• Banno
    23.6k
    ...why should the laws of causality... hold true either?schopenhauer1

    There might be something there, a modal argument against a causal theory of reference. But that the causal theory might be wrong does not weigh in on the argument at hand, that the descriptive theory is indeed wrong. Maybe there is a third option...

    Russell was puzzling over how sentences such as "The King of France is bald" are to be understood. "The King of France" doesn't refer to anything; so how are we to make sense of the sentence? Is it false, or is it nonsense? Russell made sense of them with some rather clever logic.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    12.7k
    By way of background, I'm pointing to the issue of definite descriptions, claiming that the arguments to the effects that one does not need a definite description in order for reference to function are pretty convincing.Banno

    It's very obvious that we do not need definite descriptions for proper names to work. We can just point to a thing and name it, with absolutely no description whatsoever.

    The problem appears when we consider the fact that anything named in this way necessarily has a temporal continuity of existence (in traditional terms it is a "temporal object"), and so it has the property of a temporal duration.

    This is a problem for "definite descriptions" because empirical evidence indicates that all temporal things are necessarily changing as time passes. So any proposed "definite description" would require an inclusion of the temporal changes to the object, in order to make the object identifiable at any time. Simply stating the description for a specific point in time would not suffice, because then the object would only be identifiable at that point in time, which would never coincide with "now" which always seems to consist of a duration of time.

    The problem becomes even more difficult when we consider the nature of temporal existence, and the fact that the future consists of possibilities. Because the future consists of possibilities, any supposed "true" temporal extension of the object, into the future cannot be known. As Aristotle argued there is no truth or falsity concerning future events which are possible (future possibilities violate the law of excluded middle). Therefore this part of the object's description is necessarily "indefinite". This renders "definite descriptions" as an impossibility. So not only is it the case that definite descriptions are not necessary, they are necessarily impossible, and very definitely not the way that proper names work.

    I don't have much background in Aristotle, but suspect that logic has come some way since his time.Banno

    You ought to listen to what @Leontiskos says. Aristotelean logic was the principal, if not the only, form of logic studied in European schools for hundreds of years. It forms the foundation for all modern formal logic, other than modern mathematics which under the influence of Hegel took a different approach to Aristotle's law of identity. Aristotelian logic even provided the grounds for modern modal logic, with his insistence on an exception to the law of excluded middle for future events, and the role of the potential of "matter" in the unfolding of time. The Hegelian approach is to allow that "matter" violates the law of noncontradiction (dialectical materialism), something which Aristotle was strongly opposed to. Violation of the law of noncontradiction leaves the law of identity as completely useless, which is what Hegel argued about this law, that it is in fact completely useless.
  • schopenhauer1
    10.3k
    Russell was puzzling over how sentences such as "The King of France is bald" are to be understood. "The King of France" doesn't refer to anything; so how are we to make sense of the sentence? Is it false, or is it nonsense? Russell made sense of them with some rather clever logic.Banno

    But that is what I am questioning. I don't think this was puzzling to begin with. There exists a non-existent class (present King of France) for which no referent or predicate can even exist. This proposition is neither true nor false because of the non-existence of the class not the referent. Just recognize that there are classes of things that do not exist as a state of affairs. You'd have to be an extreme logical atomist to believe that classes don't exist, only individuals.

    A brief way of saying this: A class of people can't exist, therefore an individual and their predicates in that class does not (and cannot) exist. Use universal and existential quantifiers if you want.
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k
    Sure, he has a description. That description fails to pick Thales from all the other men who lived a long time ago. So I don't see how it helps choose between them, in such a way that the student is talking about Thales... which I had taken to be the point of having a description handy.Banno
    By way of background, I'm pointing to the issue of definite descriptions, claiming that the arguments to the effects that one does not need a definite description in order for reference to function are pretty convincing.Banno

    I would want to say that a name is intended as a unique designator, but that in fact it fulfills this reality no more than a description does. There are humorous stories of identical twins, such as the famous Bryan brothers, whose spouses will spontaneously start identifying and kissing the wrong sibling. The intention of a name pertains to metaphysics, but your point about description pertains to epistemology. Yet the day-to-day use of naming runs into the exact same epistemological problems as the day-to-day use of descriptions.

    But if we do not need definite descriptions in order for proper names to work...Banno

    Your argument is valid, but the problem is that names don't work, at least not in the way that you purport. Names work about as well as quasi-definite descriptions work. Even the wife of a twin can fail to make his name work.

    Further, you seem now to be saying that we can know which object is being identified from any description, and not just a definite description, which I find quite enigmatic. As if "The fish nearest to Corinth" were adequate to give the essence of Thales.Banno

    As I noted, the two questions are distinct. Of course we can talk about either one.

    The point is that in order to arrive at a definite description one must begin with an indefinite description, particularly the novice who wishes to learn. The same sort of thing holds with names. In order to understand the unique referent, one must begin with a description (or a description vis-a-vis a perceptual cue, which includes pointing).

    The broader point is that names presuppose description, and the description that they presuppose is supposed to approximate a definite description (because this is where the uniqueness of the referent arises). Again, this does not mean that a name is a description.

    Regarding your paper by Donnellan, it leaves me perplexed (I read only the section on Thales). I find his focus on the physical existence of the referent somewhat strange. Supposing Thales never existed, it would not follow that 'Thales' has no referent. The referent in that case would be the person-concept fit to function in the philosophical accounts in question, much like the referent of "Sherlock Holmes" is the fictional person-concept created by Arthur Conan Doyle, and which is fit to function in the fictional accounts in question. Perhaps I am deviating from some modern technical sense of 'name', but deviation from overly technical senses is itself a mark of Aristotelianism. The intentional designations of real-Thales and concept-Thales are, of course, somewhat different, but I don't see this as insuperable. It is not insuperable because the two intentions overlap in the novice's class on ancient philosophy, and the raison d'être of the name is more directly tied to the latter intention.
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k
    So I find a lot of these debates about reference come about because of oddly sticking to this idea of language pointing out individual entities. It is seen in Russell's On Denoting (there exists a unique x such that x is...). It seems to be in early Wittgenstein. I don't get why this emphasis on having to pick out a unique set of properties in an individual and it not just being a class (like it seems Donnellan allows for in attributive notions of reference). Can it just be that this is just debates on wrong initial premises causing confusion? Is there good reason Russell made this move to care for picking out individuals in the world? Is there reason to keep correcting this if that assumption is not even a good basis for names to begin with?schopenhauer1

    Thanks for your interesting posts. If we want to look at Kripke I would probably need to refresh myself on his work, but the irony here is that Kripke may well be committed to the strange theory that is commonly (but mistakenly) identified in Aristotelian essentialism, namely the idea that an essence (or in this case, identity) is discernable apart from accidents and appearances.

    More generally, this whole line seems related to modern philosophy's obsession with what I would want to call infallibility. "But how do we know that we are correct?" "But how do we know that a description is truly definite, or that a name truly designates uniquely?" The simple answer is that we don't. At least not with the certainty and precision that modern philosophy seeks.
  • schopenhauer1
    10.3k
    More generally, this whole line seems related to modern philosophy's obsession with what I would want to call infallibility. "But how do we know that we are correct?" "But how do we know that a description is truly definite, or that a name truly designates uniquely?" The simple answer is that we don't. At least not with the certainty and precision that modern philosophy seeks.Leontiskos

    @Banno

    Agreed, which is why people who care about this stuff naturally gravitate to later Wittgenstein. Because then it's just about language games and use within context of a community and forms of life.

    I think the project was failed to begin with. I think it's an anthropological question regarding language. Logic is a system devised within language, and not how it is naturally used. Thus, when using it to define language, it is a category error, and it's not even worth doing because it never was meant to fit in the first place. Logic is another type of language, not the basis of language.
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k


    Hear ye, hear ye! :fire: I agree so much! Granted, I can appreciate the 'linguistic' character of much of this forum, especially as it represents recent philosophy in the Anglophone world, but you hit the nail on the head.
  • schopenhauer1
    10.3k

    I'd like to propose that both logicism and language-based approaches to resolving epistemic and ontological issues may not be the most productive avenues for exploration. It seems that early analytic philosophers, including Russell, Frege, and Meinong, encountered difficulties because they attempted to confine themselves to what could be expressed through symbolic logic, inadvertently missing the broader philosophical context. They began making assumptions that would have been better suited for discussion within established philosophical frameworks, such as Kantianism or centuries-old traditions. Instead, they constrained themselves within the limits of symbolic logic, which led to Russell, for instance, having to make metaphysical commitments, like his Platonic realism regarding universals and categories. These commitments might have been more aptly addressed in a more meta-philosophical context. In essence, the project of logicism became a self-imposed straitjacket.

