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6 The Sense/Reference Distinction Revisited. Sense qua Identifying Descriptions. See Donnellan, 1970 “Speaking of Nothing” and Kripke, 1972 Naming and Necessity General assumption The sense of a proper name corresponds to a (several) identifying definite description(s). .

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6The Sense/Reference Distinction Revisited


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Sense qua Identifying Descriptions

See Donnellan, 1970 “Speaking of Nothing” and Kripke, 1972 Naming and Necessity

  • General assumption

    The sense of a proper name corresponds to a (several) identifying definite description(s).


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“In the case of genuinely proper names like ‘Aristotle’ opinions as regard their sense diverge. As such may, e.g., be suggested: Plato’s disciple and the teacher of Alexander the Great. Whoever accepts this sense will interpret the meaning of the statement “Aristotle was born in Stagira”, differently from one who interpreted the sense of ‘Aristotle’ as the Stagirite teacher of Alexander the Great. As long a the nominatum remains the same, these fluctuations in sense are tolerable. But they should be avoided in a perfect language.” (Frege: “Sinn und Bedeutung”)


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Principle of Identifying Descriptions ‘Aristotle’ opinions as regard their sense diverge. As such may, e.g., be suggested: Plato’s disciple and the teacher of Alexander the Great. Whoever accepts this sense will interpret the meaning of the statement “Aristotle was born in Stagira”, differently from one who interpreted the sense of ‘Aristotle’ as the Stagirite teacher of Alexander the Great. As long a the nominatum remains the same, these fluctuations in sense are tolerable. But they should be avoided in a perfect language.” (Frege: “

See Donnellan 1970

  • What we associate with the name cannot be a single description.

    For, if “Aristotle” meant the teacher of A. the Great, then saying “Aristotle was the teacher of A. the G.” would be a mere tautology. But this is something we could discover to be false.

    So, being the teacher of Alexander the Great cannot be part of the sense of the name.


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The Cluster Theory ‘Aristotle’ opinions as regard their sense diverge. As such may, e.g., be suggested: Plato’s disciple and the teacher of Alexander the Great. Whoever accepts this sense will interpret the meaning of the statement “Aristotle was born in Stagira”, differently from one who interpreted the sense of ‘Aristotle’ as the Stagirite teacher of Alexander the Great. As long a the nominatum remains the same, these fluctuations in sense are tolerable. But they should be avoided in a perfect language.” (Frege: “

  • What we associate with the name is a family of descriptions (cf. Wittgenstein, Strawson, Searle)

    Since it is possible that one or some descriptions associated with a name turn out to be false, we have to introduce some vague notions such as “sufficient number of descriptions”, etc. (Cf. Wittgenstein on “Moses”; PI: § 79)


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  • The cluster of descriptions is both: ‘Aristotle’ opinions as regard their sense diverge. As such may, e.g., be suggested: Plato’s disciple and the teacher of Alexander the Great. Whoever accepts this sense will interpret the meaning of the statement “Aristotle was born in Stagira”, differently from one who interpreted the sense of ‘Aristotle’ as the Stagirite teacher of Alexander the Great. As long a the nominatum remains the same, these fluctuations in sense are tolerable. But they should be avoided in a perfect language.” (Frege: “

    (1) what determines reference, and

    (2) what is synonymous with the associated name

  • “Frege should be criticized for using the term ‘sense’ in two senses. For he takes the sense of a designator to be its meaning; and he also takes it to be the way the reference is determined.” (Kripke 1972: 59)


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  • The principle of identifying descriptions is a two-stages thesis: the second stage depends on the first.

    1. The speaker must be able to supply a set of no question-begging descriptions.

    E.g.: the item I have in mind, the individual I intend to refer to, ... are question-begging descriptions.


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2 thesis: the second stage depends on the first.. The referent of the name the speaker uses, if any, must satisfy the set of descriptions.

  • One can endorse 2 without endorsing 1.

    The relevant descriptions may be the ones the experts furnish (cf. Dummett’s public sense).


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Arguments in favor of identifying descriptions thesis: the second stage depends on the first.

See Kripke 1972: 64-71

  • (1) To every name or designating expression ‘X’, there corresponds a cluster of properties, namely the family of those properties  such that A believes ‘X’.


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  • (4) If the vote yields no unique object, ‘ by A to pick out some individual uniquely.X’ does not refer.

  • (5) The statement, “If X exists, then X has most of the ’s” is known a priori by the speaker.

  • (6) The statement, “If X exists, then X has most of the ’s” expresses a necessary truth(in the idiolect of the speaker).


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  • Conclusion: by A to pick out some individual uniquely.

    For any successful theory, the account must not be circular. The properties which are used in the vote must not themselves involve the notion of reference in such a way that it is ultimately impossible to eliminate.


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The case from examples by A to pick out some individual uniquely.

See Donnellan 1970

  • 1. Whether the relevant descriptions are the ones associated by the speaker or by a community of speakers, the referent ought to satisfy them.


