Monday, March 29, 2010

A historical remark on the nominal description theory

I haven't been posting in a while, being swamped with teaching duties and so on. Right now, I'm looking at M. Morris's An Introduction to the Philosophy of Language, which in those respects that currently interest me contains, I think, more material than, say, Miller's or Lycan's textbooks (having said that, these books on the other hand have other virtues). On pp 86ff Morris is talking about what he calls a simple nominal description theory, according to which a name n connotes the description `the object called n' (or something to that effect). This, of course, seems to violate Kripke's non-circularity restriction; yet, it has been interestingly developed by K. Bach (Thought and Reference). Anyway, my point is rather short and historical - although this view hasn't been associated with anyone in the Frege-Russell period, this sort of approach has been around for a while, and I'm quite positive that at least Lesniewski hold that view. Here's a relevant bit from L's 1911 paper, in my translation:

J.S. Mill says that not all names have connotations. Among those which have no connotations are, according to Mill, proper names such as, e.g., Paul, Caesar on the one hand, and some of the names of attributes on the other. If this were really so, one could foresee certain difficulties in regarding as analytic those positive existential propositions whose subjects are just such names without connotation. Yet even the names which I have mentioned and which according to Mill have no connotation, in my opinion, have connotation; proper names connote the property of possessing a name which sounds like the given proper name, whereas the names of attributes regarded by Mill as lacking connotation, connote either the property of possessing such names, or the property of complete identity with entities which bear such names. Thus, e.g., the name ‘Paul’ connotes the property of having the name ‘Paul’, the name ‘redness’ connotes the property of having the name ‘redness’. Instead of ‘Paul’ we can then say ‘a being which has the name ‘Paul”, instead of ‘redness’ — a being which is completely identical with beings that bear the name ‘redness’. . . I shall touch here upon Husserl’s thesis that one proper name, e.g., Socrates’, can name various objects only because it is ambiguous, just as names such as ‘redness’; I do not think this is the case — these names would be equivocal only if, while denoting various objects, they also connoted different properties. In fact the word ‘Socrates’, while denoting different objects, connotes always one property, that is the property of bearing the name ‘Socrates’.