    It is intriguing how Russell, despite his comprehensive knowledge of the historical approach to philosophy (as evidenced by his work on the history of Western philosophy), opted for this somewhat restrictive approach driven by an unwavering enthusiasm for symbolic logic.

    Whitehead, on the other hand, appears to have broken free from this constraint, offering highly speculative metaphysical ideas that transcended the limitations of logicism and linguistic constraints. Logicism, with its fixation on symbolic logic and language, seems to have reached a dead end.

    The preference for later Wittgenstein can be interpreted as an acknowledgment that the logicism/logic realism project had effectively concluded. However, the mid to late Wittgenstein, as seen in works like "On Certainty" and "Philosophical Investigations," may introduce its own constraints, resembling the style of Nietzschean aphorisms. This writing style often reads like prophetic proclamations, as if, after arduous analysis on the part of the reader, understanding the information equates to agreeing with it.

    If Wittgenstein indeed illuminated an exit from the logicism/logic realism quest for truth, it might be worthwhile to explore alternative approaches beyond Wittgenstein's. When studying language, one could heed Wittgenstein's suggestion to delve into the anthropological route. Consider thinkers like Terrence Deacon or anthropologists like Michael Tomasello, who may offer more comprehensive insights. The questions surrounding denotation often pertain to the holistic development of the body, brain, and mind over evolutionary timescales ("Great Outdoors"), rather than remaining confined within the self-referential systems of language and logic.
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k


    Yes, more good points. I am sure that we would disagree on any number of things, but on this you are preaching to the choir. I like the references to prophets and also to aphoristic writing styles.

    I'd also like to posit that logicism and language approaches to solving epistemic and ontological problems do not seem to be a fruitful way of going about it. I think Russell and other early analytics (Meinong, Frege, etc.) ran into trouble because they tried to limit themselves to what can be said via symbolic logic, and lost the forest for the trees.schopenhauer1

    Right. I don't have the expertise to locate the precise problems here, but when logic and language are conceived in a manner that cuts them off from external reality, and are studied in themselves, there is certainly no possibility of addressing epistemic or ontological problems.

    I have recently been considering a related problem. Beginning even slightly before the Reformation we see an individualistic streak in intellectual life. There is a desire to break with the past and to carve out one's own niche. This is compounded when insuperable paradoxes moved thinkers to jettison the whole husk that contained the paradoxes and never look back. After that point the return to the older paradigms (realism, Kantianism, etc.) is a non-starter, even when the alternatives are obviously foundering.

    A "philosophical schools" approach to philosophy is much different than the modern individualistic approach, and it is one that I prefer. In this case the individual is in some ways subsumed in the school, and philosophical output is intended to be a link in a long chain. Instead of prophets and augurs you have transparent claims and arguments which do not claim any special authority. There are no figureheads or personality cults. The philosophy is at the service of the school, and links past and future in a respectful way. The focus is on steady development and synthesis rather than originality. I think we have strayed a long ways from this sort of approach.
  • Moliere
    4.2k
    I should begin by saying that it has been some years since I have worked extensively with Aristotle's primary texts, so a strict Aristotelian may quibble with me on this point or that. Still, I think I will give an accurate account.Leontiskos

    You're in a better position than me. Years ago I read a substantial amount of Aristotle in English, but that's about it.

    An essence is what something is in virtue of itself, and the definition describes the essence. It will also be useful to note that for Aristotle the standard beings are substances: things which exist of themselves and which possess their own mode of being and acting. So hammering would be an act of a substance, in particular an act of a human substance.Leontiskos


    A hammer is an artifact, not a substance, but be that as it may, we still need to understand what a hammer is before we use it. For Aristotle definition is not restricted to a means by which one shares knowledge. To understand what something is is to have its definition, and to have partial knowledge about what something is is to have a nominal or partial definition.

    So when you approach a hammer for the purpose of manipulation you have already formed a partial definition of it. It is a physical object (which can be manipulated physically). It is graspable by the hand. It possesses a kind of leverage. It has a hard head which can be used to hit things without incurring damage. All of this is part of the definition, and is already implicit in one who manipulates a hammer. For Aristotle it wouldn't make much sense to say that you manipulate a hammer without some understanding of what it is.
    Leontiskos

    Is it possible to act without knowing?

