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David Kaplan and Taking Words Seriously

In his work on language, David Kaplan has developed an account on which sentences containing indexicals, demonstratives, and proper names express singular propositions. In addition to contributing to the founding of this new theory of singular reference, David has, perhaps more than anyone, provided an assessment of the metaphysical picture of language that the theory is committed to. He has offered a substantive characterization of a public, common currency, language, with speakers as consumers and words as in-the-world denizens, with histories. Finally, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, in Davids work on language there is an enduring quest to account for a quintessentially Fregean notion: cognitive value. I will begin with a brief description of Freges famous puzzle about true identity sentences. I will then discuss Davids work on the metaphysical commitments of the singular reference theorist. Finally, I will offer a suggestion of how we might, in light of this account of the metaphysics of words, seek to retool our view of cognitive value, taking a cue from some remarks of Davids.

The Original Puzzle In On Sense and Reference, Frege claimed that the epistemic status of a true identity sentence can be linked to its form. A sentence of the form a=a, with the same

name flanking the identity sign, is uninformative, and knowable to be true a priori; a true sentence of the form a=b, containing distinct names, can be informative, and is not (always) knowable a priori. Frege concluded that the names a and b must therefore express distinct cognitive/semantic values, which he called Sinne, or senses. It is a difference in the senses expressed by coreferential names that underlies the difference in the epistemic status between sentences like Hesperus is identical to Hesperus and Hesperus is identical to Phosphorus. (Or, as David put it in Afterthoughts, It is on the rock of distinct cognitive values for distinct names that Frege erected his gossamer theory of sense and reference.) Kaplan, of course, denies that names express Sinne, and denies that there is any difference in meaning between coreferential names. Nonetheless, he agrees with Frege about one thing, writing, in that it is indisputable that distinct proper names have distinct cognitive values. How can we reconcile a semantic account on which a name has no semantic value other than its bearer with a commitment to distinct cognitive values for coreferential names? In Afterthoughts, David makes the following intriguing suggestion: Lately, I have been thinking that it may be a mistake to follow Frege in trying to account for differences in cognitive values strictly in terms of semantic values. Can distinctions in cognitive value be made in terms of the message without taking account of the medium? Or does the medium play a central role? On my view, the message the content of a proper name is just the referent. But the medium is the name itself. There are linguistic differences between Hesperus and Phosphorus even if there are no semantic differences. Note also that the syntactic properties of Hesperus and Phosphorus, for example their distinctness as words, are surer components of cognition than any purported semantic values

In order to see how this response offers an insight into Freges puzzle, we need to first get a better idea of how David characterizes the medium. What sort of thing is a name?

A name is born
In his paper Words, David gives an example of how a name comes into existence: at some point some Babylonian looked up in the sky one evening and said (in Babylonian) Oh, theres a beauty. Lets call it--, and then he introduced the name [Hesperus]. What he did was to create a word.He then passed that word on to other people through inscriptions and utterances. Those people passed it on to others and so on

The name/referent connection is forged at the moment of introduction; a name comes into existence as the name of a particular object. Saul Kripke and Keith Donnellan were, independently, the originators of this type of explanation of the name/referent connection. The picture described by these theorists has the following elements: introduction of a name; use of that name, by its creator, and others; and passage of that name from user to user. As David writes: Kripke and Donnellan provide an ...explanation of how a name in local use can be connected with a remote referent. Kaplan is particularly interested in names as objects-in-the-world. He writes of the name introduced by the Babylonian: As it went through different communities, the way this word was pronounced and written changed in very dramatic ways, through whatever processes account for dialectal variation.

