The causal theory
Whether or not one is persuaded by the account of rigidity offered in the preceding chapter, some answer is clearly needed to the question how it can be possible for a speaker to refer rigidly by means of a name; that is, to refer to the same individual “across possible worlds.”
The answer that has received most attention so far is the one tentatively advanced by Kripke in Naming and Necessity in terms of what he there calls “chains of communication,” but now generally known as the Causal Theory of Names. Here is Kripke's account of the theory:
Someone, let's say, a baby, is born; his parents call him by a certain name. They talk about him to their friends. Other people meet him. Through various sorts of talk the name is spread from link to link as if by a chain. A speaker who is at the far end of the chain, who has heard about, say, Richard Feynman, in the market place or elsewhere, may be referring to Richard Feynman even though he can't remember from whom he first heard of Feynman or from whom he ever heard of Feynman. He knows that Feynman was a famous physicist. A certain passage of communication reaching ultimately to the man himself does reach the speaker. He then is referring to Feynman even though he can't identify him uniquely. He doesn't know what a Feynman diagram is, he doesn't know what the Feynman theory of pair production and annihilation is. […]
From correspondence to realism
When once adopted on those grounds, especially by minds that, like that of the early Russell, happen to be sympathetic to empiricism, while at the same time repelled by any form of Idealism, the Correspondence Theory can very easily be reworked to provide the basis of a form of Realism – call it Referential Realism – definable by its opposition to two opposing views: Conventionalism and Relativism. The Referential Realist shares Locke's conviction that what we say has a bearing on reality only if its content is “conformable” to “some real being.” The Referential Realist need not, of course, commit himself to any view concerning the identity of the ultimate content-bearing elements of a language. It is indifferent to him, for instance, whether he sets up his position in terms of names and predicate-expressions, or in terms of sentences, or in terms of theoretically articulated collections of sentences. His claim is, simply, that only if some semantic contents, whatever linguistic entities they may attach to, in some way correspond to, or mirror, actually existing elements of Reality, will it be possible, in the language concerned, to construct propositions having a bearing on reality. Conventionalism, from the Referential Realist's point of view, is the claim that all the entities picked out by the content-bearing expressions of a natural language might be linguistic constructs: entities wholly constituted by linguistic convention. Referential Realism is not, of course, incompatible with the claim that some may be.
Scepticism and the content of “commonsense”
We think, and we speak our thoughts. Necessarily we speak them, even to ourselves, in some language, either in a so-called natural one – French, English, Hebrew, Greek – or in one of the so-called artificial languages of mathematics or formal logic. Whatever language we choose to speak, or must speak, however, we take ourselves often enough, most often perhaps, to be speaking in it of real things: things “real” in the sense, a sense introduced to philosophy by Descartes, and the source of much enduring intellectual anguish since, of being “outside the mind.”
But are not words themselves creatures of language? Is language itself not a creation of the human mind? If so, what assurance have we that, when we speak, we speak of the furniture of the universe, of Reality itself, rather than merely of the homely, and home-made, furniture of our own minds?
In raising such doubts we envisage the possibility that language, although it may seem the house of the mind, with windows opening on an extramental, extralinguistic world, may in fact be a prison, with none. The image of language as a prison no doubt owes something, historically, to Plato's myth of the Cave. But those immured in the Prison-House of Language, as philosophers since Locke have conceived it, are rather worse off than those chained facing the back wall of Plato's Cave.
“Bunbury,” as all lovers of Wilde are aware, is the name of a mythical friend and chronic invalid invented by Mr. Algernon Moncrieff to justify his absence from London dinner-tables during the summer months. To those not in on the secret, Algernon is unwillingly responding to the voice of conscience urging him as a sacred duty to spend time at the bedside of his sick friend. Those in on the secret are aware that he is doing nothing so improbable as his duty. He is simply off enjoying himself in the country: “going Bunburying.” There is no Bunbury.
In what sense, then, can those not in the secret be said to understand the remark “Bunbury is ill again”? Those in the unphilosophical and rather numerous majority whose bookshelves are innocent of the works of Gottlob Frege, seeing no problem, may be inclined to respond that they understand it as well as, and in the same way as, any other English sentence employing a proper name. For analytic philosophers since Frege, by contrast, the issue has been a loaded one; one that, almost more than any other, brings into focus a nest of problems concerning the question that has been occupying us: how and to what extent are the spontaneities of language constrained by reality?
