[C] [Wittrs] Re: Re: Proper Names --Wittgenstein, Russell, Kripke

  • From: kirby urner <kirby.urner@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 3 Feb 2010 15:49:04 -0800

On Tue, Feb 2, 2010 at 9:18 PM, Sean Wilson <whoooo26505@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:

> (Kirby)
> .. I'm not exactly sure I follow. If a name is separate from its bearer --
> which it surely is -- the same rule for speaking about "the real" seem to
> obtain for speaking about the mythical. You would have to engage in one of
> four behaviors in the service of individuating: (a) point ("This is
> Aragorn'); (b) title ("Aragorn, son of whatshisname, is the one true King);
> (c) brand ("Aragorn is DNA profile such-and-such); or (d) describe ("Aragorn
> is yay tall with hair about down to here and a little scuzzy at times. Likes
> the outdoors).

If you're already clear that the same rules apply, i.e. adding a fictional
dimension doesn't really change the abc's of how one uses proper names, then
yes, nothing problematic enters the picture just because the designated
person, geographic place, and/or named vessel or spaceship, has no actual
existence in the world of past or present facts.

I think you might find the occasional amateurish philosophy that takes up
this matter of proper names, yet makes no allowances for the referents being

Sometimes what happens with proper names is they're thought to be literal
(if I may use that as the opposite of mythical) and then it comes out later
that (all this time) the referent had no literal existence.

This verdict of "mythical" could be the outcome of sleuthing, detective work
i.e. we're trying to track down X, and we think we know who X is, but then
we end up concluding either:

(a) X never existed or
(b) we're simply not sure if X ever existed
(and if X did, how much of what we suppose about X is actually fictitious
e.g. there's the DNA record, but that turns out to most likely belong to
someone else...).

The above scenario sounds a lot like police work on one of those popular
prime time TV shows wherein all of the characters, plots, equipment, is a
made-for-TV fantasy.

Within the fictional TV show, the hero-sleuths attempt to track down X (some
proper name) and it turns out there's no such person X (the fact that the
heroes are also fictive is not a plot element in the show i.e. their
fictitious nature is "meta" to the storytelling -- we're suspending
disbelief and letting these actors be "real" in a theatrical context).

Taking an example from real life, when Oliver Stone made his movie 'JFK', he
cast Donald Sutherland as this "Man X" character who seemed to have some
inside scoop on that whole business.  The movie was of course controversial,
as it advanced yet another thesis on that crowded scene already well stocked
with conspiracy theories.

People attempted to verify this or that aspect of the movie, and that
included wondering if there really was a 'Man X' or was that just a
screenwriter's device?


Well, it turned out in this case that Oliver Stone was actually thinking of
a real person whom he'd had conversations with, one Col. Fletcher L. Prouty

In the aftermath of the film's release, Oliver and "Man X" actually made
some joint appearances on panels (just once?  many times? -- I'm recalling
some video) to answer questions from journalists and so forth.

But one could just as well imagine that "Man X" could have been a
screenwriter's invention.  Different history in that case, i.e. in many
circles, a lot rides on whether something is "true" or not, and that
includes much intimate grammar around this concept of "existence" (as in
"no, I'm not just making this up").

Philosophical investigations into the meanings of proper names should
probably grapple explicitly with fictional cases.  It's important to point
out that the grammar is similar enough to keep people guessing, in some
cases, as to whether the proper name in question associates with someone or
something that "exists" or "is real".

One might say that "the reality of" or "objective existence of" someone or
something is not critical to its having meaning i.e. is in some ways a quite
dispensable element, at least insofar as how the grammar is constructed.

Of course within this or that language game making use of proper names, it
may make all the difference whether "X" is "real" or not.  I'd say that's a
"parochial concern" in the sense that it's not built in to the grammar.

> Names are the behaviors of pointing, describing, branding, or ascribing
> title for the purpose of individuating. Because the bearer of the name need
> not be real or even be in accord with your description  -- see
> Wittgenstein's remarks on Excalibur, paragraph 39, in PI -- you needn't
> worry about the mythical. Even in the realm of the mythical, the name
> game function as it otherwise does.

