2.23.2006

Non-Referring Names (and definite descriptions too)

My philosophy of language class has been a trip thus far.
We are just starting to get to discovering the meaning of the word 'the'.
I wanted to see what people thought of the following sentences (whether they are true, false, or neither)
1) The King of France is bald.
2) I had lunch with the King of France.
3) The King of France does not exist.
4) Santa has a beard.
5) Santa exists.

12 comments:

Cliff said...

When will you discuss what the meaning of the word "is" is?

Anonymous said...

I love boobs. Sorry, I love the boobs

Trent Steele said...

Ok, here come the truth values:

1) Since it is false that there is a (present) King of France, it is a fortiori false that something is both the King of France and bald.

2) If uttered by a speaker who had lunch with a King of France, it is true. Otherwise, it is false.

3) It is true that there is no present King of France. Said another way, there exists nothing such that that thing is the present King of France.

4) & 5) Much harder; the answer depends on your account of propositions relative to possible worlds (or another account of truth in fiction). Pick your modal semantics and you get your answer.

P.S. - Analytic philosophy . . . talk about feeding on mother's milk. Time to step up to the solid foods, baby.

max power said...

Ahh Trent Steele. My nemesis has finally come from the shadows. I thought that the post on West Virginia 'the state of cousinly love' might bring you out, but it is instead a post on analytic philosophy, and one that deals with propositions or proposition-like things at that!
1) Your take on (1) is similar to Russell's. He unpacks definite descriptions like 'the F' into 3 statements using a quantified variable. (a) there is an x such that x is the King of France, (b) there is only one x such that x is the king of France, and (c) x is bald. This seems to be your interpretation of (1).
2) If there is no King of France then how can someone possibly have lunch with the King of France and then utter it?
3)On (3) you again take a line similar to Russell. His claim is that (3) is ambiguous. It could mean what you say 'there does not exist the King of France' in which case it would be true, or it could be saying something of the King of France, namely that he doesn't exist. The latter would be false since there is no King of France, that thing could not have the property of not existing. Notice though that (4) has the exact same structure as (1) and the way you interpreted (1) was not the way you interpreted (4). This could get into questions about whether existence is a predicate.
4) and 5) are harder. When I first hear 'Santa has a beard' I want to say true, but that would imply that Santa exists. Unfortunately he does not. We could say that the idea of Santa exists or something along those lines, but an idea cannot have a beard, so (4) would still be false. If we then also change what it means to have a beard to some idea-like thing then we have problems with ordinary sentences which ascribe real beards to real people.

Trent Steele said...

"Cousinly Love" indeed . . .

You've misunderstood me on 2). If a speaker utters the statement AND it is true that that speaker had lunch with the King of France (this speaker might have lived in the 17th century), then it's true. Otherwise it's false. The statement just needs a temporal index for clarity.

3) can only be ambiguous if we're unsure about whether or not existence is a predicate/property. If nonexistent things can't have properties, then (as you note) it's clearly false to interpret the sentence as saying "Something the present King of France lacks is existence," but such an interpretation seems to me to be tempting only after having made certain commitments about modality.

With respect to 4) and 5), we could say that, given some "fictional operator," the statement "Santa has a beard" is true. It would, on the other hand, not be true to say that "Santa is blue." Take away the fictional operator (or fictional conversational implicature; I don't know whether you're a formalist or not), and the sentence is clearly false.

jon said...

Ahhh. I see about (2) now.
I don't see what a fictional operator would look like. It seems to me like you either have to ascribe or deny existence. You may be able to qualify existence in something like 'existence as' but I'm not sure this helps.
Give me learning.

Cliff said...

Congrats!!! You're a Logic-wiz *insert dancing doughboy here*

jon said...

Cliff, don't forget the fireworks!

Trent Steele said...

Let it be known that I still own an original vintage "LogiCola" t-shirt, complete with dancing man on the back. Bow in wonder.

Jon, when I talk about a fictional operator, I mean something that would allow us to say "exists-in" (or, as you note, "exists-as"). David Lewis, for instance, gives this as a use for his modal realism. So, for instance, we might say that there is a possible world resembling the actual world in every respect, except that in this possible world, Santa exists. In this world it is true that Santa has a beard, but it's false that Santa is blue. In some other (further) possible world, Santa has a beard and is also blue, etc.

In a far distant possible world, Cliff does not equal Jolly Green. Yeah, it's hard for me to imagine, too.

jon said...

Yeah, but is that really what we are talking about when we are talking about whether Santa has a beard? (4) and (5) are seem to be clearly about the actual world not any possible world. It's almost trivially true that santa exists in some world and that he has a beard in some world. I think that (4) and (5) are supposed to be more interesting than that.

And don't ever talk again of the god forsaken world where cliff is not identical to jolly green!

Anonymous said...

This problem raises a bunch of questions I have about literary meaning - whether meaning primarily resides with the author, the text, the reader, or some overlap of all three (the three worlds of the text - the world behind, the world within, and the world in front of the text). I'm in a biblical exegesis class right now, and we've been distinguishing between "an object of consciousness" (the mental formulation of a text in the mind of the author), the text itself (actual words and the relationship between words), and the context(s) in which the author and reader(s) are placed. I guess I'm just wondering if it's fair to simply say that meaning is complex and multi-dimensional. Can we just reduce it all to say that meaning is set in context?

jon said...

Context is surely important to meaning. What is implied by sentences is a feature determined by context, and so can the very content of sentences. For example, senteces containing indexicals such as 'I', 'here', 'today', etc. rely on context for their content. Context, however, cannot determine everything.
I think the issues such as the author's intentions and the audience go beyond issues of meaning itself. What the words mean and the truth-values of the propositions expressed by the sentences don't rely on these things. They do have exegetical importance, but I think the concern here lies beyond semantic theory alone.