Monday, April 18, 2005

Naming and Necessity, Lecture II

Last thursday the workshop met to discuss lecture II in Naming and Necessity.

In attendance were Jason B., David F., Jay E., Nat H., Zed A., Chris F., Ben M., Aidan G., Rachel G., Will S. and Justin S.

David F. bought Stella Artois, which was good, but a smaller number of beers than normal, which was bad.

Chris F. volunteered to recap what we learned last session and lead us into lecture II. In essence, he claimed that lecture I offered arguments against thesis (6) on p.71 and that the first part of lecture I consisted of arguments against theses (2-5).

There was some brief debate about the importance of Kripke's emphasis on individual speakers in thesis (2). Jason B. wondered whether there might be a way of generating a social account of the cluster of properties believed to correspond to a name. Such a view would be a modified description view akin to Strawson's view discussed on p. 65, n. 27. We agreed that this proposal was slightly more plausible than the individualist view Kripke is attacking but not a good enough improvement to warrant much attention.

Discussion then concentrated on whether Kripke's causal-historical "picture" of names was an improvement on the descriptivist "picture". Zed A. quickly grew irritated with the need to constantly affix the caveats "Kripke's not offering a theory", "Kripke's only proposing an alternate 'picture'", "Kripke's not giving necessary and sufficient conditions for anything" to any criticism of Kripke's account. He proposed that we all acknowledge that all our talk for the rest of the workshop would be picture-talk.

We adopted the convention, but Zed A. remained irritated.

What about the causal-historical account of how names refer? We started out with a discussion of a thought experiment proposed by Zed A, similar to some of Gareth Evans's examples in "The Causal Theory of Names". The example was described as follows:

1. I overhear you talking about something called "Globula".

2. I intend to participate in your conversation by saying various plausible-sounding things about Globula. For example, I say "I bet Globula is one sharp dresser". Since you and the other interlocutors are referring to Globula, I count as referring as well according to Kripke's picture.

3. But what I say about Globula is not only false, it is seriously mistaken in the following way. Globula as used by you and the other interlocutors refers to a small Hawaiian island. So what I'm saying about Globula is near incomprehensible ("Globula is a sharp dresser").

4. What to make of such a situation? Do I count as referring to Globula when I say "I bet Globula is one sharp dresser?" Zed A. and Nat H. (and some others) shared the intuition that I would not be referring to Globula, so the example seemed like a problem for Kripke's picture (a problem rather than a counterexample since, presumably, a picture can't be counterexampled).

Jason B. was unimpressed. His intuitions pulled him in the opposite direction and he offered the following variation on the Globula case.

1a. Suppose I find myself in a culture where talking about Globula is taboo on certain occasions (say at dinnertime).

2a. I have overheard you using "Globula" in other contexts, and one night at dinner, I utter some sentences with the word "Globula" in them, intending to use the word to refer as you have in the past (and not knowing about the taboo).

3a. Everyone at dinner listening to me is horrified by my gross breach of etiquette. A couple of my friends pull me aside after dinner and whisper, "You fool--what were you doing all night going on and on saying all those weird things about Globula? Don't you know you're not supposed to talk about it at dinnertime?"

4a. The intuition in Jason B.'s version of the example is supposed to be: I am referring to Globula, even though I am grossly mistaken about what it is and say strange, possibly incomprehensible things about it.

So, we determined (unsurprisingly) that there can be conflicting intutions about odd cases in Kripke's picture.

David F. then offered a different example, slightly different from the previous two, to suggest that Kripke's picture fails to take account of our name using practice. His example went as follows:

1b. Like the previous cases, I don't know how others are using "Globula", but I intend to use it as they do. But unlike the previous cases, I mistakenly apply it to some other object. (This case is like Evans's Madagascar example, except that it can involve only one person).

2b. I apply "Globula" consistently not to an island, but to a person. I keep a diary where I record all sorts of information about Globula--what he's wearing, what he says to me, etc.

3b. In David F's version of the example, should we say that I am constantly referring to the Hawaiian island and saying radically false things about it (like that it was rude to me and was sharply dressed)? Or that the causal historical chain leading up to my use of the name is irrelevant and what matters is actually my coherent use of the name to refer to the person?

David F. and Aidan G. both emphatically endorsed the overriding importance of our use of the name.

Jason pointed us to a footnote (pp. 85-86 n. 36) where Kripke offers what looks like his response to this kind of case. It will involve the speaker reference / semantic reference distinction. With that in mind, we decided to read Kripke's "Speaker Reference Semantic Reference" paper for next time before going on to lecture III.

This account leaves out discussions we had of Swamp Man, the general nature of offensive language, and Terry Schiavo's ability to participate in a name-using practice.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Naming and Necessity, Lecture I

On Thursday the largest group of students in workshop history assembled to discuss lecture I of Naming and Necessity. The group included several prospective graduate students. We had nicer beer this time to complement the larger numbers--Becks and Heineken instead of the usual Schlitz and Old Style.

David F. placed N&N in its philosophical context and Jason B. used his "Socratic" teaching method (which involves posing a difficult question point-blank to the group as a whole) to get discussion started. The most interesting moments of the discussion were the following:

1. David F. asked whether "That's Chris F." states a necessary truth. Answer: yes. This was the least contentious example of a necessary truth known a posteriori. Even the Kantians present could not muster a compelling response to this example. There was a brief discussion of whether propositions themselves are a priori or a posteriori or whether it is justifications of propositions that are a priori or a posteriori.

2. There was a long discussion of the contingent a priori. Several people worried that stipulation does not extend our knowledge. We focused on one footnote in particular, n. 26 on pp. 63-64. As far as I can remember, we didn't come to an agreement about why Kripke dismissed this worry.

Next time we will discuss lecture II of N&N.