PHL313: Some thoughts on Kripke and names
From Lecture I
Kripke is concerned with proper names. He will use the term
"designator" for both proper names and definite descriptions, and call
proper names "names" but never call definite descriptions "names."
The referent of a description is the thing which satisfies (makes
true) that description.
Kripke considers the "cluster theory." We'll discuss this theory more
when we read Searle -- but the idea is simple, and Kripke cites
Wittgenstein as his source. Instead of a claiming a name is a single
description, we'll claim a name is a cluster of descriptions.
Kripke points out there is an ambiguity here: the cluster theory might
be that the name "Abe Lincoln" means the man who such and such and
such.... Or the theory might instead be that the name "Abe Lincoln"
has its reference determined by the description the man who such and
such and such....
It is not clear whether the second interpretation solves the puzzles
of negative existentials or names without a referent.
Kripke will distinguish a priori from necessary. He will
make a priori refer to what is given prior to experience for
some particular person. Thus, For
example, a mathematical claim that has not yet been proved or disproved
is either necessarily true or necessarily false, but it is not a priori,
since no one knows yet how to check.
A rigid designator is a name or phrase that designates the same thing
in every world. Note that the object need not exist in every world.
It is not necessary that Nixon existed, but (Kripke claims) the name
"Nixon" is a rigid designator. Thus, there are some worlds where the
rigid designator does not designate anything. On the other hand, a
rigid designator for a necessary object is to be called a "strongly
Claim: "Nixon" is a rigid designator. But "U. S. President in 1970"
is not -- someone else might have won that election. So, a rigid
designator is not the same as a description.
Note: some complain that you cannot
determine what a thing is in every world. How do you identify Nixon
in every possible world? But Kripke says that question is backwards.
You must first have a rigid designator before you can ask the question.
When we ask, "could Nixon have lost the election," Kripke claims, we
implicitly assume that "Nixon" is a rigid designator.
(I worry that though this is plausible, it does hide a certain problem:
surely at some point claims become incoherent because they are descriptions
that are unreasonable. Like, "Nixon could have been a kangaroo." Could
he have been? Wouldn't he at some point stop being enough like Nixon
that we would call him "Nixon"? Kripke can answer this concern with a
certain theory of possibility, but it is not trivial and is glossed in
From Lecture II
Kripke puts a sophisticated/cluster version of Russellian names as
He adds also that the properties cannot be circular and
refer to reference (e.g., "Socrates is the proper referent of
- There are a cluster of properties for each name
that the speaker believes are true of the thing designated
by the name.
- The speaker believes some of the properties pick out
- Anything having most of the cluster properties is the
referent of the name.
- If there is no thing with the properties, then the
name does not refer.
- The speaker knows a priori that if the thing named
exists then it has most of those properties.
- It is necessary that the thing, if it exists, it
has most of the cluster properties.
Kripke rejects most of these theses!
Thesis #1 he interprets as a definition, and so not something
you can disprove. Rather, one will offer a different definition
that may be better.
Thesis #2: what does "Cicero" mean to most people? Kripke
claims that to most people it just means, famous Roman orator.
And, of course, these people know that "famous Roman orator"
is not a unique description! Or, say, what do "Feynman" or "Fermi"
mean to most people? Famous physicists. Of course, we know
that is not a unique description!
Thesis #3: suppose conditions of thesis two were met. Suppose
someone can state Godel's incompleteness theorem, and says,
"'Godel' means the man who discovered the incompleteness theorem.
Now, isn't it possible that we could read in the newspaper that
someone else actually wrote the incompleteness theorem, and Godel
stole it and published it under his own name? If that's possible,
we would say "Godel did not discover the incompleteness theorem!"
But that would be incoherent if we take it to mean "The man who
discovered the incompleteness theorem did not discover the
Note also that people often profess false descriptions. They
say that Einstein was the inventor of the atomic bomb, or that
Columbus was the first man to think that the Earth was round,
or that Newton discovered gravity.
Thesis #4: isn't it possible that there was a Jonah, but he
was not swallowed by a whale? Then the description fails but
the thing refered to does not fail to exist.
Thesis #5: when the conditions described in theses 2-4 are
satisfied by accident, it still does not follow that I know
these things a priori. I cannot be certain about these
things, such as that Godel wrote the incompleteness theorem.
Kripke rejects #6 because it could have been, for example,
that Aristotle was not the tutor of Alexander, and lacked
any other likely candidate for an identifying property.
Kripke proposes a causal chain linking the naming event and the
thing named, down to all causally related uses of the name.
A name is given in a naming or baptism. There is a causal chain
linking from that point on all the people who use that name to
the initial naming ceremony. The referent of this name is now
the thing baptized (metaphorically or literally) with this name
and which has a causal chain from that naming ceremony down to
this instance of the use.
Kripke recognizes that there are some problems with this theory.
One is that maybe "Santa Claus" has a causal chain linking back
to a particular man -- but that's perhaps not at all what children
mean to refer to when they use the term.