Being and Being Called

Journal of Philosophy 106 (3):113-136 (2009)
What's the relation between being a P and being called 'P', for example, between being a cat and being called 'cat'? Surely something might be a cat without being called 'cat'; indeed, cats as such might not be called 'cats'. If the word 'cat' disappeared from the language, the event would not entail the disappearence of cats. What about the converse implication? Does being called 'cat' entail being a cat? It would seem so. For suppose 'cat' refers to certain objects, and let Moon be one such object. Consider the statement that Moon is a cat. The statement is true just in case Moon is one of the objects that 'cat' refers to, which she is. Hence, the statement is true, therefore Moon is a cat. Being among the objects that 'cat' refers to entails being a cat. However, it is one thing to say that 'cat' refers to certain objects, and (possibly) a different thing to say that certain objects are called 'cats'. Spiders are often called 'insects', yet 'insect' does not refer to spiders: it is not correct to call spiders 'insects'. "Being called" is often intended as a descriptive notion: whether something is, or is not called 'P' is just a fact that can be stated in terms of people's behavior or patterns of behavior. Reference, on the other hand, may not be descriptive in this sense. Philosophers have often been trying to characterize the quasi-technical notion of reference by suitably restricting or qualifying the everyday, descriptive notion of "being called". Success in such an enterprise would amount to showing that being called* 'P' -a suitably modified version of being called 'P'- entails being P. Whether the enterprise is bound to fail is not the topic of this article. Here, I would like to show that one such attempt did fail, whereas another, more recent attempt that would seem to be bound to fail for analogous reasons does not fail; or not for such reasons, anyway. A few decades ago, some philosophers believed that being called 'P' was (with some qualifications) a sufficient condition for being a P..
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