffrey C. King, "Speaker Intentions in Context", Noûs 48 (2014), pp. 219-237 (PhilPapers); and my own "Semantics and Context-Dependence: Towards a Strawsonian Account", in A. Burgess and B. Sherman, eds., Metasemantics: New Essays on the Foundations of Meaning (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 327-64 (PDF).

Show Questions

At the end of "Dthat", Kaplan briefly discusses the question how the referent of an uttered demonstrative is determined. He mentions three options:

  1. The demonstrative refers to the object to which the speaker intends to refer.
  2. The demonstrative refers to the object that various 'contextual cues'—including particularly the demonstration (e.g,. pointing) that typically accompanies an utterance of a demonstrative—would lead a "linguistically competent public observer" to pick out.
  3. The referent is primarily determined by 'contextual cues', but the speaker's intentions help "disambiguate" vague demonstrations.
In "Dthat", Kaplan endorses (3). In later writing, however—in particular, in "Afterthoughts" (see above)—he abandons that view in favor of (1).

Reimer here argues that Kaplan ought not to have changed his mind. More precisely, she wants to argue that the demonstrations that typically accompany utterances of demonstratives play at least some role in determining to what the uttered demonstrative refers. The discussion here is limited, as Reimer notes, to so-called "perceptual demonstratives", where the uttered demonstrative is supposed to pick out some object that both the speaker and her audience can perceive.

Reimer claims that there are three sorts of cases that pose a problem for (1):

  1. Cases in which the speaker clearly demonstrates some object other than the one to which they intend to refer.
  2. Cases in which there is a demonstration but there is no "directing intention".
  3. Cases in which there is a "directing intention" but there is no associated demonstration.
As Reimer notes, such cases are exactly the sorts of cases at which one needs to look to decide the dispute between the three views mentioned above: They are precisely cases in which the predictions made by those views come apart.

As sensible as this last suggestion may seem, one might for other reasons think it odd to build one's account of demonstrative reference around cases that are "unusual" or "atypical". This sort of issue arises several time throughout the paper. I'll not ask a question about this, as the question would be very vague and difficult. But if anyone wants to think about this....

The first sort of case Reimer considers involves her grabbing a set of keys and saying "These are mine", but just as she says this she mistakenly grabs a set of keys next to hers. Surely, Reimer says, in this case, her intention to refer to her own keys does not make it the case that she does so.

Reimer's discussion of this case is very brief. She seems to regard it as a straightforward refutation of view (1). Is it? What responses might be open to a defender of that view? (Is it true, in the example Reimer gives, that she does not intend to refer to the keys she picks up?)

The second sort of case Reimer considers is the Carnap–Agnew case that Kaplan introduced in "Dthat". Reimer claims that such cases pose a problem for view (1) for two reasons. First, there is no "directing intention", since Kaplan requires such an intention to be directed at a perceived object. So, second, since Kaplan's version of view (1) was only supposed to apply when there is a directing intention, we need some other account of what fixes the reference in this case. Presumably, it is the demonstration. But, as Reimer says, if the demonstration plays such a role when there isn't a directing intention, why shouldn't it also play a role when there is one?

As Reimer notes, Kaplan could respond to the first worry by broadening the notion of a "directing intention" so that it might be directed at unperceived objects. How plausible might that be? What are her worries about this move? (And is it true, in the example Kaplan gives, that he does not intend to refer to the picture behind him?)

If the response to the first worry just mentioned works, then the second worry evaporates. Why?

In the third sort of case Reimer considers, one makes a demonstrative utterance, such as "That dog is Fido", but makes no demonstration at all. Reimer takes it to be intuitive in this case that one does not manage to refer to any dog at all. She also gives a more theoretical argument in favor of this claim: that "that", as it functions in "that dog", is an adjective, playing the same sort of role as "spotted", so that "that dog" is co-referential with "the dog I am demonstrating".

Reimer's account seems to entail that "that F" can never appropriately be uttered without an accompanying demonstration. Is that true? Can you think of any counterexamples to this claim?

Note that answering this question seems to presuppose our getting somewhat clearer about what a "demonstration" is supposed to be. So what are demonstrations exactly?

3 April

John Perry, "Frege on Demonstratives", Philosophical Review 86 (1977), pp. 474-497 (DjVu, JSTOR)

Optional: Gottlob Frege, "The Thought", tr. by A.M. and Marcelle Quinton, Mind 65 (1956), pp. 289-311 (JSTOR).

Show Questions

This paper builds in many ways upon ideas in Kaplan's paper "Dthat". The fundamental question is whether Frege can give a reasonable account of demonstrative reference.

Perry begins by explaining certain key doctrines to which he takes Frege to have been committed:

  1. If A understands S and T, and accepts S as true while not accepting T as true, then S and T have different senses.
  2. If S is true and T is not, then S and T express different thoughts.
  3. If "A believes S" is true, and "A believes T" is not, then S and T do not have the same indirect reference.
  4. S and T have different senses iff they express different thoughts iff they have different indirect references.
What Perry will argue is that not all of these claims can be true together when the sentences in question involve indexicals, such as "I" and "today". Claims (1) and (2), and the identification in the first part of (4), are what will matter.

Perry calls all of the expressions in which he is interested "demonstratives", but it is standard nowadays to reserve that term for expressions like "that" and "this dog". Words like "I", "here", and "yesterday" are instead known as indexicals.

On pp. 477-8, Perry notes (and this is a point Frege makes himself) that sentences do not always express thoughts. Some sentences are "incomplete" in themselves, and what thought they express will vary from case to case. The example Perry gives is "Russia and Canada quarreled", which is 'incomplete' as to the time at which the quarrel is alleged to have occurred. The sense the sentence has in its own right, then, is similarly 'incomplete', and the sense an utterance of it expresses on any given occasion will depend upon how that sense is 'completed'.