Kaplan likens a words vulnerability to the vicissitudes of history to our own such vulnerability: the presupposition of these processes of change are the principles of continuity in accordance with which a changing word retains its identity. As we pass through various communities at various stages in our lives, we also change dramaticallyBut we still have the notion that we are a single entity. And so it is for the word. Change in pronunciation and spelling need not suggest the notion of replacement of one word by anotherRather, we can use the notion of a single entity undergoing change. (Words, p. 101)

Presemantics, and the Common Currency Theorist: The common currency, causal-historical chain account of names provides a compelling explanation of how even the most ignorant among us can refer. It is the name, not the name user, which does the referring work. What a theorist who embraces the picture has more difficulty providing is an explanation of what makes it the case that speaker utters a particular name on an occasion of use. Given the common currency conception, we can ask, about any occasion of purported language use: What words (if any) were used? And: in virtue of what was it that it was those words that were used? These questions arise in the domain of what Kaplan has called presemantics; an answer requires appeal to facts about the language user, and that users history with the words. Kaplan lays out the issue in this way: given an utterance, semantics cannot tell us what expression was uttered or what language it was uttered in. This is a presemantic task. When I utter a particular vocable, for example, the one characteristic of the first person pronoun of English, you must decide what word I have spoken or indeed, if I have spoken any word at all (it may have been a cry of anguish). In associating a word with my utterance you

take account of a variety of features of the context of utterance that help to determine what I have said but that need not be any part of what I have said. My egotism, my intonation, my demeanor, may all support the hypothesis that it was the first person pronoun of English. But these aspects of personality, fluency, and mood are no part of any semantic theory of the first person pronoun. The factors I have cited are not, of course, criterial for the use of the first person pronoun. What are the criteria? What would definitively settle the question? I dont know. I think this is a very difficult question. But among the criteria there must be some that touch on the utterers intention to use a word in conformity with the conventions of a particular linguistic community.

Though Kaplan at first frames the issue in terms of how a listener decides which word was used, or associates a word with an utterance, the real issue is about criteria. In virtue of what was a particular word used, as opposed to another, or as opposed to no word at all? Kripke, when first developing his causal chain picture of names in Naming and Necessity, asks the following question: What makes my use of the name Cicero into a name of him? However, what Kripke goes on to argue is that there isnt anything that makes a use of Cicero into a name of a particular person; one simply uses a particular name, which has a particular referent. The real issue, given Kripkes theory of names and how they are individuated, is a presemantic one: In virtue of what is my use of a name a use of a particular name, that name, Cicero? For both Kripke and Kaplan, and, in general, for the common currency theorist, answering the presemantic question involves appeal to the intentions of the speaker. As Kaplan writes in Demonstratives: it is certain intentions on the part of the speaker that make a particular vocable the first person singular pronoun rather than a nickname for Irving.

Kripke and Kaplan have argued that we use expressions in the common language with general intentions. That is, when we use an expression, we have the intention to use it with its meaning (or, in the case of a name, we intend to use it with the same reference as the person from whom we received it). As Kaplan puts it: If we are to use those words, the words of our linguistic community, then we must defer to their meaningto use language as language, to express something, requires an intentional act. But the intention that is required involves the typical consumers attitude of compliance, not the producers assertiveness. Let us consider how this might work in a straightforward case in which a name is acquired, and later used. Donnellan gives the case of a child who is gotten up from sleep at a party and introduced to someone as Tomlater the child says to his parents Tom is a nice man. The only thing that he can say about Tom is that Tom was at a party. What makes this later use of Tom a use of the same name that the child learned the night before? The child makes initial contact with the name at the party, when he is told: This is Tom. He is given the name, and thus is, at that time, related to the name, and in a position to form an intention involving it. But in virtue of what, on the following day, is he once again connected with that name, so that he may intend to use it with its conventional meaning? Kaplan, in Words, considers the issue of when the same word is used again. He frames the question in this way: Something goes on between the reception of an utterance as an input and the transmission of a distinct utterance as an output. What

