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«By Gödel I Do Not Mean Schmidt JASON DAYLEY I n Naming and Necessity, Saul Kripke attacks the descriptivist theory of proper names made popular by ...»

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Searle tries to show that the causal theory is not a better picture of the way names work by demonstrating that the causal theory relies essentially on descriptivism in two ways. First, when a name is given in the initial naming ceremony, it must be given by description. When a man gives an object a name he either gives an ostensive description to what is to receive the name, like "this infant in our arms," or he gives a unique 6 It will probably not be the case that most people learn the name Gödel from someone who knew his parents, but there must always be some chain back to them. This is especially true when one considers that Gödel learned his own name from his parents. In all cases, then, there will be a chain of people who heard the name from someone who heard the name etc., until we get to those who named the man Gödel.

7 This article will henceforth be cited by the author’s name followed by the page number.


description using known properties, like "the highest peak of that mountain range." In the latter case, it would not even be important that the man were acquainted with the thing named. It seems that Kripke would have to admit this point, but this only shows an initial reliance on description, not that this description must be in the mind of the person using the name in every case. In fact, it surely is not since most uses of the name will not be by those aware of the procedure of an object’s naming ceremony. Second, Searle tries to show that the causal chain by which names are learned is not free from descriptivist intentionality. Kripke mentions that a speaker must have the intention to use the name the same way as the person from whom he learned it. Hence, to use the name Gödel, which I have learned from Mr. Smith, I must have as part of my intention the description "the person referred to by Mr. Smith using the name 'Gödel'" (Searle 310).

We may now understand why Searle believes that Kripke's Gödel example cannot be used against the descriptivist theory. Searle admits that in the counterfactual situation given when I use the name "Gödel," I am "referring to Gödel and not the man who satisfies this description" (Searle 318). However, Searle believes that the name must still carry the intentional content "the person called Gödel by those from whom I have learned the name." Now, there are times when the name is used in what Donnellan calls the referential sense.8 For example, I may say that I believe Gödel's proof was the most important achievement in math since Euclid. In this case, it seems clear that by "Gödel" I mean whoever authored the proof of incompleteness, whether or not it was actually Gödel. Therefore, whenever I use the name Gödel, I have a definite description as part of my intention.

Thus, Kripke's theory can be reduced to descriptivism; hence, this example and the larger picture of naming that it was intended to support cannot be used to refute descriptivism.

Kripke's theory easily defends against Searle's response to the Gödel example. It has been established that there are two types of descriptions which may be part of a speaker's intention when using a name. First, there is the type of descriptions classically used by descriptivists such as "the author of the incompleteness proof." If this type of description were the way in which a name achieved reference, then names are only used in the attributive sense; they can only refer to whomever fits their implied definite 8 Searle calls this "secondary aspect uses of proper names" (Searle 318).


description. However, the Gödel example shows that when I use a name, I usually want the name to function like a referential definite description; I want it to pick out a certain object no matter what descriptions that object may actually fit. There may be examples where I want to use a name in an attributive sense. In the statement, "Gödel's proof is the greatest achievement in math since Euclid," the name "Gödel" seems to mean whoever wrote the proof rather than the actual man Gödel whether or not he was the author. It should be noted, however, that the subject of this sentence is not "Gödel," it is "Gödel's proof." This subject is a definite description which functions referentially since it picks out a certain proof whether it was actually created by Gödel or not. There may be another example in which we look at a version of the incompleteness theorem and say, "Gödel was a genius." This does seems to be attributive; it seems to mean that whoever wrote the proof was a genius. If Schmidt wrote the proof, then I mean Schmidt was a genius. However, this is not the way I always use a name, nor is it the most common way. It cannot, therefore, be said to generally be the way in which names achieve reference. Furthermore, it seems that in most cases of this last type, rather than saying that the speaker was right and merely using the name "Gödel" referentially, we would usually say that the speaker is mistaken. Here the Gödel example makes the problems of a purely descriptivist theory of names apparent. When I say something like, "Gödel taught at Princeton," if we were to understand "Gödel" as functioning attributively, then it seems I mean that Schmidt taught at Princeton. I clearly do not mean this. I mean that a specific person, to whom we refer using "Gödel," taught at Princeton. In this case we want to use the name referentially as the subject of a sentence, and as I have shown, this is usually the case Searle proposes another type of definite description which answers the Gödel example. An example of this type would be like the partygoer's description, "the person who was introduced to me as Gödel." This may be stated more generally as "the person called Gödel in my community," to avoid the problems of having forgotten where I learned the name Gödel (Searle 310). It seems that when I say "Gödel taught at Princeton," I may mean "the person called Gödel in my community taught at Princeton."