Frege, Perry says, thinks of context-dependent utterances in the same way: the sentence uttered—e.g., "Russia and Canada quarrelled today"—does not itself express a thought, but only does so in light the conditions under which the utterance is made. So "today", together with the circumstances of utterance, must provide a "completing sense". And the problem, as Perry sees it, is that this does not seem possible, given Frege's other views about sense.

If "today" always had the same sense, then different utterances of "Russia and Canada quarrelled today" would always have the same sense and so express the same thought. But they can't, since different utterances of that sentence can have different truth-values and so, by (2) above, must express different thoughts. Hence, it must be that "today" expresses different senses when uttered on different days.

Now something about "today" does change from day to day, namely, which day an utterance of it would refer to: It is a feature of what "today" means that any given utterance of it will refer to the day on which it is uttered; similarly, it is a feature of what "I" means that utterances of it refer to the person who utters it. Perry calls this rule mapping utterances to referents the role of the word. (It is clearly of a piece with Kaplan's notion of character.) The important point here is that the role gives us only a reference. But Frege needs it to do more—or, at least, he needs something to do more: Not just a reference but also a sense must somehow be provided on any given occasion of utterance. The question is how this is supposed to happen.

Perry considers three options open to Frege.

The first is to take the sense associated with a given utterance of "today" just to be its role. The problem with this proposal is that the sense of a given utterance of "Russia and Canada quarrelled today" will then always be the same, and that violates (2) above, as said already.

What is new in this discussion is the idea that sentences can have roles, not just indexicals. And whether that will help Frege or not, one might wonder if it's a useful extension of the notion. Perry's presentation of the idea is a bit compressed. Can you spell it out in more detail?

The second option is to introduce a somewhat coarser-grained notion of a thought. Perry explains this notion in terms of what he calls "informational equivalence", but one might better think of such thoughts as a hybrid of Fregean and Russellian ideas. Consider the sentence "Tony loves Alex". Frege would have us think of the thought expressed by such a sentence as something like:

<sense of 'Tony', sense of 'loves', sense of 'Alex'>
Russell would think of the proposition expressed as:
<Tony, loving, Alex>
The proposal under consideration is that Frege might take the sense of "I love Alex", as uttered by me, to be:
<RH, sense of 'loves', sense of 'Alex'>
The role of "I", though it doesn't get us a sense for my utterance of it, does at least get us a referent, and so will get us one of these hybrids.

The main objection Perry raises against this suggestion is that it violates principle (1) above. The example he gives is the now famous Enterprise example.

Painting of Frege by Renee Bollinger.
(You can also get it on a mug, or tote bag, or clock, or...,
and there are many other philosophers to choose from, as well!)

The corresponding view in this case would have both utterances of "That ship is an aircraft carrier" express

<Enterprise, sense of 'aircraft carrier'>
But, as Perry notes, one could believe one and not the other, so the utterances need to have different senses.

Perry gives an additional example, involving "today", but (to my mind) it is not terribly convincing. Can you think of better examples involving other indexicals, e.g., "here", "now", "you", "there"? Is it possible to come up with such an example for "I"?

The third option, then, is to try to find some way to let the sense expressed by an indexical on a given occasion vary. Perry supposes that, whatever the sense is on a given occasion, it has to be expressible by some description that picks out the right day. The central objection to this move is that there simply isn't any non-indexical description that will have the same sense as a given utterance of "today". For any non-indexical description of a day "the F", it seems one could coherently doubt that today is the one and only one day that is F. If so, then "the F" and that utterance of "today" must have different senses. Similar problems arise with other indexicals, such as "I": For any non-indexical description "the F" of me, I could coherently doubt whether I am the F.

As Perry notes, this sort of point is originally due to Hector-Neri Castañeda. See the references in note 5. Perry himself develops it in more detail in his paper "The Problem of the Essential Indexical", Noûs 13 (1979), pp. 3-21 (JSTOR).

The objections Perry brings against this view—especially the first two—should remind you of objections Kripke brought against the description theory of reference-fixing. Which ones?

Perry goes on to suggest, in section II, that Frege was led by these problems to the view, which he expresses in "The Thought", that the sense each of us associates with our own utterances of "I" is primitive, idiosyncratic, and incommunicable.

Perry expresses some consternation about how this might be true, largely because he continues to insist that, whatever this sense might be, it must involve some description I have of myself. As we'll see with Evans, that is questionable. That does not of course mean that Frege's suggestion is easy to understand. Again, Evans will try to make some sense of it.

Perry's main worry about this proposal is that it's hard to see how to extend this idea to other cases, such as "now". Or, rather: It's clear enough how to do so, but it implies that "Frege will have to have, for each time, a primitive and particular way in which it is presented to us at that time, which gives rise to thoughts accessible only at that time, and expressible, at it, with 'now'" (p. 491). And Perry thinks that isn't plausible at all.

Perry doesn't say much about why he thinks that claim is implausible. Why might one?

In section III, Perry sketches an alternative to Frege's treatment. The sense of a sentence, as Perry wants us to think of it, is not the thought the sentence expresses; rather, it helps to determine that thought. So Hume can 'entertain the sense' of the sentence "I am British" and thereby have a belief with the content:

<Hume, being British>
Heimson, on the other hand, cannot have a belief with this same content by entertaining that same sense, but only by entertaining some other sense. Senses, for Perry, are thus roles, as suggested in the first of the options he offered Frege; and thoughts are the hybrids presented in the second option. But Perry doesn't have the same problems Frege does, because he is not committed to (1)–(4) above.

