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A Boring History of the Philosophy of Mind: Part 2

March 13, 2012

If the first part of this article was heavily based upon an older piece I wrote for school, this weeks entry is damn near a copy paste job. I’ve got too much going on this week and next week to write much. This week that means that I didn’t have time to add any editorializing, and next week, I’ll be taking my first skip day of the year. I’ll be back on the 27th with something really cool to make up for it, honest.

This week picks up right after Quine, and takes us to Austin and the beginnings of speech act theory. Don’t know what that means? No problem, I’ll do my best to take everyone along, myself included. A few of these get tricky, and I wouldn’t pretend to hold authority. I’m just trying to work this out, like everyone else…

Saul Kripke – “Naming and Necessity”

The first thing Kripke does is distinguish exactly what he means by ‘name’.  Here, a name is a proper name.  Other things that some prior philosophers have entertained as names are here referred to as designators (290).  For example, ‘Portland’ is name.  ‘The largest city in Oregon” is not a name, but a designator.  In an argument reminiscent of Frege’s, Kripke points out that names cannot simply be shorthand versions of designators, otherwise many seemingly non-trivial statements would be tautologies.  Using the above example, the sentence “Portland is the largest city in Oregon” would be nothing but another way to say “The largest city in Oregon is the largest city in Oregon”.  Kripke proposes cluster theory as a solution.  He uses Wittgenstein’s concept of family resemblances, where the “referent of a name is not determined by a single description, but by a cluster or family” (291).  This cluster theory finds it root in the Quine’s idea of a “field of force” which determines the meanings of words.

Kripke introduces the idea of rigid designators.  These are names that designate the same object in every possible world where that object exists.  These objects possess essential properties, and must possess these properties in every possible world where they exist.  Based upon this, Kripke makes a particularly strong assertion: names are rigid designators (293).  To return to the ‘Portland’ example, it is possible that Portland may not have existed, or that a different city could be the largest city in Oregon, but it is not possible that Portland could not be Portland.  It is possible for Portland to have been given a different name, and still be Portland.  The name “Portland” is simply the name given to the thing Portland.  “Portland” is the metalanguage we use to refer to the thing, Portland.  Or, to use one of Kripke’s own examples, “one would not say that “’two plus two equals four’ is contingent because people might have spoken a language in which ‘two plus two equals four’ meant that seven is even” (296).  Because names are rigid designators, they cannot be based upon descriptions, and still rigidly refer to the same thing in every possible world.

If it is both the case that names are rigid designators, how is it that they are created?  Kripke explains that a name is given in an “initial baptism” and then passed from “link to link” (300).  In this model, the name is given in the initial baptism, and then passed down.  The person who learns the name from the initial user intends to use it to refer to the same thing as its initial referent.  In this manner, names are passed from user to user, maintaining a causal chain back to their baptism and referent.  In this essay, the causal theory of names is only sketched out.  Kripke maintains no illusions that his proposal is a fully fledged theory, only that it is a “better picture than that given by description theorists” (301).


Hilary Putnam – “Meaning and Reference”

In the work of Hilary Putnam, we see the social underpinnings of language that began in Frege, and continued to build in Quine, become prominent.  In the beginning of “Meaning and Reference”, Putnam immediately gives credit to Frege for moving meanings into a social realm, where multiple persons could grasp them at the same time (306).

One piece of evidence Putnam offers is that it is possible for two terms to have the same extension, but different intension.  His example is that “creature with a kidney” and “creature with a heart” (renate and cordate, respectively) have the same extension (referent), but their intension is different (306).  Conversely, the idea that a word might have a single intension, but two different extensions, has always been taken as false (306-307).

Putnam challenges this assumption using the elaborate example of “twin earth”.  Twin earth is in every way identical to our Earth, with one exception.  On Twin earth, water is not water, but XYZ, a different chemical with otherwise identical properties to water.  On each of these planets lives a man named Oscar, these men are identical.  When Oscar speaks of water, he speaks of H20, when Twin-Oscar speaks of water, he is talking about XYZ (307).  Here, both men have the same intension, but the extension is not the same.  If two persons can have the exact same thoughts, but speak of different things, than meanings can’t be in the head (309).

