Four Problems for Empty Names


Empty names vary in their referential features. Some of them, as Kripke argues, are necessarily empty -- those that are used to create works of fiction. Others appear to be contingently empty -- those which fail to refer at this world, but which do uniquely identify particular objects in other possible worlds. I argue against Kripke's metaphysical and semantic reasons for thinking that either some or all empty names are necessarily non-referring, because these reasons are either not the right reasons for thinking that a name necessarily must fail to refer, or they are too broad -- they make every empty name necessarily non-referential. Plausibly, the explanation for the necessary non-reference of fictional names should be semantic, yet the explanation should not rule out a priori the contingent non-reference of certain other empty names. In light of this, I argue that a name's semantic value needs to carry information about its referential potential. I claim that names do so by encoding information about the way they were introduced into discourse. Names that are fictional will be marked as being non-referential -- they will fail to refer as a matter of their semantics. In contrast, names that are contingently empty will be marked as referential, but they will be failed referential names that could have been successful. The reason, then, for the non-referential status of a fictional name, will be semantic, as our intuitions suggest it should be. Likewise, the reason for the non-referential status of other empty names, those created by acts of failed attempts to refer, will be metaphysical, again, in keeping with our intuitions.

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Heidi Erika Brock
University of Maryland, College Park (PhD)


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