Perry is clear that he wants to reject (4): the identification of senses with thoughts. What should he say about (1)–(3)?

On p. 494, Perry briefly discusses the way in which senses and thoughts, as he understands them, do and do not figure in the explanation of people's behavior. How do the views he expresses here relate to those in Loar's paper?

On pp. 495-6, Perry considers how his view might handle the sort of case Frege uses to motivate the distinction between sense and reference. In his example, Mary says in the morning "I believe that is the Morning Star" and in the evening "I believe that is not the Morning Star". How does Perry's view do with a slightly different example, in which Mary says in the evening, "I do not believe that is the Morning Star"?

6 April


Revised second short paper due

8 April

Gareth Evans, "Understanding Demonstratives" (DjVu)

You can skip or skim: (i) the historical discussion beginning with the last paragraph on p. 296 through the middle of p. 300; (ii) the discussion of the "difficulty" beginning at the bottom of p. 304 through the end of section III; (iii) the whole of section IV.

Optional: Michael Dummett, "Frege's Distinction Between Sense and Reference", in Truth and Other Enigmas (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1978), pp. 116-44 (DjVu)

Evans's views on these topics are developed in much more detail in his book Varieties of Reference.

Show Questions

In this paper, Evans responds to Perry's criticisms of Frege and develops a Fregean account of the senses of demonstratives and indexicals.

Evans first recounts the arguments in Perry's paper, noting that the crucial assumption is "that a Fregean sense of any singular term must be either the sense of a definite description or 'intimately related' to such a sense" (p. 292). He then goes on, in the second section, to elaborate a conception of sense that he claims has no such commitment.

Evans's discussion is extremely abstract, but the central idea is fairly easy to understand. Consider the terms "Hesperus" and "Phosphorous". To understand such a term, Evans says, one must know what it refers to: "an understanding of the language must be capable of being regarded as involving knowledge of the semantic values of expressions" (p. 293). If so, however, then one might worry that understanding these two terms would involve the very same thing: knowing that they refer to Venus. But, Evans says, "Frege's idea was that to understand an expression, one must not merely think of the reference that it is the reference, but that one must, in so thinking, think of the reference in a particular way" and the sense of the expression is the particular way in which one must think of its referent to undrestand that expression (p. 294). So there is a particular way one must think of Hepersus (=Venus) in order to understand the expression "Hesperus", and a different way in which one must think of Phosphorous.

Evans says that, at this stage, we may leave the notion of a "way of thinking" at an pre-theoretical level. But he also indicates that he has a more sophisticated notion in mind.

If the intuitive notion needs to be supplemented, we can appeal to the general idea of an account of what makes it the case that a thought is about the object which it is about; two people will then be thinking of an object in the same way if and only if the account of what makes the one person’s thought about that object is the same as the account of what makes the other person’s thought about that object. (p. 294)
Evans does not say much more about this idea yet, but it will become important later.

A particularly important idea here is that, on this conception, sense is, in a certain respect, not independent of reference: "If sense is a way of thinking of reference, we should not expect to be given the sense of an expression save in the course of being given the reference of that expression" (p. 294). This leads to the idea that it is perfectly consistent with Frege's ideas to recognize what Evans calls "Russellian singular terms": terms that could not have the sense they do without also having a referent (p. 296). And that idea will play a crucial role in what follows.

Evans tends to talk of Russellian terms as ones that could not have the sense they do without having some referent. But most interpreters have concluded that what he really means is: without having the very referent they do. So the senses of Russellian terms are specific to a particular referent.

On pp. 301-3, Evans argues in detail that there is no argument from the claim that terms with the same referent can have different senses to the conclusion that those terms are non-Russellian, i.e., that they could have the sense they do without having a referent at all. The issue is whether senses, as Evans understands them, can do the work that Frege needs them to do: explain differences of cognitive value. Evans says that they will, so long as his principle (P) is satisfied:

If the account of what makes a subject’s thought T1 (about x to the effect that it is F) about x is different from the account of what makes his thought T2 (about x to the effect that it is F) about x, it is possible for the subject coherently to take, at one and the same time, different epistemic attitudes towards the thoughts he entertains in T1 and in T2. (p. 301)
Evans claims that (P) is "very plausible" and, more importantly, that there is no reason to believe that the only accounts that could satisfy (P) would involve the subject having some identifying description of x.

The evaluation of principle (P) obviously depends, to a large extent, upon how the notion of an "account of what makes a thought about the object it is about" is spelled out, and we'll get more help with that notion later in the paper. But Evans does seem to think that, even absent such details, (P) is plausible. Is it? Why or why not?

In section III, Evans begins his positive account of what the sense associated with a given utterance of "today" might be. Evans's first point is that of course there is a particular way one must think of a given day in order to be thinking of it as 'today': not any way of thinking of that day will do. This does not by itself help us to understand what way that is, or what 'ways of thinking' are, in general. But Evans goes on to link this way of thinking of a day with certain cognitive dispositions that a thinker might have. The idea, I think, is clearer with "here": To think of a place as here is, in part, to be disposed to judge thoughts about 'here' as true or false on the basis of one's perceptions of where one is. One can have this disposition with respect to a given place simply by being there; in particular, one does not need to be able to identify it by description.

We'll not discuss section IV. It is on 'cognitive dynamics', and is interesting, but there is too much in this paper for us to discuss everything.

In section V, Evans turns his attention briefly to "I"-thoughts. There are two main topics of discussion. The first (pp. 312-4) is whether the idea of "unshareable" thoughts is so unFregean as to be completely unavailable to Frege. Evans denies that it is.

