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Ostension, Names and Natural Kind Terms

  • Mohan Matthen (a1)

It seems to be a part of the oral and written tradition of contemporary philosophy that Saul Kripke and Hilary Putnam have resurrected a kind of Aristotelianism about natural kinds by reference to purely semantic ideas. Thus in a recent issue of the Journal of Philosophy, M. R. Ayers writes that according to Kripke and Putnam: “The names ‘gold’, ‘tiger’ etc. have their meaning … by being the name of, or, more technically, by ‘rigidly designating’, a natural kind.” And in the immediately following pages he suggests that the view Kripke and Putnam arrive at is “not at all unlike Aristotelian doctrine”, but arrived at from “the rather special point of view of a concern with modal logic, and against the background of Russell's theory of descriptions, the modern obsession with proper names, and so forth”. Presumably what Ayers is alleging here is that something like the Aristotelian position on substance, species, essential properties and so forth is or is intended to be the outcome of the Kripke-Putnam investigations.

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1 References to the “oral tradition”, or to what I have heard, are to the Simon Fraser University Conference on Natural Kinds held in Vancouver on February 11–12, 1983. The discussion at this conference made me aware of the range of examples to which the Kripke-Putnam view must be applied if it is to be taken seriously. I must also thank Ali Akhtar, Bernard Linsky and a referee for Dialogue for discussion and/or criticism of an earlier draft of this paper. A fragment of the paper was read to the Western Canada Philosophical Association at meetings held in Winnipeg, October 21–23, 1983.

2 In “Naming and Necessity” in G. Harman and D. Davidson, eds.. The Semantics of Natural Language (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1972), and the revised book (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980).

3 In Mind, Language and Reality (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1975), chaps. 5, 6 and 8.

4 “Locke and Aristotle on Natural Kinds”, Journal of Philosophy 78 (1981), 247249.

5 Paul Churchland at the Simon Fraser Conference. Patricia S. Churchland expresses the same line of thought in “Is Determinism Self-Refuting?”, Mind 90 (1981), 99-101, but not with reference to Kripke and Putnam.

6 We may express Kripke's theory and mine by saying that the term ‘water’ is rigid’, in “Meaning and Reference”, Journal of Philosophy 70 (1973), 707. Since there are rigid terms whose connotation determines their extension (e.g., “H20”) this suggests that the sole criterion for a natural kind term is rigidly designating a kind. References to philosophers who define “natural kind term” in this way could be multiplied.

7 “If‘Cat’ Is a Rigid Designator, What Does It Designate?”, Philosophical Studies 37 (1980).

8 Quantifying into the context of necessity has since Quine's “Three Grades of Modal Involvement”, in Ways of Paradox (New York: Random House, 1967), been regarded as the sign of “Aristotelian essentialism”.

9 “How to Be a Good Empiricist—A Plea for Tolerance in Matters Epistemological”, in B. Baumrin, ed., Philosophy of Science: The Delaware Seminar, vol. 2 (New York: Interscience Publishers, 1963), and reprinted in P. H. Nidditch, ed., The Philosophy of Science, Oxford Readings in Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968). The page reference is to Nidditch.

10 W. V. O. Quine, Word and Object (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1960), chap. 2.

11 Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 7-14.

12 “Reference and Definite Descriptions”, Philosophical Review 75 (1966), 281–304.

13 “A Puzzle about Belief”, in Avishai Margalit, ed.. Meaning and Use (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel. 1978).

14 In the book cited in footnote 2 above he says that he “had no ambition [in footnote 56 of the 1972 essay] rigorously to prove ‘essentialism from the theory of reference’ alone.”

15 “Substances as Individuals”, Journal of Philosophy 70 (1973), 711712.

16 Reference and Essence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 50.

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Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie
  • ISSN: 0012-2173
  • EISSN: 1759-0949
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