One task facing Metaphysics is to offer an account of modality.

Modal claims

are statements about what could or must be the case. Part of what constitutes

these claims are statements of contingency and necessity. Using the notion of

possible worlds as a model or heuristic we can roughly outline these two concepts

of modality: something is necessary just in case it could not have been otherwise.

We may say that if it is true, it is true in all possible worlds. By contingent, we may

say that it is true in some possible worlds but not in all. For example, it appears to

be true that in all possible worlds Aristotle is a human being. We may say, given

that it is true, he is necessarily a human being. On the other hand, it could have

been otherwise that Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great. It is only a contingent

matter of history that he was hired by Philip the 2 nd of Macedon. A puzzle seems to

arise in the modal ascription of identity claims. There definitely appears to be

contingent identity claims. However Saul Kripke makes the claim that identity

statements when true, are necessarily true.

Kripke sites the following argument against the possibility of contingent identity


1. For any x and y, if x=y then any property x has, y has as well.
2. It is trivially true that for any x, necessarily x=x.

Given Leibniz Law (that if x=y then x any have exactly the same properties), it

follows from the previous two claims that:

3. If x=y then, if necessarily x=x then necessarily x=y.

Given the validity of the argument, we seem to deduce that identity statements

must be necessary, making the idea of contingent identity statements paradoxical.

Under Russel’s view. It is a complex claim which involves predicating the property of ‘being the 44th president of the United States’ to Barack Obama. Kripke claims that. while this is true. For example. However. x is the 44th president of the United States… This description picks out the man Barack Obama in the actual world. designate or tag a particular thing or object x. it is not an identity claim. there may be a possible world in where the United States doesn’t exist. was born in Hawaii. there are possible worlds where this simply fails to describe anything. proper names are definite descriptions. It picks . Proper names only refer to. then “x=Barack Obama” is necessarily true. Kripke assumes Russel’s theory of descriptions to avoid the paradox:  There is a unique x such that x is the president of the United States and x=Barack Obama. A seemingly contingent identity claim such as this involves one or more definite descriptions. After all. However. John McCain might have been the 44th president. A proper name is a type of abbreviation which stands in for a list of descriptions of a particular thing.” The claim is prima facie contingent. When we say. x is African American. is male. it must be taken into account that that claim is “nested” within the larger claim which in itself is a description and not a statement of identity. “Barack Obama” it is to say:  There is a unique x such that. According to Kripke a true identity claim involves only proper names.How are we to make sense of allegedly contingent identity statements like “Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States”. In such an instance. or “Hesperus is Phosphorus”? Let us take for example the claim. Kripke denies Russell’s claim that proper names are definite descriptions. “Barack Obama is the 44 th president of the United States. If the x that is picked out is Barack Obama.

Once it is fixed. This possible world is not one in which “Barack Obama is not Barack Obama”. Suppose we say “Barack Obama might have been a kindergarten teacher”. In our language. In the actual world the statement does pick out Barack Obama. A designation such as “the 44th president of the United States” is a non-rigid designator. in order to ascribe to him the property of being the ‘44th president of the United States’. When we say “Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States”. The man exists in that world and so is picked out by the name ‘Barack Obama’. since proper names simply pick out a particular thing. they function as rigid designators.out this particular x and does not describe it as the possessor of certain properties. It is easily conceivable that. while still assuming it refers to the very same man. we use the term ‘Barack Obama’ to tag that very man. A rigid designator. A rigid designator is a term that picks out the same thing in all possible worlds where it exists. it could refer to John McCain. It is simply a world in which the man that is picked out in our . According to Kripke. As a rigid designator. such as there being no United States for him to be president of. but. under other circumstances another individual could fit the designation. the proper name refers or points to the same man in every possible world where he exists whether he is president or not. We understand the statement as stipulating that very man because of the nature of proper names as rigid designators. The name ‘Barack Obama’ can be used in counterfactual scenarios. given another possible world. the name ‘Barack Obama’ picks him out even in possible worlds where he is referred to as ‘Steve’. is a term of “our language” in the actual world that functions across possible worlds. “Barack Obama” is a term of our language in the actual world. on the other hand. A non-rigid designator does not pick out the same particular thing in all possible worlds. the term always picks out the object and has no other function.