happens in the black box during this intrapersonal processing, what is it that connects particular input and output circuits? What is it that makes a particular output, the transmission of the same word as that carried by a particular earlier input? (p. 102) To provide an answer to the question is particularly challenging, because: when the word goes through the black box, when the word is received from one person and stored for passage on to the next person, it isnt, of course, put into the pocket in the way in which a coin can be stored in its passage from person to personThis form of storage, in the mind (rather than in the pocket), makes the continuity much harder to trace. Kaplan notes that the provision of a criterion, an answer to the what makes it the case question, is difficult, and refrains from offering one. Kripke, too, seems reluctant to offer an explanation here. In the preface to Naming and Necessity, he considers an utterance, Aristotle was fond of dogs, and writes: In practice it is usual to suppose that what is meant in a particular use of a sentence is understood from the context. In the present instance, that context made it clear that it was the conventional use of Aristotle for the great philosopher that was in question. Kripke gives no indication of why we should connect what is meant to which name is being used; he does not explain how context makes it clear which name is being used. Again: for the common currency theorist, what is at issue presemantically is neither what is meant nor what the speaker intends to say or convey. It is rather: which words were used? No appeal to mere context can settle that it was that name Aristotle, among the very many that there are, that the speaker used.

Kripke also fails to frame the issue of disambiguation in terms of which word is being used. Instead, he focuses on who is being referred to or spoken about, asserting: As a speaker of my idiolect, I call only one object Aristotle, though I am aware that other people, including the man I call Onassis, or perhaps Aristotle Onassis, had the same given name. Notice how different this is from the claim that in his idiolect there is only a single name Aristotle. Furthermore, it is obfuscatory; Kripke ought not make any appeal to whom he is calling Aristotle. Use of a particular name, towards which one has a general intention, is in not a matter of being aware of what the name refers to. On the picture that Kripke has defended, a speaker does not call an individual by a name; rather, a common currency name, wielded by a speaker, has a referent as its semantic value. So: what does underlie an individual language users ability to form an intention involving a particular common currency word? The explanation that I will provide is inspired by two points of Kaplans: first, his Afterthoughts assertion that words are objects of cognition; second, Kaplans acknowledgment in Words that each language user sorts, or parses, her common currency expressions idiosyncratically.

Cognitive value

What I now offer is a characterization of cognitive value that both recognizes that members of a linguistic community share a common language, and finds an essential role for that which each user idiosyncratically associates with the words of that language. Kripke, in Naming and Necessity, acknowledges that we do make such associations. When he characterizes Freges theory (as a prelude to refuting it), he does so by listing six theses. Though he goes on to challenge the second through the sixth of these theses, he writes that the first, being a definition, is true: (1) To every name or designating expression X, there corresponds a cluster of properties, namely the family of properties such that A believes X. To accept this is to recognize that some sort of property-involving, or descriptive, component is associated with a use of a name, and that this association is relative to a particular language user. In challenging the description theory of proper names, Kripke writes that even a single speaker when asked what descriptions are you willing to substitute for the name? may be quite at a loss. In fact, he may know many things about him [i.e., the referent of the name]; but any particular thing that he knows he may feel clearly expresses a contingent property of the object. This move, from the acknowledgment that speakers associate descriptions with the names that they use, to a comment about what a speaker knows about the referent, is too fast. The issue at hand, after all, is: what is the role of the descriptive material that speakers associate with proper names? Kripke is correct in denying that such descriptive material can be substituted for a name. No description can be synonymous with a proper name. But recognition of the fact