    That seems to be the only condition you'd accept human activity as non-essential, given that any amount of knowledge results in having at least a partial definition or some approximation of an essence.
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k
    Is it possible to act without knowing?Moliere

    Basically, no. Some degree of knowledge is always present. If no knowledge is present then you are not acting in a philosophically relevant way. For example, your knee might move when the doctor hits it, or you might sleepwalk, but these are not volitional actions.

    And if you use a hammer then you have some knowledge about what it is, however incomplete. You will know, for example, that it is a physical object which possesses weight. If you use a word then you will have some (nominal) definition of it, however incomplete.

    The modern conception where knowledge and action are two entirely different things does not hold for Aristotle (or Aquinas). There is a distinction between speculative knowledge and practical knowledge, but action still involves intellect and reasoning. Hence practical knowledge.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    There exists a non-existent class (present King of France)...schopenhauer1
    What, now?

    Sure, the class of present kings of France is empty, but it can't both exist and not exist. Indeed, attributing existence to a class is itself problematic - what could it mean, except that the class is either empty or not?
    ...for which no referent or predicate can even exist.schopenhauer1
    We understand what "present King of France" means... so there might have been a present King of France. That there isn't one does not mean that one could not even exist.

    So what you are saying here seems misguided.

    Logic is a system devised within language, and not how it is naturally used. Thus, when using it to define language, it is a category error, and it's not even worth doing because it never was meant to fit in the first place.schopenhauer1
    This could have been written as a summary of the difference between the Tractatus and the Investigations.

    Logic is a useful tool for showing up confusions, as above.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    Sometimes names do not work. But sometimes they do. Your conclusion that names do not work is odd. I gather I must be misunderstanding your point here. You repeat that "in order to understand the unique referent, one must begin with a description", but without explanation or argument and in the face of the counterexamples provided by Donnellan. Sure, if Thales had never existed, that Thales did not exist would be true, and about Thales. Was there something in the article that had you thinking otherwise?
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k
    Sometimes names do not work. But sometimes they do. Your conclusion that names do not work is odd. I gather I must be misunderstanding your point here.Banno

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but your argument seems to be, <Names pick out things in a definite way; Description does not pick out things in a definite way; Therefore names depend on something more than description>.

    The idea is apparently that description is insufficient to account for naming because names are capable of picking out a unique referent whereas descriptions are not. My response is that your first premise is simply mistaken. There is parity between names and quasi-definite descriptions in precisely the way that my account requires. The usage of a name fails precisely when the application of the quasi-definition description, which is attached to the name, fails. I could echo back to you, "Sometimes descriptions do not work. But sometimes they do," so what's the difference between descriptions and names vis-a-vis unique reference?
  • Banno
    23.6k
    The idea is apparently that description is insufficient to account for naming because names are capable of picking out a unique referent whereas descriptions are not.Leontiskos

    Well, no. Of course descriptions can pick out unique individuals, and names can be ambiguous. At issue is whether a given name is shorthand for some description, such that the description sets out the referent of the name. Presumably the description somehow is seen to set out the essence, but that's me guessing. I remain unsure of what sort of thing you think an essence is.

    The Donnellan arguments show that a name may work even when the associated description fails.

    And that it follows that the name's referring is not dependent on the description.
  • unenlightened
    8.9k
    I remain unsure of what sort of thing you think an essence is.Banno

    Me too. My first thought was essential oils. If it doesn't have the all important aroma, it ain't lavender. Then I thought of this:
    You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. — Matthew 5:13

    And that takes me straight to 'a difference that makes a difference'. And the difference that the man, Thales, if he ever existed at all, might have made to the community he lived in, is largely unknown to us now, and almost certainly very different to the difference the tradition and stories we currently have of him, makes to us now.

    But worse that that, this sort of 'sine qua non' turns out to be more about the namer than the named. There might well be varieties of lavender with no scent, but they are of no interest to parfumiers, except as weeds to be rooted out of their crop.

    Presumably, under certain rules of succession, there is somewhere, a 'rightful heir' to the throne of France. but nobody cares, because nobody cares, and therefore there is no king of France. So the essence of kingliness is our caring about it???
  • schopenhauer1
    10.3k
    Sure, the class of present kings of France is empty, but it can't both exist and not exist. Indeed, attributing existence to a class is itself problematic - what could it mean, except that the class is either empty or not?Banno

    Eh, I don’t get why Russell structured his logic such that a non existent referent makes the statement false and not vacuously true. But maybe this is a problem with predicate logic and existential quantifiers as they are defined. “Bilbo Baggins has hairy feet” is vacuously true, and not false perhaps. It’s the same as the present King of France.

    Perhaps you can make a distinction of possibly true and never true. In modal logic terms, Bilbo is necessarily false and the King of France is contingently false. The reference for the King of France is possibly true. The reference of Bilbo is never possibly true. This is akin to Kripke, but deals with existence rather than identity or causality.

    Existence doesn’t answer questions if essence though. But it might point the way in terms of origination. Hobbits still have an essence. They are human-like folk, different from big folk and all their noise after all.

    This could have been written as a summary of the difference between the Tractatus and the Investigations.Banno

    :up:

    Logic is a useful tool for showing up confusions, as above.Banno

    But creates its own problems. Logic is derived to solve problems but is just a tool then to clarify and not a description of truth per se. As Aristotle, Boole, Peano, Frege, Russell, and Lewis and Kripke and Tarski show just by their differences, you can break up and build up the world in any symbolic way you want!
  • Banno
    23.6k
    I don’t get why Russell structured his logic such that a non existent referent makes the statement false and not vacuously true.schopenhauer1
    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/descriptions/#MotForRusTheDes

    To a large extent it was to sort out ambiguities of scope. If anything, the situation is more complex than Russell supposed, but we've benefited from his drawing attention to it.

    you can break up and build up the world in any symbolic way you want!schopenhauer1
    Well, one ought be willing to accept the consequences of the structure you propose. So accepting a contradiction leads to explosion, which is not very helpful.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    Hmm. Seems @Leontiskos has yet to reveal the essence of the issue.
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k
    When studying language, one could heed Wittgenstein's suggestion to delve into the anthropological route.schopenhauer1

    I want to circle back to this. I think you are right that anthropology is crucial. If Aristotle is correct about the nature of reality and knowledge, then anthropology will have a certain primacy.

    @Moliere began a discussion of essences with the example of hammers. This is a strange move from the perspective of an Aristotelian, because hammers have no real essence. A hammer is a derivative being, a human artifact. Hammers should always be studied in relation to humans, because their existence is dependent upon humans.

    In a very real sense the same thing holds of language. Trying to study language apart from man (anthropos) is a bit like trying to study hammers apart from man. For Aristotle the reason is obvious: language is an act of man, and originally an act expressed vocally. The actor is more primary than the action (even though it is true that language conditions man in various ways). Language therefore cannot be cordoned off and studied apart from a study of man and anthropology. Such an attempt leads to distortion and confusion. The same holds for logic.

    (Of course philosophical anthropology and general anthropology are slightly different, but in many ways they are similar.)
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k
    The Donnellan arguments show that a name may work even when the associated description fails.

    And that it follows that the name's referring is not dependent on the description.
    Banno

    I read the part of the paper relating to Thales and I find that the arguments do nothing of the sort. If you wish to try to argue for such a conclusion you will have to present actual arguments or actual quotes from Donnellan, rather than simply gesturing towards a 25-page paper. So far the only thing you have provided in that vein is the claim that the novice uses 'Thales' without any description. I pointed out why that claim seems to be false, and I don't see that you have responded to this.

    I can flesh out my position a bit more by way of an informal argument. This is the same argument that was implicitly present in my first post.

    1. A name is always attached to some thing.
    2. In order to use a name the thing to which it is attached must be identifiable.
    3. The identification of things occurs via description.*
    4. Therefore, names presuppose description.

    * The fuller account of 'description' was given in my first post. Specifically what is needed is a set of perceptual or conceptual qualities which are used to identify the name's referent. If you actually believe that (4) is false, you will have say why the argument fails, and what alternative there is for identifying the referents of names.
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k
    @Banno,

    I have been perusing Elizabeth Anscombe’s writings due to the fact that she forms a helpful bridge between Aristotelian-Thomism and contemporary philosophy, particularly in the Anglophone world. In one of her unpublished typescripts she expresses some of the exact same things I have been getting at. The essay comes from, "From Plato to Wittgenstein: Essays by G.E.M. Anscombe."