when true. was a different celestial body from that one which rose in the evening and was called Phosphorus. It has been argued that if a claim is known a posteriori. It could only be discovered through empirical investigation that Hesperus and Phosphorus are the same celestial body now called Venus. then it must be contingent. as it may have been discovered otherwise. It is necessarily true if true at all because ‘Hesperus’ and ‘Phosphorus’ are proper names for the same object: they both pick out the planet Venus. and since Venus is necessarily identical to itself in all possible worlds. “Hesperus is Phosphorus” necessarily. A proposition is known a priori if it is known independent of experience. This is an identity claim by virtue of it involving only proper names. it was believed that Hesperus. as rigid designators. Since “Hesperus” and “Phosphorus” both necessarily point to Venus in all possible worlds. Return to the example “Hesperus is Phosphorus”. A proposition is known a posteriori if it is known on the basis of experience. are necessarily true. At a certain time. Any such discovery seems to make “Hesperus is Phosphorus” a contingent claim. then “Hesperus is Phosphorus” is true in all possible worlds. Consider the claim “Hesperus is Phosphorus”. we can see how identity claims.language by the proper name ‘Barack Obama’ is referred to as ‘Steve’ in the language of that world. as it rose in the morning. With the notion of proper names as rigid designators. given that it is true. Given that it is true that “Hesperus is Venus” and “Phosphorus is Venus”. Objections to Kripke’s view have been raised on the grounds that some identity claims are known only empirically. . they will both necessarily pick out Venus in every possible world where that planet exists. As per the definition of necessity given above.

given that it is true it is necessarily true. if we are to assign the necessary/contingent distinction to a branch of philosophy it is that of metaphysics and the nature of reality. He points to a tendency to see a posteriori knowledge as co- extensive with contingency. Similarly. given that it is true that ‘Hesperus’ is in actual fact ‘Phosphorus’. Such determinations arise from a technical confusion regarding terms like a priori/a posteriori and necessary/contingent. could it be false in another possible world? According to Kripke. and what we would or would not be justified in believing. However.). Kripke points out that if we are to assign the a-priori/a-posteriori distinction to a branch of philosophy it must be to that of epistemology and the nature of knowledge. we do only know a-posteriori that “Hesperus is Phosphorus. However. It concerns what. given a certain epistemological standpoint (before telescopes etc. Epistemic possibility does not entail metaphysical possibility and must be disentangled.” No amount of introspection would have revealed their actually being the same planet Venus. simply owing to the fact that they belong to two different domains of philosophical practice. even if we are to acknowledge that there was a time when it may have been discovered that “Hesperus is not Phosphorus”. . Returning to the previous example. This being said then we can see quite plainly that contingency and a-posteriori knowledge are by no means the same or necessarily co-extensive. this is an epistemic distinction. This epistemic possibility does not determine the metaphysical distinction. we would know or not know. Metaphysically speaking. Kripke rejects the view that since “Hesperus is Phosphorus” was an empirical discovery it must be a contingent statement of identity.

This seems to be a world where it is not the case that “Hesperus is Phosphorus”. being the thing that ‘Phosphorus’ points to when using the language of the actual world. Suppose our solar system had only a slight modification. It may seem that we can conceive of a possible world where ‘Hesperus’ is not ‘Phosphorus’. ‘being Phosphorus’. Being called ‘Phosphorus’ is contingent. In the morning. Venus and X very closely revolve around each other as they in turn revolve around the Sun. is a term of our language that designates the planet Venus. we have conceived of a world in which ‘Phosphorus’ is simply in a different position then it occupies in the actual world. We must keep in mind that the term ‘Phosphorus’. saying that “Venus is not Phosphorus” is like saying that “Venus is not Venus”. what is called Hesperus is Venus. it is necessarily true. is necessary. In this system Venus is the companion of some planet X. and as a rigid designator points to it in every possible world where it exists. Its meaning is simply that very object. The facts of this possible world create a situation in which Venus is not called Phosphorus in the language of that world. the celestial bodies appear as one unified body. In this possible world we have a situation in which the underlying facts are simply different than those of the actual world. Venus could be called anything in other possible worlds. what is called Phosphorus is the planet X obstructing the light of the Venus. . From the distant observer on the Earth. not a world in which “Hesperus is not Phosphorus”. as we use it in the actual world. obstructing the light of X. In our language. In this situation ‘Hesperus’ is still ‘Phosphorus’. Given that it is true that “Phosphorus is Venus” in our world. When using the language of our world. However. In the evening sky.