Strawson-'On Referring'.pdf - On Referring P r STRAWSON We...

Info icon This preview shows pages 1–8. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 1

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 2
Image of page 3

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 4
Image of page 5

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 6
Image of page 7

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 8
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: On Referring P. r. STRAWSON We very commonly use expressions of certain kinds to mention or refer to some individual person or single object or particular event or place or process. in the course of doing what we should normally describe as making a statement about that person. object. place. event. or process. I shall call this way of using expres- sions the"uniqttely refening use). The classes of expressions which are most commonly used in this way are: singular demonstrative pro- nouns (“this" and “that"): proper names e.g. "Venice." "Napoleon," “John“); singular per- sonal and impersonal pronouns (“he," “she." “I." ”you." "it"); and phrases beginning with the definite article followed by a noun. qualified or unqualified. in the singular (e.g. “the table." ”the old man." ”the king of France“). Any expression of any of these classes can occur as the subject of what would traditionally be regarded as a singular subject-predicate sen- tence; and would. so OCcurring. exemplify the use I wish to discuss. I do not want to say that expressions belong- ing to these classes never have any other use than the one I want to discuss. On the contrary. it is obvious that they do. It is obvious that any- _ one who uttered the sentence, “The whale is a mammal." would be using the expression “the whale" in a way quite different from the way it would be used by anyone who had occasion seriously to utter the sentence. “The whale struck the ship.” In the first sentence one is obviously not mentioning. and in the second sentence one obviously is mentioning. a panic- ular whale. Again if I said, “Napoleon was the greatest French soldier." I should be using the .-_ word "Napoleon“ to mention a certain individ- ual. but I should not be using the phrase. “the greatest French soldier." to mention an individ- ttal. but to say something about an individual I had already mentioned. It would be natural to say that in using this sentence I was talking . about Napoleon and that what I was saying about him was that he was the greatest French soldier. But of course Icould use the expression, “the greatest French soldier,“ to mention an " individual; for example. by saying: "The great- est French soldier died in exile." So it is obvious that at least some expressions belonging to the .-. . classes I mentioned can have uses other than the use I am anxious to discuss. Another thing I do not want to say is that in any given sentence there is never more than one expression used in the way I propose to discuss. On the contrary, it is obvious that there may be more than one. For example. it would be natural to say that, in seri- ously using the sentence. “The whale struck the ship." I was saying something about both a cer~ tain whale and a certain ship. that I was using each of the expressions “the whale” and “the ship“ to mention a particular object; or. in other words. that I was using each of these expres- From Mind 59 {1950): 320—344. Reprinted by permission ofOxford University Press. 228 - ON REFERRING sions in the uniquely referring way. In general. : however, I shall confine my attention to cases where an expression used in this way occurs as I the grammatical subject of a sentence. Ithink it is true to say that Russell's theory -. : ' I"- of descriptions. which is concerned with the _-_- last of the four classes of expressions I men- i r tinned above (i.e. with expressions of the form .- “the so-and-so"). is still widely accepted among logicians as giving a correct account of the use of such expressions in ordinary language. I want to show in the first place. that this . theory. so regarded, embodies some fundamen- tal mistakes. What question or questions about phrases of the form “the so-and-so“ was the theory of descriptions designed to answer? I think that at least one of the questions may be illustrated as follows. Suppose someone were now to utter the sentence. “The king of France is wise." No one would say that the sentence which had been uttered was meaningless. Everyone would agree that it was significant. But everyone knows that there is not at present a king of France. One of the questions the theory of descriptions was designed to answer was the question: How can such a sentence as “The king of France is wise" be significant even when there is nothing which answers to the description it contains, i.e., in this case, nothing which answers to the descrip- tion “The king of France"? And one of the rea- sons why Russell thought it important to give a correct answer to this question was that he thought it important to show that another answer which might be given was wrong. The answer that he thought was wrong. and to which he was anxious to supply an alternative. might be exhibited as the conclusion of either of the following two fallacious arguments. Let us call the sentence "The king of France is wise" the sentence S. Then the first argument is as follows: (1) The phrase. “the king of France." is the subject of the sentence S. Therefore (2) if S is a significant sentence. S is a sentence about the king of France. But (3) if there in no sense exists a king of France, the sentence is not about anything. and hence not about the king of France. 229 Therefore (4) since S is significant. there must in some sense (in some world) exist (or subsist) the king of France. And the second argument is as follows: (1) If S is significant. it is either true or false. (2) S is true if the king of France is wise and false if the king of France is not wise. (3) But the statement that the king of France is wise and the statement that the king of France is not wise are alike true only if there is (in some sense. in some world) something which is the king of France. Hence (4) since S is significant. there follows the same conclusion as before. These are fairly obviously had arguments. and. as we should expect. Russell rejects them. The postulation of a world of strange entities. to which the king of France belongs. offends. he says. against "that feeling for reality which ought to be preserved even in the most abstract studies.