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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


KRIPKE

(b. 1940)

ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY

A child prodigy, Saul Kripke was producing outstanding papers in his teens before completing his formal education in mathematics at Harvard University. He has taught at Rockefeller, Princeton and Harvard and has held visiting positions at Columbia, Cornell, University of California at Berkeley and UCLA. He has also been the John Locke Lecturer at Oxford, and from 1977-83 was A. D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell. He was appointed Emeritus Professor at Princeton in 1998. Latterly he has been teaching at the CUNY Graduate Center.

 

PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE/ METAPHYSICS

[1] Kripke is critical of traditional theories of meaning which appeal to descriptions as providing the 'intension' or 'sense' of terms and which thereby determine their reference. Likewise he shows little interest in such intensional notions as syntheticity and analyticity [a]. He is also sceptical about the possibility of understanding meaning in terms of conventional rules [b]. We can never be certain, he says [Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language], that a given rule is being followed; its possible applications are always beyond what has been performed in our linguistic utterances. As for names, he argues that they have reference but strictly no sense or meaning [c]. They are what he calls rigid designators, not clusters of definite descriptions (which are 'non-rigid' designators) [Naming and Necessity]. By 'rigid designators' he means that names refer to the same thing regardless of any changes in circumstances: they refer to the same object in all possible worlds — whatever descriptions might apply. The concept of a rigid notion is thus a modal one [c]. So, for example, Aristotle could have been the teacher of some person other than Alexander and yet still have been Aristotle. What then justifies the claim that names are rigid designators? Kripke appeals to a causal theory of reference and to essentialism (which is reflected in his attempts to work out a semantics for modal logic). What belongs uniquely to an individual entity is its 'essence', that is, its origin, the matter it is composed of, or its internal structure (which might be common to all individuals of a given class, such as humans, tables, pieces of gold, that is, 'natural kinds'). Names, he thinks, may be initially 'fixed' by descriptions and are then related to objects by means of 'causal chains' [d]. However Aristotle might change (in a given possible world) the causal links to his original 'essence' (presumably possessed at birth) permit the ascription to him of the same name.

It follows from Kripke's thesis that statements of identity are necessarily true. An example is 'Phosphorus is Hesperus'. Each term designates the same object rigidly in all situations, although different descriptions may be applied — 'the morning star' and 'the evening star' respectively. Now, because it is through observation that this is discovered Kripke is led to the claim that such truths are also a posteriori (other examples are 'gold is the element with the atomic number 79', 'water is H2O'). He also argues that there are contingent a priori truths [e]. For example, it is a contingent fact that the rod in Paris which was adopted as the standard metre might not have been 1 metre long (perhaps because of physical conditions), but we know a priori that the standard metre is 1 metre long because 'Rod R is 1 metre long' fixes the reference.

[2] A further illustration of Kripke's essentialism is afforded by his support for a real distinction between mental and physical states [Naming and Necessity, Lecture III]. A mental state such as pain, he says, cannot be identical with a physical state because it is an essential feature of pain that it has 'its immediate phenomenological quality'. This feeling capacity is absent from purely physical processes. However, he does not subscribe to any traditional Cartesian type substance dualism, principally on the grounds that if the mind or soul were a genuinely independent, subsistent, spiritual entity there would seem to be no reason why it should have any necessary connection with particular material objects (such as a particular sperm or egg). Indeed, according to Kripke, the fact that it is difficult to imagine that a given person could have originated from a different sperm and egg (he appeals here to his theory of rigid designation) suggests that we have no clear conception of a soul or self. In the last analysis, however, he admits to finding the mind-body problem as wide open and confusing [a].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

The key features of Kripke's contribution to the philosophy of language are (1) his account of names as rigid designators and not clusters of definite descriptions; and (2) his view that there are necessary a posteriori and contingent a priori truths. Both these claims are contentious and continue to be debated vigorously.

(1) Some philosophers have questioned what the referent of a rigid designator actually is — what the 'essential' properties of an individual are, whereby, for example, Aristotle would have been the same individual even if, per contra, he had not been the tutor of Alexander but, say, the tutor of the Emperor of China. Appeals to origins, internal structure, and the like might be supposed to lead to an infinite regress. Critics have argued that once 'Aristotle' has been associated with a particular cluster of descriptions a different set must refer to a different individual (without committing us to any denial of freedom of choice — whether this is so is of course itself questionable).

(2) Kripke's acceptance of necessary a posteriori truths is closely connected with the concept of the rigid designator. Since the object referred to by the rigid designators 'Hesperus' and 'Phosphorus' is, according to Kripke, necessarily self-identical, the identity statement is a posteriori necessary. However, it might be countered that necessity for Kripke is de re and not de dicto; and while the discovery that Hesperus and Phosphorus are both names for the same object Venus is an empirical one, it can still be argued that the statement 'Hesperus is Phosphorus' is a priori necessary in the de dicto sense, Kripke's 'necessity' not being applicable to statements. It is because a given truth may be supposed to be de re necessary that the language in which the truth is communicated is de dicto necessary: but the latter is then known a priori — given, pace Kripke, that proper names have 'meanings' or can be expressed as meaningful definite descriptions.

 

READING

Kripke: Naming and Necessity; Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language; 'Identity and Necessity' — in A. W. Moore (ed.), Meaning and Reference.

Studies

G. W. Fitch , Saul Kripke.

C. Hughes, Kripke : Names, Necessity, and Identity.

S. Soames, Beyond Rigidity: The Unfinished Semantic Agenda of Naming and Necessity.

 

 

CONNECTIONS

Kripke

 

[1a c] Rejection of description theories about intensional concepts ('sense', 'synthetic/ analytic')

   Frege

   Russell

   Wittgenstein

   Quine

   Strawson

Dummett

   Putnam

   Searle

[2e h i]

[1c]

[2e]

[1a 1e]

[1d f]

[1d]

[1a b f]

[1d]

 

[1b] Meaning not understandable in terms of 'conventional rules'

   Frege

   Wittgenstein

   Searle

[2f]

[2a c]

[1b]

 

[1c; cf. 1a] Names as 'rigid designators' (possible worlds), not descriptions; no role for sense

   Frege

   Russell

   Wittgenstein

   Quine

   Strawson

Dummett

   Putnam

   Searle

[2c]

[1c]

[2e]

[1e]

[1d]

[1a]

[1f]

[1d]

 

[1d] Causal theory of reference; essentialism and 'natural kinds'

Dummett

   Putnam

[1e]

[1c e f]

 

[1e] Necessary a posteriori (e.g., identity statements) and contingent a priori statements

   Kant

   Frege

   Quine

   Searle

[1a b]

[2d]

[1b g]

[1e]

 

[2a] Mental and physical states distinct not identical; immediate phenomenological quality

   Descartes

   Davidson

   Putnam

Searle

[3g]

[2b]

[2a]

[2a e g h]