Evans's main argument here consists in (i) distinguishing shareability from objectivity; (ii) claiming that it is the latter that really matters to Frege, since objectivity is what distinguishes senses from ideas; and (iii) insisting that unshareable thoughts can still be objective. How successful is this argument? What does the objectivity of an unshareable thought consist in?

The second topic concerns the extension of this idea to "now" and "here". As Perry had noted, Frege will need a "primitive" way in which one might think of each time and each place, which Perry derides as "very implausible". Evans responds that there is nothing at all implausible about the idea that certain ways of thinking of objects should only be available if one stands in certain spatial, temporal, or causal relations to those objects (e.g., perceives them).

Evans does not actually talk much about demonstratives (as opposed to indexicals) in this paper—he develops views about this topic in his book Varieties of Reference—but in a way they are the most natural case for his view. The idea would be that, at least for so-called "perceptual" demonstratives, the way of thinking that is associated with them involves connecting that particular thought with certain information one is receiving perceptually. Can you see how this might allow Evans to deal with the Enterprise case?

In section VI, Evans argues that Perry's view is, at best, a "notational variant" of Frege's. Evans uses his own notation to make this point. Let me try to explain it.

(12) <Sense on d of 'today', Sense of '(ξ) is F'>
(13) <λx(R2(x,d)), Sense of '(ξ) is F'>
(14) <d, λxλy(R2(x,y)), Sense of '(ξ) is F'>
(12) is supposed to be a relatively 'standard' way in which one might think of the sense of an utterance, on day d, of "Today is F": It's the pair of the sense "today" has on day d and the sense of the predicate. (13) elaborates this in terms of Evans's idea of senses as "accounts": R2(x,d) is supposed to be the relation in which someone, x, must stand to day d in order to be thinking of d as 'today'; the 'lambda-abstract' λx(R2(x,d)) means: the property of standing in the relation R2 to d. So Evans is thinking of the sense of 'today' on d as the property in which one must stand to d in order to be thinking of d as 'today'. (14) then pulls the first part of (13) apart into two pieces: the day d and the relation λxλy(R2(x,y)) in which one must stand to it to be thinking of it as 'today'.

With this in place, Evans's criticism of Perry is that, when he speaks of entertaining a P-thought 'in a particular way', his view is just a notational variant of Frege's. Why so?

10 April Class canceled due to illness.
13 April

John Campbell, "Sense, Reference and Selective Attention", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 71 (1997), pp. 55-98. (JSTOR, DjVu)

You can skip the paragraph discussing the contrast with Evans on pp. 62-3—and probably should if you have not read Varieties of Reference. You can also skim the discussion of the "causal significance of objects" on pp. 63-5, which we will not discuss. (For those of you who have some familiarity with empirical work on object permanence, it's an interesting question how that might relate to what Campbell is discussing here.)

Campbell's views on these topics are developed in more detail is his book Reference and Consciousness.

Show Questions

A good question to keep in mind as you read this paper: How might Campbell's view allow us to deal with the Enterprise case?

In this paper, Campbell develops a version of the view of perceptual demonstratives that was introduced by Evans in Varieties of Reference (and pressaged in "Understanding Demonstratives"). As it happens, there is much dispute about how to understand Evans's view, and so Campbell's is just one way of developing it. For another, see Michael Martin's contribution to this symposium, "The Shallows of the Mind", which is in the second half of the PDF from JSTOR linked above.

Campbell begins by sketching certain contrasts between "propositional" and "imagistic" content. What he has in mind here is really a contrast between cognitive states, such as belief and desire, and perceptual states, such as seeing and hearing. The larger issue in which he is interested is how to understand the relation between cognition and perception: How, for example, can our visual experience serve to justify our beliefs? But the more specific issue in this paper is how perceptual experience of a thing (e.g., seeing it) can make it possible to think about it (e.g., have beliefs about it) or talk about it (i.e., refer to it).

Campbell observes that simply being able to perceive a thing does not by itself make thought about that thing possible. What one needs as well, he suggests, is to attend to the thing, that is, to focus on it, to select it from the manifold of one's perception "for further processing". (This notion has been much discussed in philosophy. See the Stanford Encylopedia article for an overview. Section 3.2 discusses some of Campbell's views.) In particular, to think demonstratively about an object, one must attend to it perceptually and treat certain of the information one is receiving perceptually as specially relevant to one's demonstrative thoughts about that object.

And, Campbell claims, the "attentional link" does not just connect one's propositional (cognitive) representations of an object with one's imagistic (perceptual) representations of it. Rather, it "is part of what makes the propositions the propositions they are". Or, to put it in more Fregean language, the fact that one is perceiving and attending to the object is part of what gives fixes the sense of one's thoughts about that object, so perceived.

In section II, Campbell focuses on this sort of question: how connections with perception might help us understand the senses of demonstrative thoughts.

As Campbell sees it, the issue raised by Frege's puzzle is really one about when it is permissible to "trade on identity" in making a certain inference without thereby appealing to a suppressed identity premise. So, as he says, the inference from "The Morning Star is F" and "The Morning Star is G" to "The Morning Star is both F and G" seems fine. But the inference from "The Morning Star is F" and "The Evening Star is G" to "The Morning Star is both F and G" seems enthymematic: It relies upon an unstated premise. How is this way of thinking of Frege's puzzle related to the more usual one involving informativity and cognitive significance? (This is not at all obvious.)

How, Campbell asks, "are we to characterize in detail the senses of perceptual demonstratives" (p. 60)? He suggests we answer this question in terms of facts about perceptual attention. Roughly, the idea is that, if two perceptual demonstratives "that tree" are attentionally linked to the very same perceptual information, then the demonstratives will have the same sense. If they are linked to different information, then they will have different senses.

