David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Ezio Di Nucci
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Philosophical Forum 32 (2):175–188 (2001)
In some ways that have been largely ignored, ethnic-group names might be similar to names of other kinds. If they are, for instance, analogous to proper names, then a correct semantic account of the latter could throw some light on how the meaning of ethnic-group names should be construed. Of course, proper names, together with definite descriptions, belong to the class of singular terms, and an influential view on the semantics of such terms was developed, at the turn of the nineteenth century, from discussion of a puzzle about some differences in the cognitive value of certain statements of identity. Clearly, that a = a (e.g., that Mark Twain was Mark Twain) is trivial, and its truth could be known a priori, just by thinking. On the other hand, that a = b (e.g., that Mark Twain was Samuel Clemens) is of course informative and knowable only by empirical investigation. To solve this puzzle, Frege famously proposed that those variations in the cognitive value of statements of identity “can arise only if the difference between the signs corresponds to a difference in the mode of presentation of that which is designated.” On his view, although in the above statements of identity, the singular terms, ‘a,’ and, ‘b,’ may designate the same thing, they do so with different senses, or under different modes of presentation of that object. When the puzzling statements involving ‘a’ and ‘b’ are true, they may then be said to have exactly the same reference. But since those singular terms pick out the object of reference differently (i.e., under different senses or modes of presentation), therefore the cognitive value of these statements also varies significantly. On this account, then, the reference of a non-vacuous proper name is secured by the name’s sense, or mode of presentation, which constitutes its semantic content. And given that Fregeans (here under the influence of Russell) cash out that sense as consisting in whatever concept (or cluster of concepts) could be uniquely associated with that name, they might hold, for example, that the property of being the author of Huckleberry Finn, and that of being an American who lived his early life in Hannibal, Missouri, and later became a famous writer, amount to the senses of ‘Mark Twain,’ and ‘Samuel Clemens,’ respectively..
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