About this topic
Summary How can a name which is empty contribute to a sentence which is true or false? If it can contribute, what is its contribution? If it cannot so contribute, how can we explain away the judgement of apparently meaningful sentences containing empty names? In particular how can we account for the preponderance of apparently true negative existential claims?
Key works Russell 1905 argues that ordinary proper names should be treated as definite descriptions which should in turn be analysed away in context with quantifiers. One of Russell's arguements for this descriptivism is that it allows empty names to have a meaning. Kripke 1980 argues against descriptivist theories of names and is sympathetic to a Millian theory. This theme is continued by Kripke 2013 which argues that empty names do not provide a test case for theories of names and that traditional descriptivists do not solve the problem of negative existentials. A Millian solution to the problem of negative existentials is tentatively proposed. Whilst rejecting Millianism, Evans 1982 agrees with Kripke that (most) names depend on a referent to be meaningful. Evans 1982 argues forcefully against Kripke's approach to negative existentials and proposes his own solution. Evans' own solution is, however, subject to the same problems. Burge 1974 shows how one can systematically accommodate meaningful empty names in an ontologically perspicuous way. See also Sainsbury 2005.
Introductions Sainsbury 2009 is an introduction to empty names and related issues such as fictional characters, and truth in fiction.
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  1. Empty Names and Pragmatic Implicatures.Fred Adams & Gary Fuller - 2007 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 37 (3):449-461.
  2. The Semantics of Fictional Names.Fred Adams, Gary Fuller & Robert Stecker - 1997 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 78 (2):128–148.
    In this paper we defend a direct reference theory of names. We maintain that the meaning of a name is its bearer. In the case of vacuous names, there is no bearer and they have no meaning. We develop a unified theory of names such that one theory applies to names whether they occur within or outside fiction. Hence, we apply our theory to sentences containing names within fiction, sentences about fiction or sentences making comparisons across fictions. We then defend (...)
  3. Vacuous Singular Terms.Fred Adams & Robert Stecker - 1994 - Mind and Language 9 (4):387-401.
  4. Names That Name Nothing.Frederick Adams - unknown
    This paper defends a direct reference view of empty names, saying that empty names literally have no meaning and cannot be used to express truths. However, all names, including empty names, are associated with accompanying descriptions that are implicated in pragmatically imparted truths. A sentence such as “Vulcan doesn’t exist” pragmatically imparts that there is no tenth planet. This view is defended against objections.
  5. What Are Negative Existence Statements About?Jay David Atlas - 1988 - Linguistics and Philosophy 11 (4):373 - 394.
  6. Failed Reference and Feigned Reference.Kent Bach - 1985 - Grazer Philosophische Studien 25:359-374.
    Nothing can be said about a nonexistent object, but something can be said about the act of (unsuccessfully) attempting to refer to one or, as in fiction, of pretending to refer to one. Unsuccessful reference, whether by expressions or by speakers, can be explained straightforwardly within the context of the theory of speech acts and communication. As for fiction, there is nothing special semantically, as to either meaning or reference, about its language. And fictional discourse is just a distinctive use (...)
  7. Quantificational Logic and Empty Names.Andrew Bacon - 2013 - Philosophers' Imprint 13 (24).
    The result of combining classical quantificational logic with modal logic proves necessitism – the claim that necessarily everything is necessarily identical to something. This problem is reflected in the purely quantificational theory by theorems such as ∃x t=x; it is a theorem, for example, that something is identical to Timothy Williamson. The standard way to avoid these consequences is to weaken the theory of quantification to a certain kind of free logic. However, it has often been noted that in order (...)
  8. Review of Mark Sainsbury, Reference Without Referents[REVIEW]Stephen Barker - 2007 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2007 (1).
  9. Could Sherlock Holmes Have Existed?Hanoch Ben-Yami - 2010 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 10 (3):175-181.
    In Naming and Necessity Kripke argued against the possible existence of fictional characters. I show that his argument is invalid, analyze the confusion it involves, and explain why the view that fictional characters could not have existed is implausible.
  10. Mistake is to Myth What Pretense is to Fiction: A Reply to Goodman.Björn Lundgren - 2017 - Philosophia 45 (3):1275-1282.
    In this reply I defend Kripke’s creationist thesis for mythical objects against Jeffrey Goodman’s counter-argument to the thesis, 35–40, 2014). I argue that Goodman has mistaken the basis for when mythical abstracta are created. Contrary to Goodman I show that, as well as how, Kripke’s theory consistently retains the analogy between creation of mythical objects and creation of fictional objects, while also explaining in what way they differ.
