Thursday, November 22, 2007

Names or what?

Are these proper names?

'the Mississippi'
'the Cliffs of Moher'
'the Netherlands'
'the Rockies'
'the Outback'
'the Holy Roman Empire'
'the Sun'
'the Parthenon'


What are these? (and was is their relation to the above?)

'the mighty Mississippi'
'the daunting Cliffs of Moher'
'the peaceful Netherlands'

'the majestic Rockies'
'the desolate Outback'
'the evil Holy Roman Empire'
'the setting Sun'
'the massive Parthenon'


[Aren't they just like 'the table' and 'the brown table'? ]


I think there is a dilemma here: (1) if you treat 'the Parthenon' as a name, then you must give 'the massive Parthenon' a disjoint treatment where 'Parthenon' is a common noun, but then you must allow dropping the 'massive' to get 'the Parthenon' where 'Parthenon' is still a common noun. Thus, 'the Parthenon' is ambiguous between the name and the definite description. This is unappealing. (2) if you concede that 'the Parthenon' is not a name, then either the Parthenon does not have a name (in English) or its name is 'Parthenon' and names can have determiners in front (then there is no reason not to think that 'two David Kaplans', 'every David Kaplan', are somehow to get a different treatment than names in argument position).

So the dilemma is this if the expressions on the first list are names, then the expressions on the second list, force one to the distasteful position that expressions like 'the Mississippi' and 'the Netherlands' are lexically ambiguous. If, instead, the expressions on the first list are not names, then there are a few options. (i) 'the Netherlands' is not a name [= BAD], (ii) 'Netherlands' is a name but interacts with determiners, modifiers, quantifiers, etc. [= names are general terms].

No doubt there are some places to explore in there but these look like the main roads.


4 comments:

Joe Arant said...

Hello, my name is Joe, and I had a quick question for you concerning the following post:

http://www.uweb.ucsb.edu/~rabern/A%20Modal%20Ontological%20Argument%20for%20God.pdf

The question is: Does this argument commit the bare assertion fallacy? (The bare assertion fallacy is fallacy in formal logic where a premise in an argument is assumed to be true merely because it says that it is true). I am under the impression that it doesn't, but an aquaintance seems to think it does. :)

Peace.

Brian Rabern said...

certain axioms are assumed and an assumption is assumed but I am not sure what this "bare assertion" deal is.

Joe Arant said...

Sorry if I'm not being clear, and thanks for responding, I apprieciate it! Here is a link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontological_argument

When refering to Plantiga's ontological proof, here is a rebuttal:

"The argument works by examining the concept of God, and arguing that it implies the actual existence of God; that is, if we can conceive of God, then God exists. However, this type of argument is often criticized as committing a bare assertion fallacy, meaning that it offers no outside premise to support its argument other than qualities inherent to the unproven statement."

I hope that clears up my question!

Also, what do you think of the S5 axiom?

* Possibly P implies Necessarily Possibly p
* Possibly Necessarily P implies Necessarily p

I am thoroughly facinated with modal logic, and I would really enjoy learning more about it!

Bob Carpenter said...

In the second set of "modified name" examples, there's a linguistic out where the adjectives act as appositives rather than restrictive modifiers. That is, using "the mighty Mississippi" serves two roles. One, it picks out the river using the name (though, of course, the definite signals it's halfway to a descriptive noun already). Two, it adds another statement that the river is "mighty".

Alternatively, the river might have two states, mighty and dormant, in which case, "mighty" looks like an adjective again. We can have names for states of objects as well as for objects; language as actually used by people to communicate is pretty flexible.

Having said that, treating names homogeneously as rigid designators has always seemed like a mistake to me, even when I was knee-deep in teaching Kripke. A pragmatic dismissal of the problem assumes they're all descriptions at some level created by cognitive agents without any priveleged direct link to extra-cognitive intensions.