But is language the only language? Why should there not be a mode of expression through which I can talk about language in such a way that it can appear to me in co-ordination with something else?
Kripke's cautionary lessons
In Chapter 14 we showed that, in “A Puzzle About Belief,” Saul Kripke relies on antecedent commitments to Russell's Principle and Referential Realism, which lead him to embrace a notion of linguistic competence that is both incompatible with the alleged paradox and with ordinary practice. In this chapter we show that the roots of these commitments run deep, so deep that Kripke's Referential Realism would, if successful, allow him to sustain his Millian view of meaning and reference, along with the version of de re essentialism in Naming and Necessity. We argue here that these conclusions are unwarranted: neither Millianism nor de re essentialism are defensible. However, as our earlier arguments show, and as will be more fully spelled out in the Epilogue, this does not result in an abandonment of Realism.
Kripke's paper ends with a cautionary conclusion.
When we enter into the area exemplified by Jones and Pierre, we enter into an area where our normal practices of interpretation and attribution of belief are subjected to the greatest possible strain, perhaps to the point of breakdown. So is the notion of the content of someone's assertion, the proposition it expresses. In the present state of our knowledge, I think it would be foolish to draw any conclusions, positive or negative, about substitutivity. […]
Philosophy, as Gilbert Ryle noted long ago, deals characteristically in dilemmas: their exploration and (sometimes) their resolution. Ryle was clearly right. Philosophical puzzlement very often originates in a question – which for some reason seems to us momentous – either answer to which commits us to unpalatable or implausible consequences.
So it is with the question whether “language” in the abstract, language taken as a semantic order, a system of meanings, “mirrors the world”: whether the categories, concepts, structures with which it furnishes us, far from being inventions of the human mind, simply transcribe categories and structures already inscribed in Nature, or Reality. If we answer “yes,” we surely discount, or at least minimise to an implausible degree, the part played by human ingenuity in the constitution of meaning in actual languages. If we answer “no,” by contrast, we seem to be denying the possibility of truth and objectivity. For how are we to describe anything truly, if the terms in which language forces us to frame all that can be said are set, not by the nature of what is to be described, but by linguistic or social convention?
The dilemma is a characteristically philosophical one; one, certainly, which has occasioned the spilling of much ink by philosophers. But its implications transcend the bounds of philosophy, at least philosophy narrowly considered as what goes on in philosophy departments.
To say that self-sufficient thought always refers to a thought enmeshed in language is not to say that thought is alienated or that language cuts thought off from truth and certainty. We must understand that language is not an impediment to consciousness …
Reference, Meaning, and Intention
The three forms of Referential Realism we have so far distinguished, albeit in a fairly brisk and sketchy way, account for a considerable part of what has taken place in analytic philosophy of language since 1900. They exhibit numerous incompatibilities, and the discussion of their relative merits has achieved considerable heights of complexity and acuity. We shall not, except occasionally and indirectly, enter into those discussions. Our object in this book is not to argue for or against any particular version of Referential Realism but to attack Referential Realism root and branch.
In opposition to the Referential Realist we shall contend that the entities “picked out by,” or “referred to,” or “designated by” all of the content-bearing expressions of a natural language are without exception linguistic constructs: things “constituted by linguistic convention,” in the sense of being things having no existence in nature prior to the constitution of language. At the same time we shall argue that such a claim yields neither of the absurd consequences it is generally supposed to yield.
Philosophy exists to trouble the peace of minds secure in their assumptions. Its shadow has always lain athwart the paths of commonsense thinking. To be fertile in paradox is part of its nature. At the same time the mind can never for long rest content with conclusions which smack of it. Paradox is not a resting-place, rather a spur to further thought. And for that reason, philosophical paradox is a serious matter, to which, when it is the product of a considerable mind, real intellectual importance can attach. It is something to be resolved, transcended if possible; it is not, by contrast, at least at its best and most serious, something to be laughed off.