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  • 2 Plato if we discover that he does not satisfy the descriptions we commonly associate with “Plato”. . One can refer to someone even if she is unable to furnish identifying descriptions.

  • So, thesis (5) is false.

    [(5) The statement, “If X exists, then X has most of the ’s” is known a priori by the speaker.]


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  • “Imagine ... a conversation ... in which the student relates what happened at the party. He might begin by saying, “Last night I met J.L. Aston-Martin and talked to him for almost an hour”. To whom does he refer at this point? I strongly believe the answer should be, ‘to the famous philosopher’ and not, ‘to the man he met at the party’. What the student says is simply false; a friend ‘in the know’ would be justified in replying that he did not meet J.L. Aston-Martin, but someone who had the same name and no more philosopher than Milton Berle.” (Donnellan 1970: 350


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  • See also Kripke “Gell-Man”-“Feynman” story: relates what happened at the party. He might begin by saying, “Last night I met J.L. Aston-Martin and talked to him for almost an hour”. To whom does he refer at this point? I strongly believe the answer should be, ‘to the famous philosopher’ and not, ‘to the man he met at the party’. What the student says is simply false; a friend ‘in the know’ would be justified in replying that he did not meet J.L. Aston-Martin, but someone who had the same name and no more philosopher than Milton Berle.” (Donnellan 1970: 350

    One can use these names to refer to the relevant individuals even if one is unable to furnish identifying descriptions of them.


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The Modal Argument relates what happened at the party. He might begin by saying, “Last night I met J.L. Aston-Martin and talked to him for almost an hour”. To whom does he refer at this point? I strongly believe the answer should be, ‘to the famous philosopher’ and not, ‘to the man he met at the party’. What the student says is simply false; a friend ‘in the know’ would be justified in replying that he did not meet J.L. Aston-Martin, but someone who had the same name and no more philosopher than Milton Berle.” (Donnellan 1970: 350

See Kripke 1972

  • Rigid designators

    The designate the same object in all possible worlds (or counterfactual situations) where it exists.

    If the object exits in all possible worlds (it is a necessary existent), the designator is strongly rigid.


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  • Non-rigid (accidental) designators relates what happened at the party. He might begin by saying, “Last night I met J.L. Aston-Martin and talked to him for almost an hour”. To whom does he refer at this point? I strongly believe the answer should be, ‘to the famous philosopher’ and not, ‘to the man he met at the party’. What the student says is simply false; a friend ‘in the know’ would be justified in replying that he did not meet J.L. Aston-Martin, but someone who had the same name and no more philosopher than Milton Berle.” (Donnellan 1970: 350

    They may change reference across possible worlds.


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  • Proper names relates what happened at the party. He might begin by saying, “Last night I met J.L. Aston-Martin and talked to him for almost an hour”. To whom does he refer at this point? I strongly believe the answer should be, ‘to the famous philosopher’ and not, ‘to the man he met at the party’. What the student says is simply false; a friend ‘in the know’ would be justified in replying that he did not meet J.L. Aston-Martin, but someone who had the same name and no more philosopher than Milton Berle.” (Donnellan 1970: 350 are rigid designators, while definite descriptions are non-rigid designators.

    Unless a description picks out an essential property (e.g. mathematical descriptions such as “the successor of 3” which designates 4 in all possible worlds).


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  • Reference cannot be explained in terms of identifying descriptions.

    for:

    An individual, in a given possible world, may fail to possess the property(ies) picked out by the description(s) (unless the latter pick(s) out essential property(ies) of that individual) associated with the name (rigid designator).


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E.g.: descriptions

Aristotle may not have been the teacher of A. the Great, Gödel may not have been the discoverer of the incompleteness of arithmetic, etc.


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  • Fixing the reference descriptionsvs. determining the reference

    Descriptions may be used to fix the reference and not, pace Frege, to give the meaning of the name.

    E.g.: Let’s call “Jack”, the man who committed all the murders. Being the murderer, though, is not an essential property of Jack.


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E.g.: descriptions

Hitler might have spent all his days quiet in Linz. In that case we would not say that then this man would not have been Hitler, for we use of the name “Hitler” just as the name of that man, even in describing other possible worlds. (cf. Kripke 1972: 75)


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  • Moral: descriptionsthesis (6) is also false.

    [The statement, “If X exists, then X has most of the ’s” expresses a necessary truth(in the idiolect of the speaker).]

  • General Moral

    Sense cannot be equated with identifying descriptions.


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Direct Reference descriptions

  • Or: Causal theory of reference, Millianism (Cf. J-S. Mill, A system of Logic)

    J.-S. Mill: names have denotation but not connotation.


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E.g.: descriptions

Dartmouth is called ‘Dartmouth’ because it lies at the mouth of the Dart, but even if the river changed its course so that Dartmouth no longer lays at the mouth of the Dart, we could still properly call this place “Dartmouth”. It is no part of the meaning of “Dartmouth” that the referent lies at Dart’s mouth.


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