As I have stated it, this is too rough, since the notion of "same perceptual information" needs to be explained. In a strict sense, one might think of perceptual information as time-sensitive and fleeting, so that one could only be using the "same perceptual information" twice if one were using it twice at the same time. Campbell wants (and needs) a more flexible notion. This is why he talks in terms of a "principle of selection being used to isolate some of one's current imagistic information as all relating to one object" (p. 60). What does this 'isolating' is supposed to be attention: If so, then one can see why attention would be essential to demonstrative thought.

Campbell suggests, on the basis of empirical work on perceptual attention, that what "principle of selection" very often involves perceived location, and that this allows us to explain demonstrative Frege cases. How so? How, for example, might it enable us to handle the Enterprise case?

Campbell then contrasts his view with Evans's (pp. 62-3), to which it bears some close relation, and then discusses the role of the "causal significance of objects" in one's thought about them (pp. 63-5). We won't discuss either of these topics, so, as noted above, you can skim this material.

In section III, Campbell discusses similar themes, but in connection with auditory rather than visual perception. So, in this kind of case, we can think about "that man" not because we can see him, but because we can hear him. (E.g., "I sure wish that man wouldn't talk so loudly. I can hear him through the wall!") The issue is whether, in this sort of case, spatial attention—attention whose organizaing prinicple is spatial location—must play the same role that it plays in the case of vision. Campbell argues that there are no good arguments that it must.

The final section ostensibly concerns the phenomenon known as "immunity to error through misidentification". Campbell explains this notion pretty well, though exactly how to understand it is controversial. (See this paper by Jim Pryor if you are interested in this sort of question.) In fact, however, the real topic of this section is whether Campbell's view is descriptivist, and if so how it is different.

How does Campbell think his view differs from a descriptivist one? Is it importantly different?

15 April

Richard G. Heck, Jr., "The Sense of Communication", Mind 104 (1995), pp. 79-106 (JSTOR)

Similar issues concerning demonstratives are contained in a later paper,

Show Questions

The papers by Evans and Campbell we just read primarily concern demonstrative thoughts: They are about how we should think of the senses associated with, e.g., demonstrative beliefs. They do not really speak to the question how we should think of the senses of demonstrative utterances. That question is discussed explicitly in my paper "Do Demonstratives Have Senses?" Philosophers' Imprint 2 (2002),, and that, in a way, is the paper we should be reading here But it is extremely long: too long for a single session. So, instead, we are reading this paper, which discusses parallel issues, but in the case of proper names.

The issue here is largely one we discussed earlier, in connection with Frege and Russell: If speakers can associate (in Russell's case) different descriptions with a given name, and if (as he seems to suggest in his discussion of the Bismark case), all that really matters is that these descriptions pick out the same object, then we shouldn't we think of the meaning of the name as just that object? Perhaps every speaker must associate some description with the name, but these look merely idiosyncratic. Why shouldn't we think of them as no more relevant to the meaning of the name than the various ideas we associate with it (to go back to Frege again)?

As I set up the discussion, I first note that there are strong arguments—based upon Frege-style identity puzzles—for the claim that the contents of beliefs are not singular propositions but need to be individuated more finely. And despite their other disagreements, Perry, Kaplan, Evans, and Campbell all agree with this claim. On the other hand, however, Kaplan and Perry (and many others) want to claim that utterances are different: Utterances of "Hesperus is a planet" (or "Thatbow ship is an aircraft carrier") and of "Phosphorous is a planet" (or "Thatstern ship is an aircraft carrier") express singular propositions and so have the same content.

This combination of views is what I call the "Hybrid View". It is natural to think that it must somehow be unstable: that the fact that speakers associate different belief-contents with "Hesperus is a planet" and "Phosphorous is a planet" must somehow be linguistically significant. The goal of the paper is to develop an argument for that conclusion.

I just intimated that there are prima facie reasons to suppose that the Hybrid View is unstable. What such reasons can you think of? Perhaps one of them might have to do with the idea of expressing a belief? Perhaps another might have to dow ith belief-attribtution: the semantics of such sentences as "Bill believes that Hesperus (vs Phosphorous) is a planet"?

Section 2 of the paper argues that the Hybrid View is committed to what I call the "extensionality of understanding": To understand an utterance of "George Orwell wrote 1984", for example, one need not think of George Orwell in any particular way, though one will have to think of him in some way (since belief is intensional). It's enough to realize that the speaker has said, of the person you are thinking of in some particular way—even if the speaker may be thinking of him in a completely different way—that he wrote 1984. So in that sense, reference is all that matters for communication—and so, plausibly, for meaning.

In section 3, I argue that "[t]he transmission of belief from speaker to speaker is a basic purpose of the practice of assertion". The argument proceeds by asking why we should think that understanding even requires preservation of reference. For example, suppose Bob thinks that "Hesperus" refers to the moon. Then, it seems, Bob is definitely going to misunderstand me if I say, "Hesperus is a planet". Why is this so obvious? I suggest that the answer is that understanding must at least guarantee that, if one believes what someone says, then one won't end up with a false belief if the belief they were expressing was true. This is supposed to establish that "[t]he Hybrid View...requires that communication be essentially a means for the transmission...of true beliefs from one speaker to another".

The central point of section 4 is to argue that "questions about the meanings of sentences may be asking what is or, in some sense, ought to be common" to the different beliefs different speakers associate with that sentence. This is what will be used in the arguments that follow, so what is most important is simply that you understand the argumentative strategy just elaborated, not the complex argument given here for the usefulness of that strategy. So if you have trouble with section 4, then you might try just skipping it. (I wrote this, though almost 25 years ago, and I'm having trouble.... I'll try to explain the argument in the note that follows.)

