Monday, May 16, 2005

Naming and Necessity, Lecture III

[Note added Dec 21, 2005: The second half of this post has been lost. I reconstructed the first half from notes that I made in preparing the original post.]

Last Thursday the workshop met to discuss lecture III of Naming and Necessity.

David F., Jason B., Jay E., Nat H., Chris F., Nate Z., Aidan G., Rachel G., and Will S. were present.

Discussion did not stray far from Kripke's treatment of the contingent a priori and its relation to the way reference is "fixed" or "determined" for proper names and natural kind terms (NKTs).

If there was a theme to this workshop, it was precious metals (gold, platinum) and diamonds.

Before we began, David F. asked about the parenthetical reference on p. 139 to "anti-scientific fundamentalists [such] as Bryan" casting aspersions on the "natural scientific curiosity of Man". Jay E. pointed out that the reference must be to Williams Jenning Bryan's role as the prosecutor of John Scopes in the Scopes Monkey Trial (1925). John Scopes was a biology teacher who was arrested for teaching the theory of evolution in Dayton, TN. (The character based on Bryan ["Matthew Harrison Brady"] in Stanley Kramer's Inherit the Wind is an anti-science Christian fundamentalist).

Jay pointed out another connection (probably unintended by Kripke) between Bryan and the passge from Kripke. Kripke says,

...the 'original sample' [used to fix the reference of a NKT] gets augmented by the discovery of new items. (In the case of gold, men applied tremendous effort to the task. Those who doubt the natural scientific curiosity of Man should consider this case. Only such anti-scientific fundamentalists as Bryan cast aspersions on the effort.

Besides his role in the Scopes trial, Bryan is most famous for his "Cross of Gold Speech" opposing the gold standard ("You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold"). As far as my understanding of the politics of the 1896 election go (not very far), Bryan represented farmers for whom higher inflation would be beneficial. Keeping the dollar on the gold standard would keep inflation in check.

Once we had the Bryan allusion sorted out, David F. started the workshop by asking why a speaker can know the identity "Heat = that which is sensed by sensation S" a priori (p. 136).

Obviously, Kripke cannot think that a speaker knows that identity simply in virtue of the meaning of "heat", because there are counterfactual situations in which heat is not sensed by sensation S (there are no conscious creatures, for example). But in those situations, we would not say that heat does not exist, only that there are no creatures that can sense it. So the meaning of heat cannot be tied to the sensation S.

We thought that Kripke here must be saying something about heat that was analogous to what he says about the Standard Meter Bar (p. 56). The contingent a priori is a way of knowing something that essentially involves "definition" or stipulation. Kripke says of this way of knowing something that one knows it "automatically, without further investigation" (back when we talked about this remark in lecture I, many of us worried that that was not the best way of describing the a priori).

1 comment:

Jason Bridges said...

This is an extremely lucid and comprehensive summary. Especially given that the discussion itself was, shall we say, wide-ranging.