Topic: names as abbreviations for descriptions

topics > Group: naming

abstraction by common attributes
causal theory of names
denoting phrases and definite descriptions
descriptive naming
encoded names
meaning vs. reference
meaning without reference
names as rigid designators
objects as a set of attributes
structural equivalence vs. name equivalence of data types
using a description as a name


Descriptivism is the idea that a name is an abbreviation for a description or a list of attributes. It is also called the "cluster theory of names."

A proper name abbreviates a description that identifies someone independent of context. The description may be "The person I recognize as Joe". The person named must have at least some of the properties attributed to him. For example, in some contexts, 'Homer' could refer to the person who wrote the Odyssey even though that person wasn't the historical Homer. Frege called this 'the criterion of identity'.

Another view is that a name is a rigid designator in all possible worlds. We learn a name as part of a causal sequence of naming events. In this case, a name is a fixed point of the language from which multiple descriptions and facts can hang.

An alternative is that names have multiple purposes and hence multiple meanings. For example, an argument name in a interface definition should be descriptive while the same argument name in a short program only needs to be a unique designator. Similarly, both structural type equivalence and name type equivalence may be needed together. (cbb 4/98)

Subtopic: names connote a description, a list of attributes up

Quote: names convey meaning only through their connotation, i.e., the attributes that the named objects must have [»millJS_1843, OK]
Quote: all concrete names are connotative because the denoted subjects are defined by attributes; e.g., man is corporal, animal, rational and human [»millJS_1843, OK]
Quote: a general thing abstracts from an actual distribution; so the meaning of general things determines reference [»stawPF_1954]
Quote: a name must name something, otherwise it is not a name; in 'Did Homer exist?', Homer is an abbreviation for a definite description [»russB_1919, OK]
Quote: does a name refer because an object fits a description or because of facts that are independent of description [»searJR_1983]
Note: descriptivism--a singular term is synonymous with a descriptive phrase that fixes its reference; its sense is its descriptive content [»fregG_1892]
Quote: mathematical definitions are names or abbreviations of speech to remove tedious drudgery [»galiG_1638]

Subtopic: name abbreviation for criterion of identity up

Quote: it is necessary that Aristotle has at least some of the properties ascribed to him [»searJR_1958]
Quote: every object has a criterion of identity for recognizing the object as the same again; also applies to its names [»dummM_1967]
Quote: can define a circle by many sets of tangents; erase them all and the circle vanishes; the same with Gautier and what is said about him
Quote: Frege's criterion of identity was for complex names such as "the direction of the line a"
Quote: every UNIT of a community has a well-known CRITERION for identifying REALIZATIONS of the UNIT [»holtAW_1997]
Quote: to name or verify a name, must have some other representation of the object [»searJR_1983]
Quote: names as description is primary over the causal theory because only the former guarantees a fixed reference
Quote: a proper name presupposes the truth of unspecified, uniquely referring descriptive statements [»searJR_1958]
Quote: reference occurs only if the object satisfies a set of conditions associated with the referring device; i.e., its intentional content; includes recognition [»searJR_1983]
Quote: cluster theory of names: if most of the properties match, then the object is identified [»kripSA_1980]
Note: "Cicero = Tully" informs people about a language; e.g., merge if names are clusters of characteristics [»searJR_1958, OK]
Quote: can not drop intensions (attributes) from propositional attitudes; otherwise "w is hunting unicorns" and "w is hunting griffins" are the same [»quinWV_1956]
Note: shared senses can be contradictory but private senses don't agree and chain of references can be broken; is a name simply an abbreviation? [»searJR_1958, OK]

Subtopic: definite description up

Quote: the sense of a proper name is the definite description associated with the name [»searJR_1983]
Quote: any definite description can be a rigid designator by indexing it to the actual world [»searJR_1983]
Quote: can use long, informative argument names in header files and short, convenient names in definitions; e.g., 'length_of_element_array' and 'n' [»stroB_1994]
Quote: contracts in terms of observables; i.e., time-varying, objective measurements; e.g., temperature in LA [»joneSP9_2000]

Subtopic: recognition up

Quote: recognizing an object may be a speaker's only "identifying description" [»searJR_1983]

Subtopic: name vs. description up

Quote: a name is a rigid designator in all possible worlds, while a description may differ in other worlds [»kripSA_1980]
Quote: a name can be used as a rigid designator because the identity of an object is separable from its description; e.g., Homer need not have written the Odyssey [»searJR_1983]
Quote: consider Neptune before it was ever seen; its description was an a priori truth but not a necessary one [»kripSA_1980]
Quote: a name is a fixed point of the language, not an abbreviated description; compare distributive sets for someone dying vs. changing sex [»ziffP_1960]
Quote: compare "Bring me the broom" with "Bring me the broomstick and its brush"; the decomposition is nonsensical [»wittL_1958a]
Quote: the difference between a class and its definition is that a class has many defining characteristics but only one set of members [»russB_1919, OK]
Quote: a descriptive name can not actually be the name, otherwise get tautologies [»kripSA_1980]
Quote: the essential properties of an object do not need to be those properties used to identify it [»kripSA_1980]
Quote: a description is not a rigid designator because properties could change in other possible worlds [»kripSA_1980]
Quote: a proper name refers without presupposing a context; demonstratives and singular, referring expressions assume a context [»searJR_1958]

Related Topics up

Topic: abstraction by common attributes (19 items)
Topic: causal theory of names (21 items)
Topic: denoting phrases and definite descriptions (21 items)
Topic: descriptive naming (29 items)
Topic: encoded names (7 items)
Topic: meaning vs. reference (49 items)
Topic: meaning without reference (31 items)
Topic: names as rigid designators (43 items)
Topic: objects as a set of attributes (39 items)
Topic: structural equivalence vs. name equivalence of data types (30 items)
Topic: using a description as a name
(21 items)

Updated barberCB 9/04
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