Dissertation, CUNY Graduate Center (2015)

Elmar Unnsteinsson
University College Dublin
I develop and argue for a novel theory of the mental state of identity confusion. I also argue that this mental state can corrupt the proper function of singular terms in linguistic communication. Finally, I propose a theory according to which identity confusion should be treated as a the source of a new sort of linguistic performance error, similar to malapropism, slips of the tongue, and so-called intentional obfuscation (inducing false belief by manipulating language in specific ways). Going into a bit more detail, I start by arguing that contemporary analytic philosophy, and philosophy of language in particular, has been dominated by a ‘puzzle-driven’ methodology. This tradition, I claim, seeks to provide a coherent system for describing semantic features of all conceivable cases where a speaker is confused about the identity or distinctness of an object. On my view, identity confusion is a mental state of an agent who either believes falsely that a is identical to b or believes falsely that a is not identical to b. I show how many influential arguments in philosophy – e.g., Kripke on semantic reference and speaker’s reference – are invalidated because of false assumptions about the state of identity confusion. More positively, I assume an ‘explanation-driven’ approach, combining strands in Gricean intentionalism and Ruth Millikan’s teleosemantics. On this view, confused speakers are ‘sub-optimal’: their mental state disrupts the proper function of the relevant singular terms in their idiolects. Furthermore, I flesh out a theoretically fruitful notion of ‘edenic reference,’ which idealizes away from confusion in defining the optimal or stabilizing function of singular terms. I argue that speakers must satisfy certain broadly cognitive constraints if their utterances are to play a role in explaining the maintenance of a practice of using a singular term in a linguistic community.
Keywords reference  confusion  identity  Grice  Millikan
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Demonstratives: An Essay on the Semantics, Logic, Metaphysics and Epistemology of Demonstratives and Other Indexicals.David Kaplan - 1989 - In Joseph Almog, John Perry & Howard Wettstein (eds.), Themes From Kaplan. Oxford University Press. pp. 481-563.

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