I first suggest that we can easily enough understand the idea that a sentence has a certain cognitive value for a particular person: it's the content of the belief that person would form were she to accept that sentence as true. I then ask what we should make of the idea of the cognitive value a sentence has in itself (where I really should be talking about utterances but don't for simplicity). It is clear that people can't just associate any belief at all with a sentence and still count as understanding it. So I suggest that we may think of the cognitive value of a sentence as what is common to the different cognitive values it can have for different speakers who understand it. With that in hand, I then argue that the meaning of a sentence may plausibly be identified with its cognitive value: More precisely, I argue that the argument given in section 3 tacitly depended upon such a claim.

The form of the argument is this: There are arguments in section 3 purport to establish claims of these two forms:

  1. the reference of a name determines its meaning
  2. the meaning of a name determines is reference
What the arguments actually establish, however, is:
  1. the reference of a name determines its cognitive value
  2. the cognitive value of a name determines is reference
To get (1) and (2) from (i) and (ii) one needs:
  1. the cognitive value of a name determines is meaning
  2. the meaning of a name determines its cognitive value
But if we have (a) and (b), then we might as well identify meaning with cognitive value.

In section 5, then, I use the argumentative strategy mentioned to argue against the Hybrid View. I suggest that when we talk about communication as a mean for transferring information, we do not (or should not) mean just "true beliefs" but knowledge (or, at least, justified beliefs). So, as I put it, understanding must enable (that is, make possible) the transmission of knowledge (assuming circumstances are otherwise suitable). If so, then the question we want to ask is: How must the beliefs different speakers associate with a given sentence be related if they are to be able to transfer knowledge to one another?

It's a difficult question, about which I do not say very much, why (or even whether) we should think of knowledge, rather than true belief, as the crucial notion here. What might be said for or against that idea?

I then introduce what I call the Problem of Content. The question it raises is based upon a simple observation. If someone utters "Hesperus is a planet", and if you do not know that Hesperus is Phosphorous, then this might put you in a position to come to know that Hesperus is a planet, but it will not put you in a position to come to know that Phosphorous is a planet.

Why not? Is there more to be said than, "Oh, yes, it seems that way intuitively"?

In section 6, we finally get to the argument against the Hybrid View: The argument is that it cannot solve the Problem of Content. The argument depends upon a series of examples that are supposed to show that "getting the reference right" is not enough to enable to transmission of knowledge. If so, then "getting the reference right" is not enough to guarantee understanding, either.

Fodor once remarked that the problem with the form of argument being given in this section is that you have to have a cat for every mousehole. Are there mouseholes for which I've got no cat? I.e., other reasonable options a Hybrid Theorist might puruse?

In section 7, I explore the suggestion that what is required to enable transmission of knowledge is not just sameness of reference but known sameness of reference. I first motivate this idea as a natural one for a defender of the Hybrid View to suggest. I then argue that, nonetheless, it is not compatible with the Hybrid View but collapses it into a Fregean view---though not into Frege's view. The claim is that the "strict" Fregean view, which would hold that, to understand someone else's use of a name, one must think of the referent in the very same way that they do is not only obviously too strong, but that even Frege recognized this fact. The point is simply that one cannot just think of the referent any old way—in which case reference does not determine cognitive value and so does not determine meaning, either.

As noted in the closing section, none of that gives us a positive theory of sense. And, in some ways, the tenor of that section is a bit despairing. Indeed, in a later paper, "Do Demonstratives Have Senses?" I suggest that there may really be no more to be had: Maybe all there really are are the different cognitive values a sentence has for different speakers and various conversational norms that enforce certain sorts of relations between those cognitive values.

17 April

Imogen Dickie and Gupreet Rattan, "Sense, Communication, and Rational Engagement", Dialectica 64 (2010), pp. 131-151 (DjVu, Wiley Online, Imogen's site)

Show Questions

In this paper, Dickie and Rattan criticize the sort of view suggested in "The Sense of Communication" and argue in favor of what they call "Equivalence Class Fregeanism" (ECF). Section 1 summarizes their understanding the "Moderate Fregean View" and sketches what they take the main objection to ECF to be: that it has not explanatory value unless some account is given of what "unites" the different ways that different speakers may think of the referent of a given name while still understanding it.

In Section 2, Dickie and Rattan discuss an example given in "Do Demonstratives Have Senses?" that is supposed to show that two speakers can communicate successfully using a demonstrative even if they do not attach the same sense to it. Their diagnosis is that I fail to take sufficiently seriously the fact that the speakers who are communicating are jointly attending to the bottle. (Think here of the emphasis Campbell puts on the role of attention.)

Dickie and Rattan's argument depends, as my original argument did, upon a comparison between two sorts of cases: One in which a single speaker makes two demonstrative utterances from two different perspectives, and one in which different speakers make those two utterances. They claim that, if a single speaker does this but has "kept track" of the object during the time between the two utterances, then the uttered demonstratives will have the same sense, despite the difference of perspective.

This is an idea that is hinted at by Evans when he remarks that the key notion is that of "keeping track of an object". One could question it, but for the moment let us grant it (though anyone who wishes to do so is of course welcome to raise questions about it). As Evans notes in his discussion in Varieties of Reference, there does seem to be a need for a notion of persistence of belief in such cases, so that I can continue to believe that that bottle is half-empty as I moved around it, even if I may choose not to do so.

The case in which two speakers are jointly attending to an object is then supposed to be like the case in which a speaker moves arond an object, so that the two demonstratives they utter can have the same sense despite their different perspectives. As they go on to say, my argument assumes a "simple model" according to which "the content of your experience of a bottle to which you and I are jointly attending is the same as the content of an experience involved in solo attention to the bottle from your spatial perspective" (p. 140).

