Saturday, June 04, 2011

I could have been Barack Obama

(1) My parents could have named me "Barack Obama".
(2) If my parents had named me "Barack Obama", I would have been a Barack Obama.
(3) Necessarily, every Barack Obama is identical to someone who is Barack Obama.
(4) Therefore, I could have been Barack Obama.


I imagine people will question premise (3) or question whether or not (4) follows from (3). But (3) just says that it is necessary that for any x such that Barack Obama(x) there exists a y such that x=y and Barack Obama(y). So...

(3.1) If I had been a Barack Obama, I would have been identical to someone who is Barack Obama.
(3.2) If I had been identical to someone who is Barack Obama, I would have been Barack Obama.
(3.3) So, if I had been a Barack Obama, I would have been Barack Obama.

...I could have been Barack Obama.


I am not, of course, saying that I could have been the current and actual president of the US---I couldn't have been that Barack Obama. But I could have been a different one, if I had been named appropriately. The Barack Obama I could have been would have been Barack Obama the philosopher.

2 comments:

Colin Caret said...

I'm not sure if there is more going on here than I realize, but two comments:

1) Isn't the conclusion *only* counter-intuitive when read '[you] could have been the current and actual president of the United States'? If you're conceding that *that* isn't the case, what is the interest in this argument?

2) Isn't the argument just an instance of the following inference: pick anyone you like, some particular individual distinct from me, then if that individual has a name 'X' and there is an orthographically indiscernible but different name 'X' then, in the second sense only, I could have been X.

Brian Rabern said...

hey colin,

1) If the argument works then there is a narrow scope reading of a proper name. That there are such readings is very controversial. It would, e.g., support the claim that there is a true reading of "Barack Obama might not have been Barack Obama". I tend to think that there is a true reading of that but most people, i think, don't. I was trying to give an intuitive sounding argument to support the narrow scope reading. So my interest wasn't in the conclusion per se but in whether or not I could get there in a natural way from (1).

2) yes, perhaps. but I think many people would resist the idea that there is this "second sense" of 'I could have been Obama". In the second sense, I also could have failed to be Brian Rabern. If your happy with that then your on my side of the debate I'm imagining.