Natural Kind Terms Are Similar to Proper Names in Being World-Independent

Philosophical Writings 19:51-68 (2002)
Abstract
According to the New Theory of Reference, proper names (and indexicals) and natural kind terms are semantically similar to each other but crucially different from definite descriptions and “ordinary” predicates, respectively. New Theorists say that a name, unlike a definite description, is a directly referential nondescriptional rigid designator, which refers “without a mediation of the content” and is not functional (i.e. lacks a Carnapian intension). Natural kind terms, such as ‘horse’ and ‘water’, are held to have similar distinctions, in contrast to other predicates. However, the New Theory contains some problems related to reference, descriptionality, content and meaning. In view of these problems, it will be argued that the distinctive shared feature of proper names and natural kind terms, while technically corresponding to nonfunctionality, is to be explicated in terms of independence of possible worlds, rather than in terms of reference and content: natural kind terms are world-independent predicates, making “worldless” predications. Just as, say, ‘Elvis’ names Elvis even with respect to “Elvisless” worlds, or, rather, names Elvis independently of worlds, natural kind terms are in an important sense “worldless” as well: to talk about Elvis is to talk about him irrespective of moments of time and possible worlds, and is to talk about a human, also irrespective of moments and worlds, while it is not to talk about, say, a drug-addict irrespective of moments, nor about a singer irrespective of worlds. There is no genuinely timeless and worldless predication of the sort “Elvis is (was) bald”, but there is, it seems, such a predication “Elvis is (was) human”. This notion of independence of times and worlds is detached from those of descriptionality and content mediation.
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