Reference and Contingency

Reference and Contingency - 7 Reference and Contingency'A...

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7 Reference and Contingency 'A logical theory may be tested by its capacity for dealing with puzzles, and it is a wholesome plan, in thinking about logic, to stock the mind with as many puzzles as possible, since these serve much the same purpose as is served by experiments in physical science. ' 1 This paper is an attempt to follow Russell's advice by using a puzzle about the contingent a priori to test and explore certain theories of reference and modality. No one could claim that the puzzle is of any great philosophical importance by itself, but to understand it, one has to get clear about certain aspects of the theory of reference; and to solve it, one has to think a little more deeply than one is perhaps accustomed about what it means to say that a statement is contingent or necessary. The idea that there might be truths which are both con- tingent and a priori was thrown up by Kripke in the course of his celebrated discussion of the modal and epistemic categories .to which the notions of the contingent and the a priori respectively belong.? There has been some discussion of the idea since Kripke raised it, all of it based upon the assumption that the existence of a statement which is both contingent and a priori would constitute an intolerable paradox. For example, Michael Dummett has argued that the fact that Kripke's views on reference and modality appear to lead to the recognition of the existence of a priori truths shows that something must be wrong with those views." In other recent discussions, attempts are made to dissolve the puzzle by showing that , properly understood, the problemati- cal statements are not both contingent and a priori . There seem to me to be clear logical and semantical errors in all From The Monist 62,2 (April 1979), pp. 161-189. Reprinted by permission. 1 B. Russell, 'On Denoting', Mind 14 (1905), pp. 484-5. 2 S. Kripke, 'Naming and Necessity', in D. Davidson and G. Harman (eds) Semantics of Natural Languages (Dordrecht : Reidel, 1972), pp. 253-355. sa M. Dummett, Frege (London: Duckworth, 1973), p. 121.
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Reference and Contingency 179 of these attempts , but more importantly, their starting-point seems incorrect. There is no paradox in the existence of statements which are both contingent and a priori, at least , not in the sense in which the problematical statements may be claimed to be contingent. There are two quite different conceptions of what it is for a statement to be contingent; statements may be, as we might say, deeply contingent or superficially contingent. Whether a statement is deeply con- tingent depends upon what makes it true ; whether a state- ment is superficially contingent depends upon how it embeds inside the scope of modal operators. While it would be intolerable for there to be a statement which is both know- able a priori and deeply contingent, I shall try to show that there is nothing particularly perplexing about the existence of a statement which is both knowable a priori and super- ficially contingent, which is the most that the problematical statements may be claimed to be.
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