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

  • From: kirby urner <kirby.urner@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 3 Feb 2010 18:15:15 -0800

On Wed, Feb 3, 2010 at 4:09 PM, Sean Wilson <whoooo26505@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> (Kirby writes:)
> "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). ...
> It's not intrinsic to the meaning of a proper name that it be "settled" or
> "fixed." ... Do you rest easy with this formulation? "
> =============================

(Sean replies:)
> ... I do agree. I'm working on a paper, and I think just found the right way
> to say it. Here is what a proper name is: it is a set of instructions for
> bearer-assignment, amendable after shipment."

You do seem to have a clear set of modalities going, for specifying in
what ways to "bind" a name to some object -- to use some shoptalk
from computer science. **

I think we should keep in the picture two essential ways in which a
name -> object relationship might be affected.

The object itself may change, or our perception of it does.  It turns out
that X was not a real person, or that this suitcase, identified by luggage
tag and bar code, does not contain at all what we thought it did.  In
these examples, the target remains the same, and yet has also
changed, perhaps drastically and in a way which strains the original
name->object binding (past the breaking point in some cases).

In Wittgenstein, you'll get the example of where you think King's College
is off to your right, then you suddenly realize it's right ahead.  The
meaning of King's College has changed in that the target has moved,
if only in your perception.

Another way in which the name -> object relationship may change,
is if we discover that two different names were in fact bound to the
same object.  It turns out the "Sam's sister" and "Mrs. Walker" are
really bound to the same person.  That's a context thing of course,
as we have millions of identities using "Sam" and/or "Mrs. Walker",
which is why your "binding rules" are so critical.  There's every
potential for missing the relationship i.e. naming the *wrong*
object -- lots of our investigations should delve into that possibility.

Sometimes changes to an object's attributes may be "devastating"
i.e. I think I know what I mean by X, and I've gone around telling
people that X is a real person, i.e. built right in to my definition of
X is that I'll be able to bind the name "X" to "somebody real".  When
it turns out there is no X matching my description (I come to this
conclusion on my own), then I don't say "I still mean X, it's just that
X does not have the attribute of existing".  On the contrary, I have to
say that my previous use of "X" is now meaningless, is null and
void.  "I was just speaking nonsense" might be the confession.

I bring this up to add a wrinkle to the "amending" process.  One
may change the name -> object relationship "from either side"
as it were.  But one may also obliterate or disrupt the relationship.

Consider for example the proper name "Epcot".  I'd say here we
have a good example of a persistent name -> object relationship,
not obliterated or disrupted, where there's nevertheless been
significant activity on both the name side and the object side.

Changes to name:

When the word was first coined, it was EPCOT and stood for
Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.  That was
Walt Disney's grand vision of what this new theme park would be
(in Orlando).  In choosing to lowercase it to Epcot, the modality
was rebranding (changing the brand).

Changes to object:

The signature building, Spaceship Earth, was decorated with
a more retro skin or theme, a giant Mickey Mouse arm sprinkling
pixie dust.

That arm has since been removed, parts auctioned off on eBay
(says WIkipedia) while the theme ride inside, originally scripted by
Ray Bradbury, has been modernized under new sponsorship.

Name -> Object persistence:

In giving this example, I'm giving a sense of the interplay between
name and object.  Both names and objects are subject to
revision, yet we might still claim to be dealing with "the same"
relationship throughout the revisionary process.

I also sense I'm retreating from any strict name->object nominalism,
which I associate with computer logic, Python's in particular, and
am going back to saying things like "everything as a signifier".

The Spaceship Earth ball is as much caught up in usage
patterns as is the moniker "Spaceship Earth", which has its
own trajectory in "semantic space" e.g. if "Global University" is
used as a rough synonym in some namespace -- language
game -- then that changes or "precesses" (spins) its meaning....

Adding the Mickey Mouse arm, then taking it away, changes
the meaning of the Spaceship Earth ball (as would destroying it)
in a way that's difficult to put one's finger on, but since when were
changes in meaning always easy to articulate (I'd like to say
"most change goes by without comment" and hope to be

In this sense of altering meaning by altering objects, one
might say "things are also names" or (more coherently)
"language" and  "the world" are only distinct by convention,
not by divine intervention.  Getting back to this cross-roads again...


Good to compare notes with ya.


Related reading:

** a language game:

In going:

a = 2

we're not saying "a equals 2" so much as "a binds to 2, is a name for
the 2 object".

The symbol "2" is likewise a name for the "2 object".

The symbol "=" is called "the assignment operator" and its purpose is
to bind names to objects.

two = 2 is akin to two -> 2.
Need Something? Check here: http://ludwig.squarespace.com/wittrslinks/

Other related posts: