Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Names & Essences: Ruth Marcus on Quine’s Kripke

Saul Kripke claims that the statement

Aristotle might not have been a philosopher.”

isn't necessarily false because at other possible worlds Aristotle might have been born in an environment that banned any kind of philosophy. Kripke, on the other hand, takes the statement

Aristotle might not have been Aristotle.”

to be necessarily false at every possible world because Aristotle at all worlds would have been Aristotle (even if not a philosopher). This is the case because our name ‘Aristotle’ is what Kripke calls a ‘rigid designator’. Rigid designators designate the same individual at all possible worlds at which that individual exists. Thus the statement ‘Aristotle might not have been Aristotle’ is false – necessarily false. Kripke still uses the past tense in his example. That is, “Aristotle might not have been a philosopher” is true at some possible worlds because at these worlds Aristotle might have been born (as we have said) in a world which banned or didn't even have philosophy. Though “Aristotle might not have been Aristotle” is false because at every possible world at which Aristotle exists he would have been born as, well, Aristotle.

The rigid designator ‘Aristotle’ still applies to Aristotle at every possible world. It does so because it's not a ‘description’, like our ‘is a philosopher’. Thus, in essentialist terms, ‘Aristotle’ doesn't pick out Aristotle descriptively or conceptually, but essentially. And if ‘Aristotle’ picks out at all, it only does so because it picks out Aristotle’s essence. This essence can't be anything to do with any of our descriptions of Aristotle – not even “is a philosopher”. Instead ‘Aristotle’ picks out or designates the object Aristotle. Not only that: because descriptions have been banished from the reference-relation ‘Aristotle’ must only refer to Aristotle’s essence; as Quine, in Ruth Marcus [1990], argues. Thus the Kripkean position on proper names entails a parallel commitment to essences.

According to this analysis, when Marcus says that Quine mistakenly fuses or conflates rigid designators with essences, she's wrong. According to Quine, the Kripkean theory is a commitment to the idea that rigid designators pick out essences. According to Marcus, on the other hand, Quine believes that Kripkean proper names are themselves essences (as it were). Perhaps, however, what Quine meant wasn't that proper names are themselves essences but that they entail, on Kripke’s theory, a necessary commitment to essences. Indeed surely Quine can’t have believed that proper names are taken by Kripke to be essences. A name, in and of itself, couldn't be an essence or an essential property of a person or object, not even according to Quine (or anyone!). However, the way that Marcus puts it, Quine’s position does seem strange. According to Marcus,

for Quine, the trouble… came down to essentialism… [it] suggested to him that objects have their proper names necessarily [1990]”.

Instead of believing, on Kripke’s reading, that

  1. Objects have their proper names necessarily.

Quine meant:

  1. Kripkean proper names (or the belief in them) entail that they necessarily designate the essences of the objects named by them.
It's not, then, Quine’s belief that an object has its proper name necessarily. Again, how could Quine think this? On a de re reading, to call an object’s name essential is to speak nonsense. Perhaps, however, on a de dicto reading we can say that there's a semantic relation between names and their objects in which that relation is necessary (or essential). And that's what Kripke, of course, thinks. Though Quine doesn't believe that objects have their proper names necessarily. This would mean that Quine might have confused the de re with a de dicto reading of Kripke. That is, instead of objects having essences in the ontological sense of properties, he applies the same de re to the names of objects. That is, objects essentially (not necessarily) and literally have their names, as it were, ‘in’ them or ‘attached’ to them. Perhaps, however, it's not Quine who made this mistake; but Marcus. She has read Quine as mistaking a de re reading of Kripke with a de dicto reading. Perhaps Marcus means all this when she says that Quine believes that Kripke argues that “objects have their proper names necessarily” [1990]. So what she means is that Quine believes that objects have their proper names essentially.

Kripke himself makes a de re/de dicto distinction in this way:

de dicto = the relation between proper names (or the use of them) is that they name their objects necessarily.

de re = objects have their properties essentially.

Quine could accept the fact that Kripke evidently makes this distinction. That proper names can't be essential to objects; but that they are involved in the necessary relation named as de dicto above. Quine accepts these Kripkean distinctions. He may think that Kripke himself misuses the distinction between the de re and the de dicto above. He doesn't confuse or conflate them; though he does fuse, and therefore misuse, them. Thus:

Proper names designate their objects necessarily for all name-users. They aren't the essences of the named objects.

Because of this distinction Kripke also believes, Quine thinks, that proper names designate the essences of the objects they name. Kripke does believe this. He does so because, as we've already shown, Kripke argues that “Aristotle might not have been a philosopher” is true because of his aforementioned modal arguments. He believes that “Aristotle might not have been Aristotle” is false precisely because the name ‘Aristotle’ designates Aristotle’s essence, not the contingent properties specified by descriptions or concepts. Thus there's a strong logical relation and connection set up between

  1. Names and the naming-relation are necessary and constitute the necessity of the reference-relation.

  1. The relation between named object and name/namer in the reference-relation is necessary. The name and the naming process pick out only their named object’s essence, not its contingent properties specified and picked out by contingent descriptions and concepts.
Thus Quine doesn't believe that

Objects have their proper names necessarily.

which is what Marcus argues. Kripke may think that they have them essentially, even if he isn’t aware of this. He may think names are essential, Quine may argue that this is because he thinks them necessary, in the way specified as de dicto above. And this fusion, unknown or known to Kripke, is neither the result of Quine or Kripke’s conflation and misuse of the de re/de dicto distinction; but the (unintended) fusion of the two. And this fusion of the de dicto ‘necessarily’ with the de re ‘essential’ is a philosophical misuse, on a Quinian reading. That is, Kripke inadvertently (or not) begins with the de dicto

  1. The reference-relation between proper names (or their use) and their objects is that they name their objects necessarily.
and ends with the de re

  1. Objects have their names essentially.
which is what Marcus thinks Quine believes. But although Kripke never states ii) above, Quine believes it (of Kripke!), if implicitly, because he does believe that Kripkean proper names must be seen to only pick out the essences of named objects. And one can only believe this if one also believes that

Objects have their names essentially.

which is an unintended (or intended) consequence of believing that the reference-relation of designating is a necessary one. Thus proper names are necessary in this de dicto sense and they only designate the essences of named objects. Again, this may be Quine’s conclusion. Therefore his reading (right or wrong) of Kripke’s position because Kripke set up a necessary relation between

The necessary reference-relation or naming process

and the fact that

Proper names pick out or designate only the essences of named objects.

Kripke did so, as we've seen, because he fused, not confused, the de dicto reference- or naming-relation and the idea that named objects have essences, which is a de re idea. The de dicto relation requires de re essentialism. The necessary naming-relation is necessary if and only if it designates or picks out the essences of named objects. The de dicto relation is only necessary because of the essential properties of named objects. If named objects didn't have essences, then the reference-relation couldn't be necessary because it only has this modal property due to the relation set up between proper names and the essences of named objects. That relation would only be contingent, Kripke believes, if names picked out conceptual or descriptive properties (which he in fact believes). Conversely, if named objects don't have essences, then there could never be a necessary reference-relation between them and their names. Indeed there would only be a contingent relation between named objects without essences and their descriptions or conceptual predicates (which is what Kripke believes).

Thus Marcus is incorrect to think that only Quine himself believes that proper names must be the essential properties of named objects in Kripke’s scheme. She would be correct, on the other hand, to also add that Quine only put it this way (if he did put it this way) because he believes that Kripke himself fused de dicto necessity with de re essentialism. If Marcus believes that Quine thinks the former, then it is she herself who confuses the necessary de dicto with the essential de re; at least in the case of her reading of Quine. However, as we've said, Kripke didn't so much as confuse the de re with the de dicto but fuse them because of the necessary relation set up between proper names and their named objects. We can conclude that if Kripke, implicitly or explicitly, accepts the necessary relation between the de dicto and the de re, then we can argue that, in a sense, de re essentialism (which is vital to Kripke’s project) owes much of it power and point due to the necessary relation between objects (or the essences of objects) with the de dicto naming process. That is, de re essences could never be specified or even talked about as being ‘mind-independent’ because all acceptances of de re essences would depend upon - and be determined by - the necessary de dicto relation between proper names and essences. Though Kripkean proper names are only supposed to designate essences (not contingent properties), there would still be a necessary relation between proper names and essences. That, in turn, means that any talk of mind-independent essences would be illegitimate because every essence would be a named essence set up by the de dicto necessary relation between proper name and the named object. Thus every spoken-about essence could never be classed as a ‘mind-independent essence’ because it would be a named essence, set up by the necessary de dicto naming-relation – even if that relation is indeed necessary and named objects are deemed to have essences.

If my Quine is correct (i.e., that Kripke needed to fuse the de dicto with the de re), then Marcus is wrong to say that Quine’s Kripke is a misreading. If she's correct, then Quine does hold the strange position that proper names are the necessary properties of Kripkean named objects. Therefore Quine wouldn't argue that Kripke fuses the de re with the de dicto in thinking that (though he may still believe this). This doesn't mean, however, that Kripke doesn't fuse the de re with the de dicto, only that Marcus’s belief about Quine’s Kripke is correct. However, I do believe that Kripke may have fused the two. I also believe that Quine thinks this too; despite Marcus’s position on what Quine argues (if he does say, or mean, such things).

I don't know if Marcus misread Quine’s position. And I don't know if she herself conflates or simply fuses the de dicto with the de re because of her reading of Quine’s Kripke. If she thinks what she thinks about Quine’s Kripke, as we have interpreted it, then she wouldn't say what she says about it. Perhaps this also means that Marcus too either confuses the de re/de dicto distinction, or she actually fuses it (as (my) Quine’s Kripke does). Because we've already said that Quine couldn’t think that Kripkean proper names are ‘necessary’ (therefore essential on this reading) properties of named objects. If Quine doesn't think this, then it may be that Marcus didn't only confuse the de re with the de dicto (and vice versa), but, like Quine’s Kripke, she fused them too. However, as we've argued, Kripke’s fusion of the de dicto with the de re doesn't automatically mean that he also confused them. Perhaps such a fusion could only have come about because of some other confusion on Kripke’s part. That confusion might have been the result of the implicit or explicit fusion of the de dicto with the de re.

Finally, Kripke may knowingly fuse the two; yet he may not accept our other conclusion about such a fusion: that it goes against the point and power of the de re classification and disallows any talk about the mind-independent essences of named objects.

References and Further Reading

Kripke, S – (1971) ‘Identity and necessity’, in Identity and Individuation, New York, ed. M. Munitz
Marcus, R. B – (1990) ‘A Backward Look at Quine’s Animadversions on Modalities’, in Perspectives on Quine, eds. R. B. Barrett and R. F. Gibson, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, pp.230-43
Quine, W. V. O. – (1966) The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays, Random House

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