  11. Empty Names, Fictional Names, Mythical Names.David Braun - 2005 - Noûs 39 (4):596–631.
    John Stuart Mill (1843) thought that proper names denote individuals and do not connote attributes. Contemporary Millians agree, in spirit. We hold that the semantic content of a proper name is simply its referent. We also think that the semantic content of a declarative sentence is a Russellian structured proposition whose constituents are the semantic contents of the sentence’s constituents. This proposition is what the sentence semantically expresses. Therefore, we think that sentences containing proper names semantically express singular propositions, which (...)
  12. Katz on Names Without Bearers.David Braun - 1995 - Philosophical Review 104 (4):553-576.
  13. Empty Names.David Braun - 1993 - Noûs 27 (4):449-469.
  14. The Ubiquitous Problem of Empty Names.Stuart Brock - 2004 - Journal of Philosophy 101 (6):277 - 298.
  15. Truth and Singular Terms.Tyler Burge - 1974 - Noûs 8 (4):309-325.
  16. Creatures of Fiction, Myth, and Imagination.Ben Caplan - 2004 - American Philosophical Quarterly 41 (4):331-337.
    In the nineteenth century, astronomers thought that a planet between Mercury and the Sun was causing perturbations in the orbit of Mercury, and they introduced ‘Vulcan’ as a name for such a planet. But they were wrong: there was, and is, no intra-Mercurial planet. Still, these astronomers went around saying things like (2) Vulcan is a planet between Mercury and the Sun. Some philosophers think that, when nineteenth-century astronomers were theorizing about an intra-Mercurial planet, they created a hypothetical planet.
  17. Empty Names.Ben Caplan - 2002 - Dissertation, UCLA
    In my dissertation (UCLA 2002), I argue that, by appropriating Fregean resources, Millians can solve the problems that empty names pose. As a result, the debate between Millians and Fregeans should be understood, not as a debate about whether there are senses, but rather as a debate about where there are senses.
  18. Nomi in crisi di identità.Elena Casetta & Achille C. Varzi - 2008 - Rivista di Estetica 48 (38):143-156.
    An exchange of letters among proper names and natural-kind terms, dealing with various identity and individuation problems (rigid designation, use-mention ambiguities, translation) from their point of view.
  19. Descriptivism, Scope, and Apparently Empty Names.Andrew Cullison & Ben Caplan - 2011 - Philosophical Studies 156 (2):283-288.
  20. What to Say When There Is Nothing to Talk About (Qué Decir Cuando No Hay Nada de Que Hablar).Mircea Dumitru & Frederick Kroon - 2008 - Critica 40 (120):97 - 109.
    In Reference without Referents, Mark Sainsbury aims to provide an account of reference that honours the common-sense view that sentences containing empty names like "Vulcan" and "Santa Claus" are entirely intelligible, and that many such sentences -"Vulcan doesn't exist", "Many children believe that Santa Claus will give them presents at Christmas", etc.- are literally true. Sainsbury's account endorses the Davidsonian program in the theory of meaning, and combines this with a commitment to Negative Free Logic, which holds that all simple (...)
  21. The Varieties of Reference.Gareth Evans - 1982 - Oxford University Press.
    Covering the work of Frege, Russell, and more recent work on singular reference, this important book examines the concepts of perceptually-based demonstrative identification, thought about oneself, and recognition-based demonstrative identification.
  22. Empty Names and `Gappy' Propositions.Anthony Everett - 2003 - Philosophical Studies 116 (1):1-36.
    In recent years a number of authors sympathetic to Referentialistaccounts of proper names have argued that utterances containingempty names express `gappy,' or incomplete, propositions. In this paper I want to take issue with this suggestion.In particular, I argue versions of this approach developedby David Braun, Nathan Salmon, Ken Taylor, and by Fred Adams,Gary Fuller, and Robert Stecker.
  23. Referentialism and Empty Names.Anthony Everett - 2000 - In T. Hofweber & A. Everett (eds.), Empty Names, Fiction, and the Puzzles of Non-Existence. CSLI Publications. pp. 37--60.
  24. Empty Names, Fiction and the Puzzles of Non-Existence.Anthony Everett & Thomas Hofweber (eds.) - 2000 - Center for the Study of Language and Inf.
    Philosophers and theorists have long been puzzled by humans' ability to talk about things that do not exist, or to talk about things that they think exist but, in fact, do not. _Empty Names, Fiction, and the Puzzles of Non-Existence_ is a collection of 13 new works concerning the semantic and metaphysical issues arising from empty names, non-existence, and the nature of fiction. The contributors include some of the most important researchers working in these fields. Some of the papers develop (...)
  25. The Four Puzzles of Reference.Bryan Frances - manuscript
  26. The Great Beetle Debate: A Study in Imagining with Names.Stacie Friend - 2011 - Philosophical Studies 153 (2):183-211.
