Naming and Necessity

by Saul Kripke

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Last Updated on January 8, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 875

In Naming and Necessity, Saul Kripke discusses the nature of names and how they are derived. He reviews different schools of thought from various key philosophers to illustrate his points and often refutes their arguments. For instance, he counters the argument regarding proper names put forth by descriptivist theorists which posits that names have significance because of the associations that they produce.

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According to philosophers such as Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell (among others cited in Names and Necessity), proper names are synonymous with what they describe. In other words, proper names become the equivalent of what they describe or the description or cluster of descriptions associated with the name.

Kripke disagrees. In the lectures, Kripke outlines his view that proper names are rigid designators. To illustrate his point, Kripke uses the name "Nixon" as an example.

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. . . proper names are rigid designators, for although the man (Nixon) might not have been the President, it is not the case that he might not have been Nixon (though he might not have been called 'Nixon'). Those who have argued that to make sense of the notion of rigid designator, we must antecedently make sense of 'criteria of transworld identity' have precisely reversed the cart and the horse; it is because we can refer (rigidly) to Nixon, and stipulate that we are speaking of what might have happened to him (under certain circumstances), that 'transworld identifications' are unproblematic in such cases.

Following the presidency of Richard M. Nixon, the name "Nixon" came to be associated with someone who was dishonest; someone who lied and cheated. However, Kripke argues that as a rigid designator, the man’s name would be the same regardless of his actions in office and regardless of the legacy he left. He was Nixon; it’s as simple as that. In other words, Nixon (the man) would still have been named "Nixon" even if he had not become president and even if he had not left office under a cloud. It was the proper name that he acquired at birth, regardless of the associations the name ultimately stimulated following his actions during his presidency.

Kripke points out that names can acquire connotations. Thus, if someone refers to "Nixon," it might cause the recollection of President Nixon and his time in office; but the name is nonetheless not the name by virtue of its association. However, that does not change the actual meaning or derivation of the name "Nixon" itself. Simply put, Nixon was Nixon simply because his father and grandfather had the name before him. However, because of his presidency, there was a connotation associated with the name "Nixon."

Now, what is the relation between names and descriptions? There is a well known doctrine of John Stuart Mill, in his book A System of Logic, that names have denotation but not connotation. To use one of his examples, when we use the name 'Dartmouth' to describe a certain locality in England, it may be so called because it lies at the mouth of the Dart. But even, he says, had the Dart (that's a river) changed its course so that Dartmouth no longer lay at the mouth of the Dart, we could still with propriety call this place 'Dartmouth', even though the name may suggest that it lies at the mouth of the Dart.

To illustrate his point further, Kripke points to John Stuart Mill. What is important in this argument is that the name "Dartmouth" might originally have derived from the fact that the place called Dartmouth was located at the mouth of the Dart River. However, according to Kripke's discussion of Mill’s example, Dartmouth has become a proper name that is itself a rigid identifier. Therefore, even if the Dart River were to change its course or even dry up, the town itself would still be known as Dartmouth. That is the name of the town, regardless of the reference associated with it.

I guess everyone has heard about The Holy Roman Empire, which was neither holy, Roman nor an empire. Today we have The United Nations. Here it would seem that since these things can be so-called even though they are not Holy Roman United Nations, these phrases should be regarded not as definite descriptions, but as names. In the case of some terms, people might have doubts as to whether they're names or descriptions . . . But the classical tradition of modern logic has gone very strongly against Mill's view.

Kripke notes that some names could not stand up to close scrutiny and strict analysis of what their names imply. It makes no difference: the name is still the name, regardless of the object or person that it identifies. He gives the examples of The Holy Roman Empire and The United Nations.

What Kripke is also arguing is that names, as rigid designators versus non-rigid or accidental designators, describe the same object in any world. The concept of transworld identifications posits that an individual object exists in more than one possible world in addition to the present one. To keep it simple, Nixon was Nixon in the world in which he ascended to the presidency. He would still have been Nixon in a world where he did not (a theoretical parallel world).

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