Topic: meaning without reference

topics > philosophy > Group: meaning and truth

abstraction as part of language
beliefs and propositional attitudes
denoting phrases and definite descriptions
is a name a literal string or a symbol
meaning vs. reference
names as abbreviations for descriptions
names independent of objects
objects without names
sentences, propositions, and truth
using a description as a name


Fictional names are a puzzle for meaning. If names refer, does this imply that Hamlet and unicorns are real? If names do not infer, then how does a sentence attach to reality? A fictional name does not allow for the substitution of equivalents. A fictional name has a description, and hence a meaning. But that doesn't mean that reflexivity holds. A nonsensical sentence won't even have a description.

A common solution is to say that fictional names are abbreviations for descriptions. One argument is that the meaning of a fictional name is exhausted by its past uses. So the meaning of Hamlet is exhausted by Shakespeare's works and derivative works. But the scope of derivative works about Hamlet can be extended forever, especially if potential works are thrown in. Is this not the same as actual names? We can think of both as description but can not identify the name with description.

A worry is that fictional names can have any meaning whatsoever. This allows manipulative leaders to influence unfairly. But this isn't the fault of the name, it's the fault of the leader and those that follow. Still warnings about the vacuousness of a term may be important in fighting the ill use of that term.

Aren't fictional names just a reflection that language concerns far more than actual objects? That names do not themselves attach to reality. Instead it is the uses of those names that attach. For example, we can look for the Loch Ness monster. This takes meaning outside of the systematic realm and places it in reality. (cbb 5/94)

Subtopic: impossible things have a sense up

Quote: while some words correspond to reality, other don't; a theory of language must account for both [»pitkHF_1972]
Quote: an expression may have a sense without a nominatum or reference; e.g., such a thing may be impossible [»fregG_1892]
Quote: can not drop intensions (attributes) from propositional attitudes; otherwise "w is hunting unicorns" and "w is hunting griffins" are the same [»quinWV_1956]
Quote: the oldest example of meaning without reference is the Hindu grammarian's 'horns of a hare' [»ziffP_1960]
Quote: language attaches to the world because subjects reference particulars; so reference implies existence; paradox of fictional names [»martAP_1990]

Subtopic: puzzles of denoting -- substitution up

Quote: puzzles of denoting: a=b vs. a=a, 'the present King of France is/is not bald', if A differs from B is false [»russB_1956]
Quote: state regularities do not occur for nonsense sentences, nor for sentences used in the liar paradox [»ziffP_1960]
Quote: although x=x is always true for names, it is not always true for definite descriptions; e.g., 'the present King of France' [»russB_1919, OK]
Quote: condition of adequacy--if a sentence does not have a truth value than so with everything that contains it nonvacuously [»hempCG_1951]
Quote: can not replace a clause with one of the same truth-value if it expresses only part of a proposition, or it is also part of another proposition [»fregG_1892]

Subtopic: names must name something up

Quote: reality is vital to logic; should not allow Hamlet as another kind of reality
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: in Russell's theory of denoting, there are no unreal members to account for denoting phrases that denote nothing [»russB_1956]
Quote: can not apply quantifiers to a referentially opaque context; e.g., (.thereExists.x)('six' contains 'x') [»quinWV_1947]

Subtopic: descriptions without reference up

Quote: a description has significance even if it describes nothing; its meaning is derived from its constituent symbols
Quote: the absence of certain entities is a resource, e.g., the absence of printing on a piece of paper [»petrCA10_1979]
Quote: a description may not refer to the intended referent; e.g., "the man with champagne is happy"; Kripke ignores this [»kripSA_1980]
Quote: 'that mountaineer' adverts to a body of information that fixes its denotation; the source of the information may fail to fit it [»evanG_1973]
Quote: a theory of meaning does not require entities for the meanings of all its parts; e.g., "the father of Annette" and "refers to" [»daviD_1967]
Quote: a denoting phrase can be a primary or secondary occurrence (global or local); handles denoting phrases that denote nothing [»russB_1956]
Note: an improper description such as the present King of France is not just false; it invokes further questioning [»russB_1956, OK]
Quote: though you can't hang a person that doesn't exist, you can look for the person [»wittL_1958]
Quote: the discovery of animals with unicorn characteristics might be coincidence instead of the unicorns of the myth [»kripSA_1980]

Subtopic: proper names without reference -- vague description up

Quote: for proper names, sense is necessary but reference is contingent; they look like shorthand or a vague description [»searJR_1958]
Quote: while Shakespeare's imagination and thoughts are real, there is not an objective Hamlet [»russB_1919, OK]
Quote: we say Zeus never existed to mean that certain kinds (descriptions) of objects never existed with that name

Subtopic: language is anchored in other worlds up

Quote: we are led by our thought beyond the scope of our imagination
Quote: we cannot abandon magic; our language assumes the existence of abstract entities; so with mankind and gravity comes Lady Luck and fate [»mitcR_1979]
Quote: all languages are anchored in other worlds rather than in sensible experience [»mitcR_1979]

Subtopic: avoid ambiguous references up

Quote: 'The will of the people' has an ambiguous nominatum; allows demagogic misuse; should prevent such expressions, at least in science [»fregG_1892]
Quote: crimes and demagography are justified by abstract words that do not have a concrete symbolization; a motivation for Blissymbolics

Related Topics up

Topic: abstraction as part of language (18 items)
Topic: beliefs and propositional attitudes (28 items)
Topic: denoting phrases and definite descriptions (21 items)
Topic: entities (20 items)
Topic: is a name a literal string or a symbol (23 items)
Topic: meaning vs. reference (49 items)
Topic: names as abbreviations for descriptions (35 items)
Topic: names independent of objects (34 items)
Topic: objects without names (7 items)
Topic: sentences, propositions, and truth (23 items)
Topic: using a description as a name
(21 items)

Updated ;;barberCB 8/04
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