Kripke admits that a person using a name he has learned must have an intention to use the name in the way he heard it used. Searle interprets this intention as a definite description of the partygoer's type. It seems that if the name requires such a definite description in the intention of the speaker to function, then the descriptivist theory is correct (Searle 310). In fact, this points out how names could always function attributively, though this type of description does not seem to be the type Frege, Russell, and Strawson had in mind. Ignoring that this response by Searle seems ad hoc, the question remains whether, after admitted that names require intentionality, Kripke's Gödel example can be used to show that the descriptivist theory of naming is faulty.

In explaining their theories, Frege, Russell, and Strawson never make reference to a description like, "the person called Gödel in my community." Perhaps this was because such a description is circular; it picks out the name Gödel by a description which contains the name "Gödel." There may be a question as to why this description seems to work in picking out the reference if it is indeed circular. The description has this ability because it does not refer to the object named; it refers to the causal chain by which the name is learned. The description "the person called Gödel in my community" was used in place of "the person whose name I learned from Smith was Gödel" to account for the fact that we may use a name when we are not sure from whom we learned it. In any case, I, or the members of my community, have learned the name from someone and so what is meant in this description is, "the person called Gödel by whomever I learned that name from." So, what did that person mean when they told me the name of the author of the incompleteness proof was Gödel? Normally, Smith would mean "the person called Gödel by whomever I learned that name from." Recall that in Mr. Smith's case, this means "the person called Gödel by the parents of Gödel." Who do the parents mean when they use the name Gödel or introduce this name to Gödel himself or to another person? They mean "the person who, as an infant, I took in my arms and said, 'I name this infant Kurt Gödel,'" or however they pronounced the ceremony. Therefore, the name Gödel merely presents the person so named and only secondarily requires an intention to use the name as it was learned. This intention may translate into a definite description, but this 10 JASON DAYLEY definite description is only a secondary requirement and in fact refers to the causal chain from which the name was learned, not to Gödel himself Kripke repeatedly mentions that this idea of a causal chain of naming does not give a new theory of naming; it simply offers a better picture. The Gödel example demonstrates that this picture is better. To say that names achieve reference by the use of a definite description must be wrong if we mean that they use a description like "author of the incompleteness theorem." To say that names achieve reference by the use of a definite description is deceptive if we mean that they use a description like "the person called Gödel in my community." If this second type were the type of description used in the vast majority of cases, to achieve reference, then Searle's descriptivist theory, which includes such descriptions, is deceptive.

The idea that the name "Gödel" presents the object so named directly, and that this name was learned through a causal chain is more accurate. A description like "the person called Gödel in my community," may still be part of our intention, but stating that this description is the primary means by which the name Gödel receives reference is problematic.

Kripke's Gödel example shows that the causal picture of proper names is better than the picture given by the descriptivists. If in using the name "Gödel," part of my intention is the definite description by which the reference was fixed when I learned the name, such as "the author of the incompleteness theorem," then there are clearly cases in which it seems I should mean Schmidt when I actually mean Gödel. If instead, the only description which is part of my intention in using this name is "the person who was called Gödel by whoever first taught me that name," then there will be no such mistake. Kripke's picture shows that names only rely secondarily on intended definite descriptions. While this shows that there is some merit in the descriptivist theory, it is clear that saying this theory explains how names are able to refer to objects is deceptive. When using a name, a person may require a definite description as part of her intention if the name is able to achieve reference, or she may require a definite description to fix the referent of a new name. However, the Gödel example shows that in Kripke's picture names achieve reference only as they are learned from a causal chain, giving a better picture of the way names actually work.

Works Cited Or Consulted Donnellan, Keith. "Reference and Definite Descriptions." Philosophical Review. 75(1966): 281–304.

Frege, Gottlob. "On Sense and Nominatum." In A.P. Martinich, The Philosophy of Language. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 199–211.

Kripke, Saul. Naming and Necessity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1980.

Russell, Bertrand. "Mr. Strawson on Referring." Mind. 66 (1957): 385–389.

Russell, Bertrand. "On Denoting." Mind. 14 (1905): 479–493 Searle, John. "Proper Names and Intentionality." In A.P. Martinich, The Philosophy of Language. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 308–323.

Strawson, P.F. "On Referring." Mind. 59 (1950): 320–344.

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