    In a rebuff to Locke, Mill, and Russell, she says:

    But it is absurd to speak of any name at all without a nominal essence; if a name can be without a nominal essence, there can be no right or wrong about its repeated use. — Elizabeth Anscombe, On Russell's Theory of Descriptions

    She goes on to note the way that Locke sidesteps the issue of how the referent of a name is identified, just as you are doing:

    In this passage Locke shows that he supposes it to be understandable what individuals are called Wewena, Chuckery and Cousheda without its yet being determined whether these are proper names of men or what. To point and say ‘That is Wewena—and I mean that “Wewena” is the proper name of that’ should prompt the question ‘That what is Wewena?’ Or, what comes to the same thing: ‘And how am I to go on using the name Wewena?’ Locke writes as if an intelligible reply would be ‘so long as it is the same individual’. And hence the question which often concerns philosophers: ‘What is an individual? What is a particular?’

    That a word is a proper name is some information as to its meaning: it means that it has a very special kind of use; this is parallel to the information that a word is the name of a colour. The further enquiry ‘What kind of thing is it a proper name of?’ should elicit an answer such as ‘a city’, ‘a river’, ‘a man’, ‘a trumpet’, which we may reasonably say gives the full meaning, or connotation of the word. Thus Mill would have been nearer the truth if he had said that proper names have both denotation and connotation, but predicates only connotation. A small boy gave a moving spot of light that appeared in his room the proper name ‘Tommy Noddy’. Locke writes as if one could know what individual Tommy Noddy was without knowing that this was the proper name of a spot of light. To see the mistake in this, imagine that someone who had grasped that ‘Tommy Noddy’ was a proper name, asked to have Tommy Noddy pointed out to him. The child points to Tommy Noddy at a time when the spot of light is on a human being.

    That is to say, with every proper name there is associated a predicate x, such that when a proper name is assigned to an x, the proper name is rightly used for the future to name the same x. The information ‘Tommy Noddy is the name of a spot of light’ thus gives the sense (meaning, connotation) of the proper name. . .
    — Elizabeth Anscombe, On Russell's Theory of Descriptions

    She then goes on to talk about the notion of an "identifying predicate," which accompanies a name.

    She also disagrees with Russell's idea that names require existent referents in the same way that I disagreed with Donnellan's assumption that names require existent referents (and seems to be saying something very similar). I used the distinction of 'real' and 'conceptual'. Anscombe uses 'real' and 'formal'. Her second thesis is:

    that [Russell] is wrong in that conception of ‘logically proper names’ which demands the existence of a logically guaranteed bearer for every real proper name; — Elizabeth Anscombe, On Russell's Theory of Descriptions

    In defending this, she says:

    I fear the correct reply to this may seem to muddy the clear waters of logic; but that may be an illusion, and at any rate I have no doubt it is correct. We should distinguish between a formal and a real assignment of a proper name. The assignment is formal when it is simply an assignment to a bound variable in the narrative. King Arthur is a character of uncertain historicity: thus ‘There was a man—and only one—who was King in Britain such that the stories of the Arthurian cycle derive from or are embroideries on stories about him’ may be true, but it is not certain; and the assignment of the proper name is a formal assignment to the variable in ‘an x such that x was a man who was King etc’. (In ordinary language the bound variable is represented by ‘who’, ‘which’ and the personal pronouns when they have e.g. ‘someone’, ‘anything’, ‘no one’ as antecedents.) But when such narratives are (a) certain, (b) secondary to the use of the proper name itself, as in ‘There was a man called Churchill who was Prime Minister in England for the greater part of the Second World War’, then the assignment of the proper name is real and not formal and is prior to the existential narrative. An historical assignment can be real and not formal when we have the proper name by tradition from those who used it of its bearer.

    Where the assignment, necessary for an ostensible proper name to be a real one, is real, then the proposition containing that proper name (or any sub-clause containing that proper name) is a genuine predication and is true or false if the predication makes sense for φs, where φ is the identifying predicate associated with the proper name. Where the assignment is pretended or clearly only formal, then there is no genuine predication (except within the scope of the existential quantifier) and no proposition either true or false. When the assignment is neither pretended nor real we can say that we do not know if a genuine predication has been made; and that an analysis of the proposition will show the relevant formal assignment.
    — Elizabeth Anscombe, On Russell's Theory of Descriptions

    Anscombe talks about the character "who was King in Britain such that the stories of the Arthurian cycle derive from or are embroideries on stories about him." I spoke about "the person-concept [...] which is fit to function in the fictional accounts in question."
  • Banno
    23.6k
    The argument is pretty straight forward. Suppose that it turned out that nothing we thought we knew about Thales were true; that he did not think all was water, did not fall into a well and did not say "know thyself". Who is it that the previous sentence is about? Well, it is about Thales. But if, "in order to use a name the thing to which it is attached must be identifiable", we now have no way of identifying Thales, which would imply that the sentence is not about Thales.

