Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kripke-style anti-referentialist arguments

The standard anti-descriptivist arguments take the form of either the Modal Argument, the Epistemological Argument, or the Semantical Argument. I think there are parallel anti-referentialist arguments. If so, then it seem that the situation is more of a stand-off than is usually thought, i.e. there are compelling arguments against descriptivism but there are exactly parallel and equally compelling arguments against referentialism. The situation looks like a paradox about proper names.

The parallel Kripkean arguments, I have in mind, go something like this: 

Assume (for reductio) that `Hesperus' is referential such that it is semantically equivalent to `Phosphorus'. Then certain counterintuitive modal, epistemological and semantical consequences follow. We will represent the assumption as follows.

Assumption 0. [[Hesperus]] = [[Phosporus]]


Now consider the following sentence:

(1) Hesperus is Phosphorus.

By, Assumption 0, it follows that (1) is semantically equivalent to (2).

(2) Phosphorus is Phosphorus.

We can represent the logical form of the singular proposition that (2) semantically expresses as follows (note: I just stipulate that the `is' in (1) and (2) is the `is' of predication, not the `is' of identity. It ultimately doesn't matter but if you like just reword (1) as `Hesperus has the property of being identical to Phosphorus'.):

P: {Phosphorus, being identical to Phosphorus}

With this set up, we can run arguments completely parallel to the Kripkean anti-descriptivist arguments.

ANTI-REFERENTIALIST MODAL ARGUMENT: Since P is true evaluated with respect to every epistemically possible world (in which Phosphorus exists), P is epistemically necessary. But, surely (1) does not express an epistemically necessary truth. It might turn out that Hesperus is not Phosphorus.

ANTI-REFERENTIALIST EPISTEMIC ARGUMENT: Since one merely needs to entertain P in order to know that it is true, P is knowable a priori. But, surely (1) does not express an a priori truth. One cannot know a priori that Hesperus is Phosphorus.

ANTI-REFERENTIALIST SEMANTIC ARGUMENT: Suppose that Hesperus is not in fact Phosphorus but instead it is a comet with an erratic orbit. What does `Hesperus' refer to? By, Assumption 0, `Hesperus' refers to the same thing as `Phosporus', namely the planet Venus. And since by supposition, Hesperus is not the planet Venus, it follows that 'Hesperus' does not refer to Hesperus. But, surely `Hesperus' refers to Hesperus (regardless of what `Phosphorus' refers to).

3 comments:

Leon said...

I'm not sure how this constitutes a new argument against referentialism. It just seems to be a summary of the sort of complaints people typically already have. Furthermore, can't we use the 2d framework to defend 'referentialism' against this attack, in the same way that we use it to defend 'descriptivism' against the pure referentialist?

Brian Rabern said...

right, its not necessarily meant to be a novel worry for referentialism, just a neat way to show that we can put the worries in a an exactly parallel form as the worries for descriptivism (i am not completely confident i pulled it off, here). I'm not sure what you mean by using the 2D framework to defend referentialism...I was allowing that 2D is way out of the "paradox" i was envisioning. The paradox consists of the following three inconsistent but well motivated principles.

Referentialism: Names contribute their referent to propositions.

Non-referentialism: Names contribute something distinction (e.g. a description) to propositions.

Semantic Monism: Names contribute one entity to propositions.

So, yeah, we can deny Monism and keep both Referentialism and Non-referentialism.

Leon said...

I see. I thought you were trying to do something even more ambitious, which is to show that there is no such thing as direct reference has no place at all in a semantic theory, but perhaps that's part of a broader project rather than the present argument.