The meaning and use of proper names
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The contemporary accounts of the semantic content of proper names fall into two broad categories - Millian views which maintain that the semantic content of a proper name is always its referent, and neo-Fregean views that maintain that in propositional attitude contexts the referent of a name is a sense or mode of presentation of its usual referent. I argue that neither of these two general pictures is correct and that proper names and other singular terms cannot be assigned a uniform semantic content. That is, proper names do not make exactly the same semantic contribution whenever they occur, and the contributions they do make cannot be captured by a general (and not merely disjunctive) function from context to content. I argue that the semantic contribution of proper names is highly context sensitive and that none of the contemporary accounts of proper names account for all their uses. I discuss a number of puzzling simple sentences due to Jennifer Saul and argue against the view our intuitions about the puzzle sentences can be explained in terms of the pragmatic implicatures of the utterances. Furthermore, careful attention to the puzzles shows in some cases the content contributed by the proper name cannot be specified by independent means The propositions expressed by means of such uses of names are such that the circumstances in which they are true do not have anything in common other than the fact that they are circumstances in which those propositions are true. These circumstances are instead tied together by overlapping relations of similarity. I suggest that the actual linguistic function of proper names is to make the practice of using a name salient, and that this practice then serves as input for a pragmatic process which takes account of extra-linguistic knowledge and other features of the context.