that the descriptive information associated with a name does not allow for identification of the referent does not rule out another role for the descriptive information. Someone asserts Aristotle was wise. Even those of us who accept that the names that we use are part of a public language, and have no descriptive meaning, only referents, will still say things like: Aristotle was wise you know, the Italian shipping magnate who married Lady Bird Johnson. This is not because we are willing to substitute descriptions for the names that we use the description is neither a synonym, nor a reference determiner. Rather, it reveals how ubiquitous is our practice of associating descriptive information with names. That it is partly by means of such information that we sort the names in our vocabulary is, I think, evidenced by cases like the one involving Paderewski, given by Kripke in his paper A Puzzle About Belief. Kripkes example involves Peter, who received the name Paderewski on two separate occasions. As Kaplan puts it in Words: Peter first heard Paderewskis name used in connection with his musical accomplishments and later heard the name used in connection with Paderewskis political accomplishments and then concluded that there were two different [names] Paderewski. Peter goes on to produce utterances like Paderewski is brilliant, but Paderewski is an idiot, and, notably, Paderewski is not Paderewski. What Peter has done is sort the single name Paderewski as two distinct names. He then later, when uttering Paderewski is not Paderewski, uses that name twice this, despite the fact that he believes himself to be using distinct names. We can point to the descriptive information that Peter has associated with what he takes to be distinct names Paderewski in order to explain his use of that (single) name twice to explain how he


twice forms a general intention to use it, even though he takes himself to be using two different names. David, in Words, writes that we should distinguish Peters denial of true Paderewski is identical to Paderewski from the more familiar Hesperus-Phosphorus cases; in the former, but not the latter, the problem is one that involves a mistake about the identity of words. But ought the common currency theorist see the cases as so different? Peter has indeed sorted one name as a two names, and has therefore made an error: he has associated distinct information with each occurrence of Paderewski, and has, furthermore, concluded that there are two names, and that they refer to distinct objects. But now imagine a slightly modified case, in which there are in fact distinct names Paderewski in circulation, both names of the same man. David gives such a case, in Words: of the mischievous Babylonian, who looked up and saw Venus, and thought to himself This one is just as beautiful as Phosphorus, so lets call it Phosphorus too. Now maybe he actually knew that he was naming the same thing; maybe he was playing a little joke on his Babylonian friends. But more likely, he didnt know. In any case: Now it seems clear that we have two common currency names Phosphorus, one somewhat older than the other, and that they start out, at least, as phonographs. Who knows, after a little while they may drift apart in terms of pronunciation because as astronomers talk more and more about the sky, they might feel that it is confusing to have the same generic name Phosphorus for two different heavenly bodies. What this case suggests is that, on any occasion of an encounter with a name, one must decide: which name is this? Is it a name that I already have, or a new one? Merely


being Phosphorus, and referring to Venus, will not settle the question of whether it is the same name as the Phosphorus in my vocabulary that refers to Venus. Furthermore: merely being Hesperus will not settle whether or not a name is different from the Phosphorus in my vocabulary. Given the metaphysical commitments of the common currency theorist that Kaplan has just reminded us of that, like us, a single word can undergo changes, in spelling and pronunciation we must also consider the case of the mischievous archaeologist, who has unearthed clear evidence that Hesperus is indeed the very same word as Phosphorus, but has decided to keep the philosophers in the dark. The archaeologist knows that, due to some sort of branching off into dialects, a single word gradually grew more and more different in pronunciation and spelling in distinct communities. A more extreme version of color and colour, if you will. Such a case would seemingly involve the mistaken parsing, by all of us but the archaeologist, of one word as two words. And yet surely the original puzzle arises, and surely Hesperus and Phosphorus will differ in cognitive value. I will briefly note that if we accept, as Kripke and Kaplan seem to, that a single name can undergo a reference change, we should expect to have sentences like Madagascar is identical to Madagascar, containing the same name twice, which can turn out to be false. Should we say: it is at least possible that there be sameness of cognitive value, though difference in reference? I will leave it open. The view of cognitive value that I have proposed accommodates the way that someones uses of, and assertions containing, particular names trace back to hypotheses


formed during initial encounters with those names. Such hypotheses are centrally related to decisions about parsing, which, as we have seen, can be mistaken. I enter a room, see Paderewski=Paderewski on the board, and decide: here we have a name, a single name, and it is that name, the one that I have so individuated (for myself), and there are two occurrences of it. And I am wrong, because the sentence written on the board contains two distinct names Paderewski, neither of which I have encountered before.