As Dickie and Rattan note, the question at issue is whether sameness of sense is requried for "rational engagement" in the interpersonal case. To object to the analysis they label (C*) on the ground that it doesn't take sameness of sense to be required, then, would be to beg the question. In so far as they have an argument against (C*), then, it would appear to be in the discussion on pp. 140-1 of the "instability of the Moderate Fregean View". What is that argument? How good is it?

A natural worry about Dickie and Rattan's suggested explanation (C) is that it may not generalize very well. The particular example they disucss concerns a perceptual demonstrative, but that is only one sort of case. What would the disagreement between their view and mine look like in the case of "I" or "here"?

In Section 3, Dickie and Rattan place the discussion in a broader theoretical context. As they note, the notion of sense plays two kinds of roles. On the one hand, it distinguishes Hesperus-thoughts from Phosphorous-thoughts. On the other, it explains why certain sorts of inferences are allowed to "trade on identity", as it is sometimes put. The example they give is fairly complicated. A simpler example is just:

  • Twain is F.
  • Twain is G.
  • So someone is both F and G.

Here, the mere fact that "Twain" refers to the same object both times cannot be what explains the permissibility of this inference, as one can see by considering:

  • Twain is F.
  • Clemens is G.
  • So someone is both F and G.

The mere fact that the same name occurs both times cannot be what explains the permissibility of the inference either, even assuming that the names have the same reference. Why not? (Hint: Paderewski.)

It is supposed to be because "Twain" has the same sense both times that the first inference is permissible. This is what Dickie and Rattan call a "consolidating" explanation in terms of sense.

Dickie and Rattan go on to argue that a similar "consolidating" explanation should be preferred in deciding between (C) and (C*). Of course, to do so is to assume that similar explanations should be given in the intra-personal can inter-personal cases. What might be said for or against that suggestion?

The proverbial rubber really hits the proverbial road on pp. 147-8, when Dickie and Rattan discuss a case of what one might call "inter-personal; inference". How are they thinking of this case in drawing the conclusions they draw about it? How might their opponent prefer to think of the case? (Here again, it might be worth considering cases not involving perceptual demonstratives, such as "I" and "here".)

Dickie and Rattan propose a positive view about how senses are to be individuated at the end of the paper: pp. 149-50. This is fairly complicated, and we will not have time to discuss it, so do not worry if you do not understand it.

20 April


22 April

Jennifer Saul, "Substitution and Simple Sentences", Analysis 57 (1997), pp. (DjVu, Oxford Journals)

Show Questions

This paper is focused on issues concerning belief attribution: the meaning of sentences of the form "N believes that P". As we know, there are reasons to suppose that substitution of co-referential expressions should fail in such contexts: It would seem, prima facie, as if

(H) Hammurabi believes that Hesperus is visible in the evening.
could be true even though
(P) Hammurabi believes that Phosphorous is visible in the evening.
was false. As we saw with Marcus, however, one might also simply think that substutition of co-referential expressions ought to be permitted everywhere (excepting quotation).

Such a view is known as a Russellian view of attitude ascriptions. Its main advantages are (i) that it gives a very simple semantics for such sentences and (ii) that it saves us from having to answer difficult questions about what role, exactly, senses are supposed to be playing.

Of course, someone who thinks that (H) and (P) must either both be true or both be false needs to explain why we have an "intuition" to the contrary. And one obvious way to do this is to insist that the contrast between (H) and (P) is not semantic but pragmatic: Even if (P) is true, perhaps uttering it would in some way be misleading. The details of how that account might go will not matter for our purposes.

Saul gives a number of examples, at the beginning of the paper, to illustrate the problem in which she is interested. With one exception, most of these involve superheroes. And one might wonder, as indeed some have, if these are not special cases. Can you think of other sorts of examples? A particularly important question here is whether we can always generate such examples for pairs of names that give rise to Frege cases.

Note that the claim is that there is a felt contrast between these two sentences

(10) He hit Clark Kent once, but he never hit Superman.
(10*) He hit Clark Kent once, but he never hit Clark Kent.
and that it is the same sort of felt contrast as between (H) and (P). And it's important to note that, as in that case, the contrast between (10) and (10*) does not depend upon our being ignorant of the identity of Clark and Superman.

The question is how we should respond to these examples. Saul first considers whether we might simply say that, in fact, (10) can be true even though (10*) cannot be, since "Clark Kent" and "Superman" do not refer to the same thing. She quickly discards a couple very unpromising attempts (pp. 103-4) and then turns to the suggestion that we should think of the names as referring to "temporal phases". The natural application of this idea is to the "Leningrad" vs "St Petersburg" case: The former refers to the "time slice" of a certain city in Russia lasting from 1924-1991; "St Petersburg" refers to the "time slice" lasting from 1703-1924 and then from 1991 to the present. As Saul notes, it's harder to know how to allocate temporal parts to Clark and Superman, but she sets that worry aside, having more serious objections to press.

The first problem is that this view threatens to make

(11) Superman is Clark Kent.
false, since the whole point is that the time slice that consitutes Superman has to be different from the time slice that constitutes Clark. If so, however, then cases like
Lois believes that Clark can fly.
Lois believes that Superman can fly.
aren't actually counterexamples to the substitution of identicals. And we probably do not want to have to say that Superman isn't Clark Kent (though there have been some who have explored that idea).

There are two ways to avoid that consequence: One is to postulate a more complex semantics for proper names, so that "Superman" sometimes refers to a person and somtimes refers to a time slice of a person. An alternative might be to locate the ambiguity in "is", so that, in (11), "is" means something like: are temporal phases of the same temporally unified object. The problem with this view is that it is insufficiently general, as examples like:

(12) Clark Kent can fly, though he conceals this fact.
show. So it looks as if only the ambiguity view will do.