    Edit: A quote substantiating this dropped off the post. Here it is again.

    The role of this history leading up to a present use of a name has almost always been neglected by those who accept the principle of identifying descriptions. The sort of description generally mentioned as helping to pick out, say, Thales, is such as 'the Greek philosopher who held that all is water'. Nothing is made of the fact that such descriptions are given by us derivatively. We might be pardoned if we supposed that the referent of 'Thales' is whatever ancient Greek happens to fit such descriptions uniquely, even if he should turn out to have been a hermit living so re- motely that he and hisdoctrines have no historical connection with us at all.

    But this seems clearly wrong. Suppose that Aristotle and Herodotus were either making up the story or were referring to someone who neither did the things they said he did nor held the doctrines they attributed to him. Suppose further, however, that fortuitously their descriptions fitted uniquely someone they had never heard about and who was not referred to by any authors known to us. Such a person, even if he was the only ancient to hold that all is water, to fall in a well while contemplating the stars, etc., is not 'our' Thales.
    pp. 352-3

    I'm sorry that you haver been unable to identify the argument. It is quite well-known and you should have little difficulty in finding it in secondary or tertiary sources.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    I'm pleased you are enjoying Anscombe. She is a favourite of mine. She is writing at a time and with a background that pretty much took the descriptivist theory as granted. That changed considerably with Donnellan and Kripke. For all the logic that sits behind her view, and that of others such as Searle, the argument given above and others offered by Donnellan and Kripke have been for a while considered pretty conclusive.

    I am not aware of anything in which Anscombe directly addresses Donnellan and Kripke. IF you come across something, I'd be most interested.
  • schopenhauer1
    10.3k
    To a large extent it was to sort out ambiguities of scope. If anything, the situation is more complex than Russell supposed, but we've benefited from his drawing attention to it.Banno

    Indeed. Well, this to me speaks to a confused ontology. It is a cleaving to an empiricism that doesn't seem to be warranted. If everything that is true has to exist, it is weirdly valuing "existence" as something that can input some sort of truth to it. But we all know Bilbo is a Hobbit, and it's true!

    And this brings the bigger problems perhaps with analytics (early ones at least). By not participating in full-fledged construction of metaphysical theory (like a Kant or a Schopenhauer let's say), and only trying to restrict the level of inquiry to statements, which perhaps are filled in by de jour commitments when necessary, or by assuming a commitment (empiricism) with no other basis for it, the project becomes hollow.

    It's as if you developed a computer program that does various things (but it couldn't handle certain calculations) and told me this program describes metaphysics. That's not how that works. And having a "cleaned" up version of the computer program (C vs. C++ by analogy let's say), it doesn't mean "thus metaphysics explained" either.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    ...If everything that is true has to exist...schopenhauer1
    Analytic thinking is not monolithic. The detail here is considerable, and the gloss you give above is far from accurate.
  • schopenhauer1
    10.3k
    Analytic thinking is not monolithic. The detail here is considerable, and the gloss you give above is far from accurate.Banno

    Fair enough, replace the category "analytics" with "Russell" in particular. (Though early Witty follows him down the rabbit hole).
  • Banno
    23.6k
    If your point is that Russell's descriptive account is problematic, then we agree.

    The converse of the issue you describe is presumably that folk such as Kant and Schopenhauer are perhaps too quick to develop a "full-fledged construction of metaphysical theory" without due attention consistency.
  • schopenhauer1
    10.3k
    If your point is that Russell's descriptive account is problematic, then we agree.Banno

    :up:

    The converse of the issue you describe is presumably that folk such as Kant and Schopenhauer are perhaps too quick to develop a "full-fledged construction of metaphysical theory" without due attention consistency.Banno

    Well, you bring up here as to "what" we really agree on as to what is problematic. I didn't say that either. Rather, both can be true. Kant and Schopenhauer left questions to be answered, but they did not lack the condition of having a constructed metaphysical theory that provided a reason for analytic judgements in various statements about the world (for Kant his Critique and Schop his Fourfold Root of PSR, and to a broader scope the WWR).

    Thus if I was to ever go back and ask as to the reasons behind their claims, I can clearly see where they were coming from. I cannot do that so much with Russell and Witty. They start from midground and don't give the background.
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