A name, one might think, simply stands in for the thing it names. But, if it’s really as simple as that, why is a statement like “Chris Wallace is Biggie Smalls” informative? Why isn’t it a tautology, of the form A is A? Starting from this simple problem, Saul Kripke’s 1980 book Naming and Necessity covers the history of theories of naming before proposing a radically new theory. The book revolutionized philosophy like few books have. Aside from challenging how we think about names and identity, it also clarified the notions of “a priori” and “necessary.” Famously, Kripke showed why “Water is H2O” is actually a necessary fact, though not a priori. In this episode, I summarize Kripke’s arguments and propose some criticisms to his theory.
Next week: Interview with Graham Priest on Bradley’s Regress
Special thanks for Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.
0:20 – Intro to Saul Kripke
4:20 – J.S. Mill’s theory of naming
5:45 – Chris Wallace is Biggie Smalls and Biggie Smalls is Biggie Smalls
7:45 – Russell’s theory of descriptions
14:46 – Kripke’s theory – rigid designators
17:25 – Kripke’s theory – initial baptism and the causal chain
23:10 – a priori v. necessary (water is H2O)
28:10 – Meter stick in Paris
31:46 – Unicorns
33:04 – Mental states and brain states
35:04 – Associations (Gareth Evans’ objection)
37:56 – Presupposed identity and vagueness (my objection)
47:08 – Objection to mental states argument
Yesterday I explained how Putnam’s Twin Earth thought experiment suggests that meaning cannot be only in the mind. I now propose an objection.
Imagine that an interdimensional alien transports water from Earth to Twin Earth, and leaves some at Agatha’s doorstep. Agatha at first calls it “water” and doesn’t have any idea that it’s anything different from the water she’s used to. However, since her body is composed largely of XYZ, not H2O, she feels sick as soon as she drinks some. She concludes this must be some different kind of water. She brings it to the community, who come up with a name for this mysteriously different water. They call it “fool’s water.”
Notice that there was only an impetus to change the name after something different was discovered about the water. Let’s change the scenario and say that H2O reacts to the Twin Earth body in the same way that XYZ does. In this case, Twin Earth doesn’t discover “fool’s water” until after certain advancements in chemistry.
The point is that Twin Earth only finds a reason to distinguish between water and Twin Earth water when they discover something that alerts them to their being two kinds.
This can always happen. For any kind of thing, we can always discover something about it that compels us to split it off into more than one type. We do that splitting by renaming.
Putnam’s error, therefore, is assuming that what the referent of a name really is is its current scientific description.…