Saul does not say very much about this "ambiguity" view, oter than that it "will be undesirable to many". Does it seem plausible? What pros or cons might it have?

Accepting that (10) can be true looks difficult, then. But we do not have to explain the contrast between (10) and (10*) semantically: We can instead explain it pragmatically.

Saul remarks that the pragmatic strategy works most smoothly when what we need to explain is why we are reluctant to say something like "Clark went into the phone booth, and Clark came out": The utterance would implicate something false. What false might it implicate? She also suggests that it isn't as obvious how to explain why we do say things like (10). Presumably, it ought to be because utterances of (10) can implicate something true, even if they are themselves false. What true might they implicate?

At this point, however, Saul reveals the trap she has been laying for the Fregean.

The proponent of this has a choice. She must decide whether or not to accept a perfectly parallel account of our intuitions about attitude reports.... According to [it], substitution of co-referential names in attitude reports preserves truth conditions but may result in the generation of new, and misleading, pragmatic implicatures. It is these implicatures which result in our (mistaken) tendency to say that [(H)] may betrue while [(P)] is false.... The main argument against [this] theory has been that it requires the violation of our intuitions about substitution. But the current approach to substitution in simple sentences requires what is apparently a perfectly parallel violation of intuitions, accompanied by a perfectly parallel appeal to pragmatics. The advocate of this approach owes us a reason for supposing that one set of intuitions deserves to be taken so much more seriously than the other. (pp. 106-7)
This does not seem a particularly comfortable place for the Fregean to be. And that might make one want to explore again the possibility that (10) can be true. As we'll see next, some have gone that route.

Saul's argument here depends crucially upon the claim that the cases of (H) and (P), on the one hand, and of (10) and (10*), on the other, are "perfectly parallel". Might it be possible to resist that claim?

24 April

Graeme Forbes, "How Much Subtitutivity?" Analysis 57 (1997), pp. 109-13 (JSTOR, DjVu).

Jennifer Saul, "Reply to Forbes", Analysis 57 (1997), pp. 114-8 (JSTOR, DjVu)

Other replies include: Joseph Moore, "Saving Substitutivity in Simple Sentences", Analysis 59 (1999), pp. 91-105 (DjVu, Oxford Journals) Stefano Predelli, "Saul, Salmon, and Superman", Analysis 59 (1999), pp. 113-116 (JSTOR); and David Pitt, "Alter Egos and Their Names", Journal of Philosophy 98 (2001), pp. 531-52 (JSTOR).

Show Questions

Saul's paper "Substitution and Simple Sentences" inspired quite a number of different attempts to solve the problem she'd introduced. We look at the first of them here, by Graeme Forbes, and Saul's response to him.

In earlier work (cited in the paper), Forbes had developed a broadly Fregean account of attitude attribution. The details of the account do not matter very much here, and he explains it well enough for our purposes in the paper. The basic idea is that, in a sentence like

(i) Lois believes that Superman can fly.
there is an implicit reference to a "way of thinking" of Superman that is picked out by the words used in reporting the belief. So (i) is supposed to have the meaning:
(i') Lois believes, so-labeled, that Superman can fly.
where that means (roughly) that the belief in question is one Lois would herself report using those words.

As Forbes notes, many of Saul's examples plausibly involve psychological attitudes of some sort. And, in that case, whatever machinery a Fregean might have available to account for failures of substitution in attitude contexts can equally well be deployed to account for those examples. As Forbes also notes, however, not all of Saul's examples are amenable to that same treatment.

On the other hand, however, Forbes suggests that a somewhat similar move is still available. Thus:

(9) Clark went into the phone booth and Superman came out.
might be read as:
(11) Clark, so-attired, went into the phone booth and Superman, so-attired, came out.
A somewhat similar suggestion, based upon Forbes's discussion on pp. 111-2, might be that (9) should be interpreted as:
(11') Clark, so-presenting, went into the phone booth and Superman, so-presenting, came out.
One might expect this sort of proposal to generalize more easily to other cases.

Forbes really does not say very much about how this kind of proposal is supposed to generalize to other cases. So consider some of the other cases Saul mentions: How would Forbes want to handle them? Are there cases that are particularly difficult for this kind of view?

In Saul's reply, she raises several problems of detail for Forbes's proposal. It should be obvious that, on a case-by-case basis, there might well be some sensible account, broadly along Forbes's lines, to be given. But the underlying worry here is that these various moves are ad hoc. What one would like is some general and principled method for determining what the "literal" content of a sentence like (9) is supposed to be that could generate a difference of truth-value between it and

(10) Clark went into the phone booth and Clark came out.
But Forbes says almost nothing about this.

Saul also raises a more principled worry, however, about exactly what "modes of self-presenation" are supposed to be. What is it supposed to be for Clark to "present as Clark"? Saul considers several possiblities and argues that none of them work for all cases.

Are there any plausible proposals about what it might mean for Clark to "present as Clark" that Saul has neglected? Are there cases for which those proposals seem not to work?

Ultimately, the lesson of Saul's discussion seems to be that such "modes of self-presenation" need to be non-psychological if they are going to do the work Forbes needs them to do, and it just isn't clear how they could be. But if they are psychological, then that means that all of Saul's cases have somehow to be unmasked as involving attitudes, even the apparently non-attitude-involving cases like (9).

What's your own view about what we should say about these sorts of cases?

5 May

Final Paper Due at 5pm

1 Where possible, links to publicly accessible electronic copies of the papers are included. For copyright reasons, however, many of the links require a username and password available only to those enrolled in the course.

Richard Heck Department of Philosophy Brown University