    Statements about fictional characters, such as “Gregor Samsa has been changed into a beetle,” pose the problem of how we can say something true (or false) using empty names. I propose an original solution to this problem that construes such utterances as reports of the “prescriptions to imagine” generated by works of fiction. In particular, I argue that we should construe these utterances as specifying, not what we are supposed to imagine—the propositional object of the imagining—but how we are supposed (...)
  27. Fictional Characters.Stacie Friend - 2007 - Philosophy Compass 2 (2):141–156.
    If there are no fictional characters, how do we explain thought and discourse apparently about them? If there are, what are they like? A growing number of philosophers claim that fictional characters are abstract objects akin to novels or plots. They argue that postulating characters provides the most straightforward explanation of our literary practices as well as a uniform account of discourse and thought about fiction. Anti-realists counter that postulation is neither necessary nor straightforward, and that the invocation of pretense (...)
  28. A Cognitive Theory of Empty Names.Eduardo García-Ramírez - 2011 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 2 (4):785-807.
    Ordinary use of empty names encompasses a variety of different phenomena, including issues in semantics, mental content, fiction, pretense, and linguistic practice. In this paper I offer a novel account of empty names, the cognitive theory, and show how it offers a satisfactory account of the phenomena. The virtues of this theory are based on its strength and parsimony. It allows for a fully homogeneous semantic treatment of names coped with ontological frugality and empirical and psychological adequacy.
  29. Frege on Existence and Non‐Existence.Karen Green - 2015 - Theoria 81 (4):293-310.
    Despite its importance for early analytic philosophy, Gottlob Frege's account of existence statements, according to which they classify concepts, has been thought to succumb to a number of well-worn criticisms. This article does two things. First, it argues that, by remaining faithful to the letter of Frege's claim that concepts are functions, the Fregean account can be saved from many of the standard criticisms. Second, it examines the problem that Frege's account fails to generalize to cases which involve definite descriptions (...)
  30. Direct Reference Empty Names and Implicature.Mitchell S. Green - 2007 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 37 (3):419-37.
    Angle Grinder Man removes wheel locks from cars in London.1 He is something of a folk hero, saving drivers from enormous parking and towing fi nes, and has succeeded thus far in eluding the authorities. In spite of his cape and lamé tights, he is no fi ction; he’s a real person. By contrast, Pegasus, Zeus and the like are fi ctions. None of them is real. In fact, not only is each of them different from the others, all differ (...)
  31. Direct Reference, Empty Names and Implicature.Mitchell S. Green - 2007 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 37 (3):419-447.
    Angle Grinder Man removes wheel locks from cars in London.1 He is something of a folk hero, saving drivers from enormous parking and towing fi nes, and has succeeded thus far in eluding the authorities. In spite of his cape and lamé tights, he is no fi ction; he’s a real person. By contrast, Pegasus, Zeus and the like are fi ctions. None of them is real. In fact, not only is each of them different from the others, all differ (...)
  32. Reference Without Referents, by R. M. Sainsbury. [REVIEW]Peter Hanks - 2006 - Disputatio 1 (20):368 - 374.
  33. M. García-Carpintero & G. Martí (Eds.), Empty Representations: Reference and Non-Existence. [REVIEW]Fredrik Haraldsen - 2016 - Organon F: Medzinárodný Časopis Pre Analytickú Filozofiu 23 (2):263-274.
  34. Russellians Can Have a No Proposition View of Empty Names.Thomas William Strickland Hodgson - forthcoming - Inquiry : An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy:1-22.
    Russellians can have a no proposition view of empty names. I will defend this theory against the problem of meaningfulness, and show that the theory is in general well motivated. My solution to the problem of meaningfulness is that speakers’ judgements about meaningfulness are tracking grammaticality, and not propositional content.
  35. Empty Names, Fiction, and the Puzzles of Non-Existence.T. Hofweber & A. Everett (eds.) - 2000 - CSLI Publications.
    Philosophers and theorists have long been puzzled by humans' ability to talk about things that do not exist, or to talk about things that they think exist but, in fact, do not. _Empty Names, Fiction, and the Puzzles of Non-Existence_ is a collection of 13 new works concerning the semantic and metaphysical issues arising from empty names, non-existence, and the nature of fiction. The contributors include some of the most important researchers working in these fields. Some of the papers develop (...)
  36. Devitt on Empty Names.Božidar Kante - 2006 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 6 (1):51-62.
    The paper deals with the topic of empty terms as considered in chapter six of Devitt’s book Designation. Devitt’s proposal is that a statement about fiction is (usually) implicitly preceded by a fiction operator roughly paraphrasable by “it is pretended that” or “in fiction”. The causal chain that forms the network for a fictitious name are not d(esignational)-chains, for they are not grounded in an object. Nevertheless, although the fictitious name does not designate, we could say that it stands in (...)