Next Putnam proposes that there is a “division of linguistic labor” (309).  Because meanings are not simply in the head, they are formed by the “collective body” (309).  Within a society, not everyone who uses a word need to know how to determine exactly what it does and does not refer to (309).  As example, Putnam points out that there are people who wear gold who could not definitively explain why it is gold.  Just as there are people to wear gold, there are people to identify gold, and other people who determine the criteria of what constitutes ‘gold’ to begin with (310)


Gareth Evans – “The Causal Theory of Names”

Gareth Evans seeks to pick up where Kripke and Putnam left off, and craft a more complete causal theory of names.  Evans continues along a very similar path to Kripke, but believes causal chains are not a sufficient explanation of meaning.

Evans points out that there are two different senses for the word “denoting”, which in turn leads to two different kinds of description theory.  The “strong” thesis asks what the speaker denotes (314).  This leads to a kind of cluster theory, where a name denotes its referent because at the moment of use that thing best fits the cluster of information attached to the name.  Denotation here is dependent on the speaker alone.  The second sense, the “weaker” thesis, asks what the name denotes (314).  Stated thus the denotation does not rest solely on the speaker.  Denotation is determined by a group of speakers who use a name with the intent of referring to the same object.  Their beliefs compose a set of descriptions; the object that best fits these descriptions is the meaning of the word.

Though Kripke only addressed the strong version, Evan’s does not see the weak thesis as any more viable.  Both these theses assume each name is “aimed” at a thing, and possesses a description “uniquely true” of that thing (315). This contradicts the apparent capacity of people to meaningfully use terms they barely understand.  Also, by focusing on the properties of things and ignoring context, there is no explanation of how we distinguish between two identical objects.

Evans views the causal theory of Kripke as the beginning of a solution to this problem.  He begins where Kripke ended, describing the causal theory as follows:  When a speaker uses a name, it refers to a thing if there is a causal chain of reference leading back to that thing, where the final link (from name to thing) was formed at the initial naming of the thing (316).  Like description theory before, this theory fails to account for context.  The name will always refer to that thing it is causally connected to, “no matter how remote or forgotten the conversation, no matter how alien the subject matter and confused the speaker” (317).

Evans wants to change the manner in which this causal chain functions.  Instead of connecting the speakers use to the naming of the thing, Evans want to connect the “item’s states and doings to the speakers body of information” (319).  This version of the causal chain is more abstract.  Instead of a linear path leading back to the christening of an object, the chain forms a cluster of information that is “dominantly of an item” (320).  Over time, a wide variety of factors can shift the meaning of this chain.  Persistent use of a name to refer to something other than its original referent will still contribute to the causal chain, perhaps gaining dominance over the cluster and altering the meaning of the word (321-322).  For similar reasons, a group of speakers may continue to use a name erroneously, even after being corrected, because of the dominance the incorrect meaning has over the cluster (324).


J.L. Austin – “Perfomative Utterances”

In “Performative Utterances”, J.L. Austin proposes that attempts to define only “meaning” will not adequately describe our use of language.  Austin introduces a discussion of performative words and phrases (137). These phrases are acts of creation, in some way changing the world around them through use.  Making promises or issuing verdicts are examples of such phrases.  Austin uses the phrase, “I name this ship the Queen Elizabeth” as an example (137).  This phrase does not describe the naming of the ship, but performs the act of naming the ship.

These names are not true or false, but they do imply certain conditions.  If used out of context, the speech act can fail. To return to the Queen Elizabeth example, in order for the naming of the ship to “work”, certain conditions must be met.  The person must have the authority to name the ship, and be in a context where the naming is recognized (139).

Austin regards Insincerity as another peculiar case.  A person may congratulate or promise insincerely, making the performative utterance somehow peculiar.  A promise made with no intent to honor does not fail in the manner a contextually incorrect naming does.  In proper context, the promise will go off successfully.  However, the individual making the insincere statement is an abuse of the procedure (143).

Austin is not oblivious to the grey area surrounding performative utterances.  He identifies this as a result of the similarities between speech acts and performative utterances.  Just as a performative may be contextually wrong, or insincere, so can a statement (142-143).  When a person says, “X is true”, they are saying something equivalent to “I believe X to be true”.  Like a speech act, this statement is not true of false.  Also, in cases where advice is given, another question arises.  “Was the advice any good” also becomes relevant, and raises another manner in which utterances may possess characteristics similar to truth or falsity (144).

His exploration of speech acts is far from exhaustive, and Austin states as much, “what we need besides the old doctrine of meanings is a new doctrine about all the possible forces of utterances… then, going from there, an investigation of the various terms of appraisal that we use in discussing speech acts of this, that, or the other precise kind” (144-145).

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