In this Part, we have to deal with two such flights of paradox. The first, which will occupy us in this chapter, is Quine's celebrated argument for the indeterminacy of translation. The second is an argument of Kripke's which seems to show that our ordinary criteria for ascribing belief on the basis of sincere assent to propositions lead in certain cases to irresoluble contradiction. We shall argue that both are plausible only when their supporting arguments are advanced against the background of a certain, widely pervasive intellectual outlook, namely, the one we have been attacking throughout this book. Dispensing with Referential Realism, along the lines argued in Parts I–III, allows one, as we shall see, to deal rather swiftly with them.
Wittgenstein's Slogan and the later Wittgenstein
In Chapter 3, we outlined a strategy of opposition to Referential Realism. In pursuit of that strategy we committed ourselves in chapter 4 to a defence of what we there called Wittgenstein's Slogan: “Logic must take care of itself.” We took the Slogan to be equivalent to the proposal that all “logical” questions, taking “logical” in a sense broad enough to include all questions of the meaning and reference of terms, must be capable of being settled antecedently to the assignment of truth or falsity to any contingent proposition. And we began our defence by attempting to show, in Chapters 5–7, that the ability to refer by means of a proper name does not depend on a speaker's knowing any contingent truth concerning the entity to which he refers, but only on his knowing-how to participate in some selection of the array of socially instituted practices, maintained with the general object of keeping track of items by means of their names, which we called the Name-Tracking Network.
We have assumed, in short, that what is required to implement Wittgenstein's Slogan, once it is removed from its original context in the phase of Wittgenstein's thought that culminated in the Tractatus, is some way of representing what is known in knowing a language as knowledge-how, not knowledge-that: knowledge of the workings of practices, not knowledge of the truth of propositions.
Russell's Principle in Russell's version is the dictum that “Every proposition which we can understand must be composed wholly of constituents with which we are acquainted.” In Gareth Evans's version, it is the more or less equivalent claim that it is possible for a person to have a thought about something only if he knows which particular individual in the world he is thinking about, with the rider that at some point the phrase “which individual” will have to be spelled out in terms of sensory acquaintance if the demands of the principle are to be met.
It is worth noticing right at the outset, therefore, that there are types of reference and referring expression to which neither version of the Principle appears to have any application whatsoever. Take for instance, the sentence “The King can move one square in any direction.”
“The King” is a referring expression. It picks out an object, the chess-King. It would be possible, for that matter, to envisage a chess nomenclature in which, rather than being indicated by means of definite descriptions, “The White King,” “The White Queen's Bishop,” “The White Queen's Knight's Pawn,” and so on, the objects so indicated would be baptised with proper names: “King George,” “Queen Mary,” “Kaiser Wilhelm,” “Bishop Wilberforce,” and so on.
The identity of the object picked out by the definite description “The White King,” or by an equivalent proper name, however, neither needs to be explained, nor could be explained, “by acquaintance.”
Does the universe contain, in addition to individuals, kinds and properties? This is the celebrated Problem of Universals. The traditional answers to it comprise Realism, which posits kinds and properties in addition to their individual exemplars and instances, and Nominalism, which allows the existence only of individuals. There is also a third answer, Conceptualism, which, recoiling both from the absurdities of an outright Nominalism and from the over-richly peopled universe of the Realist, assigns to kinds and properties the refuge of a shadowy existence as mental templates, or rules, for shuffling individuals into the sets, or as logicians say, extensions, associated with kind-names.
Realism was born with Plato. Nominalism, despite the efforts of Nelson Goodman or Hartry Field, is widely regarded as having died with Hobbes. The analytic tradition in philosophy has tended until very recently to alternate uneasily between the options of Conceptualism and some kind of platonic or quasi-platonic Realism. The Realism recommended both by Frege and by the early Russell was of this kind.
Thoughts, Frege agrees with Plato, are eternal, immutable essences which are neither created, nor sustained, nor in any way altered by any human activity; nor are they perceivable by any human sense. And so, Frege concludes, they exist neither in the external material world, nor in the subjective inner world: “a third realm must be recognized.”
“Third realms” and their contents sit ill, however, with the Positivism-derived naturalism and empiricism of so much analytic philosophy.
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