The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Singular Terms

Philosophical Papers 30 (1):1-30 (2001)
Abstract Can we draw apart questions of what it is to be a singular term (a metaphysical issue) from questions about how we tell when some expression is a singular term (an epistemological matter)? Prima facie, it might seem we can't: language, as a man-made edifice, might seem to prohibit such a distinction, and, indeed, some popular accounts of the semantics of singular terms make such an assumption. In this paper, however, I argue for a different kind of approach, one which holds that there is a useful distinction to be drawn between the metaphysical and epistemological aspects of singular terms. This approach not only avoids the problems faced by alternative accounts but also coheres well with how ordinary speakers interact with their language, issuing in an appealing (minimal) conception of semantic competence which focuses on speakers meeting the given recognitional conditions, whilst allowing that this may fall short of explicit knowledge of the constitutive feature of singular termhood
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