  37. World-Indexed Descriptivism and an Illusory Problem of Empty Names.Seahwa Kim - 2006 - Philosophy 101:277-298.
  38. Reference and Existence. The John Locke Lectures.Saul A. Kripke - 2013 - Oxford University Press.
    Reference and Existence, Saul Kripke's John Locke Lectures for 1973, can be read as a sequel to his classic Naming and Necessity. It confronts important issues left open in that work -- among them, the semantics of proper names and natural kind terms as they occur in fiction and in myth; negative existential statements; the ontology of fiction and myth. In treating these questions, he makes a number of methodological observations that go beyond the framework of his earlier book -- (...)
  39. Vacuous Names and Fictional Entities.Saul A. Kripke - 2011 - In Philosophical Troubles. Collected Papers Vol I. Oxford University Press.
  40. The Nonexistent, by Anthony Everett. [REVIEW]Frederick Kroon - 2015 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 93 (1):185-187.
  41. Make-Believe and Fictional Reference.Frederick Kroon - 1994 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 52 (2):207-214.
  42. Truth in Fiction.Franck Lihoreau (ed.) - 2011 - Ontos Verlag.
    The essays collected in this volume are all concerned with the connection between fiction and truth. This question is of utmost importance to metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophical logic and epistemology, raising in each of these areas and at their intersections a large number of issues related to creation, existence, reference, identity, modality, belief, assertion, imagination, pretense, etc. All these topics and many more are addressed in this collection, which brings together original essays written from various points of view by (...)
  43. Saul A. Kripke Reference and Existence: The John Locke Lectures. Oxford University Press, 2013. Xiii + 170 Pp. GBP £22.50. Isbn 978‐0‐19‐992838‐5. [REVIEW]Björn Lundgren - 2015 - Theoria 81 (2):182-188.
  44. Nomes Vazios.Teresa Marques & Manuel García-Carpintero - 2014 - Compêndio Em Linha de Problemas de Filosofia Analítica.
    Os nomes próprios são termos singulares que intuitivamente indicam os objectos do discurso ou pensamento. Alguns nomes falham na sua função de referir, sem que, aparentemente, deixem de desempenhar um papel representacional. Isso é paradoxal: Por um lado, os objectos referidos deveriam fazer parte de uma caracterização correcta dos nomes próprios. Por outro lado, o significado das frases que incorporam nomes vácuos sugere que tais objectos são extrínsecos aos pensamentos transmitidos. Isto é o problema que se levanta com a existência (...)
  45. Dąmbska, Quine, and the So-Called Empty Names.Michele Marsonet - 1998 - In Katarzyna Kijania-Placek & Jan Woleński (eds.), The Lvov-Warsaw School and Contemporary Philosophy. Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 191--198.
  46. The Problem of Empty Names.Michele Marsonet - 1997 - Idealistic Studies 27 (1/2):91-96.
  47. Truth-Value Gaps.John McDowell - 1982 - In L. J. Cohen (ed.), Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science VI: Proceedings of the Sixth International Congress of Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science. North Holland Publishing Co.
  48. Two-Dimensionalism and Fictional Names.Brendan Murday - 2011 - In Franck Lihoreau (ed.), Truth in Fiction. Ontos Verlag. pp. 43-76.
    For those who endorse Millianism and take ‘Sherlock Holmes’ to be an empty name, the sentence ‘Sherlock Holmes is clever’ may not count as expressing a complete proposition. The sentence ‘According to the fiction, Sherlock Holmes is clever’, however, should count as expressing a true proposition. I attempt to reconcile these two intuitions by arguing that ‘According to the fiction’ is a two-dimensional operator: to evaluate a statement of the form ‘According to the fiction, S’ at world @ (where @ (...)
  49. Reference, Fiction, and Omission.Samuel Murray - forthcoming - Synthese:1-23.
    In this paper, I argue that sentences that contain ‘omission’ tokens that appear to function as singular terms are meaningful while maintaining the view that omissions are nothing at all or mere absences. I take omissions to be fictional entities and claim that the way in which sentences about fictional characters are true parallels the way in which sentences about omissions are true. I develop a pragmatic account of fictional reference and argue that my fictionalist account of omissions implies a (...)
  50. Fictional Names Without Fictional Objects (Ficción Sin Metafísica).Eleonora Orlando - 2008 - Critica 40 (120):111 - 127.
    In this paper, I criticize Mark Sainsbury's proposal concerning the semantic analysis of fictional discourse, as it has been put forward in chapter 6 of his Reference without Referents. His main thesis is that fictional names do not refer, and hence statements containing them are genuinely false and must be interpreted in terms of true paraphrases, arrived at on a case-by-case basis. In my opinion, the proposal has a problem derived from the fact that the relation between some problematic examples (...)
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