You've grappled with the special case of "non-existence" in a thinking
manner, have already considered this issue and come out with a clear
verdict:  the grammar around proper names is not concerned with "existence"
in the first instance.

There's a subcategory of language games in which the attributes of reality
enter in.

One may populate a universe with any number of properly named participants,
all of whom behave according to the same rules we apply in the "real world"
(as we call it).

But then once in a fictive world we're able to be more plastic about the
rules, more flexible.  One might say the structural fabric is far less rigid
in fiction, yet still has its break points or coherence failures, when it
comes to running up against nonsense.

'Alice in Wonderland' plays along this border twixt sense and nonsense, as
does 'Finnegans Wake' I suppose one might say -- as does 'Logico Tractatus
Philosophicus' as does 'Philosophical Investigations'...

I'm glad we have these Wittgensteinian intersections here, a shared
cross-roads of sorts:


"I declare it's marked like a large chess-board!" Alice said at last. "There
ought to be some men moving about somewhere — and so there are!" she added
in a tone of delight, and her heart began to beat quick with excitement as
she went on. "It's a great huge game of chess that's being played-all over
the world — if this is the world at all, you know."

> It would be like saying: the way you language generally has to be changed
> when you enter fiction. Surely, genres and styles exist. But I would think
> the language game is pretty much the same thing no matter what.

That's pretty clear and I suppose I agree.

I'd say something like:  the fictional realm has a low barrier to entry, as
you don't have to tweak the grammar really at all to subtract "existence"
from the equations.  It goes away easily, thanks to our highly evolved
ability to sustain fictional realities using the same rules we use for the
real world.

However, once across that barrier, and into the fictive world, then new
possibilities kick in and the grammar may proceed to morph in ways we could
not accept or allow if trying to stay faithful to some special-case reality.

I appreciate this opportunity to refine our respective views.  I assume
Kripke is likewise on board with fictional cases being somewhat trivially
distinct from the non-fictional.  He writes about 'Nixon' quite a bit, as an
example of a proper name, but he could just as well write about 'Gandalf'
and may well have done so (I'm hardly a walking encyclopedia when it comes
to the full range of philosophical investigations already conducted in this

Rather than end with a sense of closure though, I want to raise another

The meaning of a proper name is very much colored by how it is spun (a
truism, just injecting a grammar with 'spin' as an operative term, in
accordance with many contemporary use cases).

For example John Nash, the Princeton-based mathematician who one a Nobel
prize, is also the subject of a popular movie 'A Beautiful Mind' directed by
Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe.

I think it's obvious that the meaning of 'John Nash' has been affected,
spun, altered, put on a new trajectory, thanks to this fictional work.  Then
I would say the same is obviously true for 'Richard Nixon' i.e. the meaning
of that name is not fixed or "nailed" as one might put it.

Overlays, new filters, continuing revelations, keep adding new spin.

So in that sense I might contend that the meaning of a proper name remains
unsettled and/or "up in the air" or "subject to revision" for an open-ended
period of time, another way of saying "remains subject to change in
principle, or in perpetuity" (sounds like some sort of legal document).

We might be getting into "judgment day" territory (important in

It's not intrinsic to the meaning of a proper name that it be "settled" or

Do you rest easy with this formulation?

Perhaps what I'm saying here has the flavor of a thesis no one would
disagree with?

"Trivially the case" might be the verdict on Kirby's proffered observations.


PS:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quadray_coordinates now has a reference
into the
technical literature,

Urner, Kirby. "Teaching Object-Oriented Programming with Visual FoxPro."
*FoxPro Advisor* (Advisor Media, March, 1999), page 48 ff.

> Regards and thanks.
> Dr. Sean Wilson, Esq.
> Assistant Professor
> Wright State University
> Personal Website: http://seanwilson.org
> SSRN papers: http://ssrn.com/author=596860
> Discussion Group: http://seanwilson.org/wittgenstein.discussion.html

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