Are General Terms Rigid?

Linguistics and Philosophy 28 (1):117 - 134 (2004)
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Abstract

On Kripke’s intended definition, a term designates an object x rigidly if the term designates x with respect to every possible world in which x exists and does not designate anything else with respect to worlds in which x does not exist. Kripke evidently holds in Naming and Necessity, hereafter N&N (pp. 117–144, passim, and especially at 134, 139–140), that certain general terms – including natural-kind terms like ‘‘water’’ and ‘‘tiger’’, phenomenon terms like ‘‘heat’’ and ‘‘hot’’, and color terms like ‘‘blue’’ – are rigid designators solely as a matter of philosophical semantics (independently of empirical, extra-linguistic facts). As a consequence, Kripke argues, identity statements involving these general terms are like identity statements involving proper names (e.g., ‘‘Clark Kent=Superman’’) in that, solely as a matter of philosophical semantics, they express necessary truths if they are true at all. But whereas it is reasonably clear what it is for a (first-order) singular term to designate, Kripke does not explicitly say what it is for a general term to designate. General terms are standardly treated in modern logic as predicates, usually monadic predicates. There are very forceful reasons – due independently to Church and Godel, and ultimately to Frege – for taking predicates to designate their semantic extensions. But insofar as the extension of the general term ‘‘tiger’’ is the class of actual tigers (or its characteristic function), it is clear that the term does not rigidly designate its extension, since the class of tigers in one possible world may differ from the class of tigers in another. What, then, is it for ‘‘tiger’’ to be rigid?

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Nathan Salmón
University of California at Santa Barbara

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