A brood comb

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Archive for November 16th, 2006

Three Ways In Which A Name Can Refer To A Non-Existent

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on November 16, 2006

In the previous post I put forward few thoughts on how one can give account of names in general based on intentionality.  In this post, I want to analyze the issue of non-existent objects, that  of referring to things that don’t exist within this account.

Before continuing, for those who didn’t read my last post, let me sum up the account in short, the idea is that in every case of initial baptism, one gives a name to something which appears as content in his/her intentional acts (so to say, names don’t appear from nowhere, there must be an act of baptizing in which the name is given to something). I also said that depending on the intentional act, one can baptize a)something that one has noticed in the phenomenal world, and I named this phenomenal content, b)something that one imagines, and I named this imagined content, and c)something that one assumes, and I named this – theoretical content.
After this initial  act of  baptizing, the  word/intentional content pair can be communicated to other people via a)ostensive teaching, good for  phenomenal content, b)communicating a theory, good for theoretical content, and c)through “indirect” reference – the learner is referring to the thing as baptizer’s intentional content. This can be used for all three types of content, and in the case of imaginary content usually takes form of a story.

Usually in the causal theory of reference, non-existents are distinguished merely by the fact that there is no object which is denoted by the name. But if we look at the issue of names of non-existents from the context of intentionality, we can see that we have few possibilities that are qualitatively different.

1. The first case is where what is named is imaginary content. The baptizer imagines something, and gives that intentional content a name.

2. The second case, is where we have assumed intentional content, which is supposed to explain some phenomenal content (or possibly some other previously assumed intentional content). If the theory is wrong, then we have situation where the assumed content doesn’t refer to anything in the world.

3. The third case, is where somebody names phenomenal intentional content, but the phenomenal content is illusion.

Those are the possibilities I can think of, which usually would be sub-summed as referring to non-existent objects. Maybe there are some more, I don’t know… But I think that those three are enough to argue that treating all non-existents as if they all have same character is oversimplification, and that each of those cases should be analyzed separately.

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