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Philosophical Approaches to Proper Names

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Edited By Piotr Stalmaszczyk and Luis Fernández Moreno

The articles in this collection focus on philosophical approaches to proper names. The issues discussed include abstract names, empty names, naming and name-using practices, definite descriptions, individuals, reference, designation, sense and semantics. The contributions show the importance and lasting influence of theories proposed by John Stuart Mill, Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, Donald Davidson, and Saul Kripke. Individual chapters assess traditional analyses and modern controversies, and contribute to the debate on proper names in contemporary philosophy of language.
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Michael McKinsey - Truths Containing Empty Names

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Michael McKinsey

Wayne State University

Truths Containing Empty Names

1. A problem for direct reference

According to the thesis of Direct Reference (or the DR-thesis for short), the propositions expressed by sentences containing the proper names and indexical pronouns of natural language are a strict function of the semantic referents of the names and indexicals, as opposed to being a function of any Fregean descriptive senses or contents that the names and indexicals might be alleged to possess.1 Another way of expressing this idea is to say that the sole semantic contribution that a proper name or indexical can make to the propositions expressed by sentences containing the term is the term’s semantic referent. Bertrand Russell called terms of this sort ‘names in the logical sense’ (1918, 201). I will call them ‘genuine terms’. Following standard practice, I will call the propositions expressed by sentences containing genuine terms, ‘singular propositions’.

Like many others, I endorse the DR-thesis. In my case, the primary reason for endorsing the thesis lies in the modal considerations first briefly introduced by John Searle (1958) and later clarified and forcefully applied by Saul Kripke (1972a), considerations which show that proper names do not have the meanings of contingent definite descriptions. David Kaplan (1989) raised related points to support the conclusion that indexical pronouns are also genuine terms.

In recent work I have argued at some length that the DR-thesis entails both...

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