Vacuous Names and Fictional Entities
Kripke (Saul)
Source: Kripke (Saul) - Philosophical Troubles: Collected Papers, Volume 1
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction1

  1. One of the main concerns of my previous work ("Kripke (Saul) - Naming and Necessity", 1980) is the semantics of proper names and natural kind terms. A classical view which Putnam mentioned, advocated by Mill, states that proper names have as their function simply to refer; they have denotation but not connotation. The alternative view, which until fairly recently has dominated the field, has been that of Frege and Russell. They hold that ordinary names have connotation in a very strong sense: a proper name such as ‘Napoleon’ simply means the man having most of the properties we commonly attribute to Napoleon, such as being Emperor of the French, losing at Waterloo, and the like. Of course, intermediate views might be suggested, and perhaps have been suggested.
  2. For various general terms, such as ‘cow’ and ‘tiger’ or ‘elm’ and ‘beech’, not only Frege and Russell, but Mill as well (probably more explicitly than the other two), held that they have connotation in the sense that we learn what it is to be a tiger by being given some list of properties which form necessary and sufficient conditions for being a tiger. In both these cases, both where Mill and Frege–Russell disagree and where Mill and Frege–Russell agree, I have advocated the view that the consensus is largely wrong; that it is reference which is much more important here than any supposed sense.
  3. I want to discuss one aspect of this problem today, since no consideration in favor of the Frege–Russell view of proper names has seemed more conclusive than the fact that names can sometimes be empty — that, for example, they can occur in fiction. Also, even if they do in fact refer, it is intelligible to raise the question of whether the alleged referent really exists. For instance, we ask whether Moses as a historical character really existed and the like. What can we mean by this? If the function of naming were simply reference, then empty names would seem to have no semantic function at all, but plainly they do not fail to have a semantic function, as anyone who enjoys a good work of fiction can attest. And even if they do have referents, we can ask whether, say, Moses or Napoleon really existed. When we do so we are not asking whether that person really existed. We are not questioning of him whether he really existed, because if we were asking such a question, the answer should be evident. Since everyone really exists, that person does also. It is unintelligible, as Russell and Frege have emphasized, to ask of a person whether he really exists.


For the paper, see Kripke - Vacuous Names and Fictional Entities

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:

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