“ The fact that Russell rejects these argu- ments 'is, however. less interesting than the extent to which. in rejecting their conclusion. he concedes the more important of their principles. Let me refer to the phrase. “the king of France." as the phrase D. Then I think Russell’s reasons for rejecting these two arguments can be sum- marized as follows. The mistake arises. he says, from thinking that D. Which is certainly the grammatical subject of S. is also the logical subject of 8. But D is not the logical subject of S. In fact S. although grammatically it has a sin- gular subject and a predicate. is not logically a subject—predicate sentence at all. The proposi- tion it expresses is a complex kind of existential proposition. part of which might be described as a “uniguely existential" proposition. To exhibit the logical form of the proposition. we shoulc rewrite the sentence in a logically appropriate grammatical form, in such a way that the decep- tive similarity of S to a sentence expressing t subject-predicate proposition would disappear and we should be safeguarded against argu- mean such as the bad ones I outlined above Before recalling the details of Russell's analysi: of S. let us notice what his answer. as I have sr far given it. seems to imply. His answer seem: 230 to imply that in the case of a sentence which is similar to S in that (I) it is grammatically of the subject-predicate form and (2) its grammatical subject does not refer to anything. then the only alternative to its being meaningless is that it should not really (i.e. logically) be of the subject-predicate form at all, but of some quite different form. And this in its turn seems to imply that if there are any sentences which are genuinely of the subject-predicate form. then the very fact oftheir being significant. having a meaning. guarantees that there is something referred to by the logical (and grammatical) subject. Moreover. Russell’s answer seems to imply that there are such sentences. For if it is true that one may be misled by the grammatical similarity of S to other sentences into thinking that it is logically of the subject~predicate forth. then surely there must be other sentences gram- matically similar to S. which are of the subject« predicate form. To show not only that Russell‘s answer seems to imply these conclusions, but that he accepted at least the first two of them. it is enough to consider what he says about a class of expressions which he calls “logically proper names“ and contrasts with expressions. like D, which he calls “definite descriptions." Of logi- cally proper names Russell says or implies the following things: (1) That they and they alone can occuras sub- jects of sentences which are genuinely of the subject-predicate form. (2) That an expression intended to be a logi- cally proper name is meaningless unless there is some single object for which it stands: for the meaning of such an expression just is the indi- vidual object which the expression designates. 1 To be a natne at all, therefore. it must designate _ something. It is easy to see that if anyone believes these two propositions, then the only way for him to save the significance of the sentence S is to deny that it is a logically subject-predicate sentence. Generally, we may say that Russell recognizes only two ways in which sentences which seem, from their grammatical structure. to be about some particular person or individual object or event, can be significant: (l) The first is that their grammatical fortn should be misleading as to their logical form. REFERENCE AND DESCRIPTIONS _‘ and that they should be analyzable. like 8, as a I special kind of existential sentence. (2) The second is that their grammatical sub. Lijl ject should be a logically proper name, of which ‘ .. i the meaning is the individual thing it designates. I think that Russell is unquestionably wrong , . in this. and that sentences which are significant, : .- and which begin with an expression used in the uniquely referring way, fall into neither of these - two classes. Expressions used in the uniquely i ON REFERRING _ king of France. For. if this analysis is correct, ": anyone who utters the sentence S today would be jointly asserting three propositions, one of which (viz. that there is a king of France) would " be false; and since the conjunction of three propositioas. of which one is false. is itself false, the assertion as a whole would be signifi- “ _l‘ cant. but false. So neither of the bad arguments -‘ for subsistent entities would apply to such an assertion. referring way are never either logically proper ; names or descriptions, if what is meant by call- ‘ . -' ing them “descriptions" is that they are to be _'- analyzed in accordance with the model pro- vided by Russell’s theory of descriptions. There are no logically proper names and = there are no descriptions (in this sense). 1 us now consider the details of Russell's . analysis. According to Russell, anyone who . , asserted S would be asserting that: (I) There is a king of France (2) There is not more than one king of France (3) There is nothing which is king of France ; and is not wise It is easy to see both how Russell arrived at this ‘; analysis, and how it enables him to answer the question with which we began. viz. the ques- -. '- tion: How can the sentence S be significant .- when there is no king of France? The way in which he arrived at the analysis was clearly by . asking himself what would be the circum~ -~--- ‘ stances in which we would say that anyone who .‘ T7 uttered the sentence S had made a true assertion. " ‘ . And it does seem pretty clear, and I have no wish to dispute. that the sentences (l)—(3) above ; I do describe circumstances which are at least ;. necessary conditions of anyone making a true ‘ assertion by uttering the sentence 5. But. as] hope to show, to say this is not at all the same thing as to say that Russell has given a correct 3 -. account of the use of the sentence 8 or even that I 7- he has given an account which. though incom- plete, is correct as far as it goes; and is certainly ' not at all the same thing as to say that the model . translation provided is a correct model for all (or for any) singular sentences beginning with a : phrase of the form “the so-and-so." It is also easy to see how this analysis enables Russell to answer the question of how the sen- tence S can be significant, even when there is no " ‘ : As a step towards showing that Russell's solu- )' tiou of his problem is mistaken. and towards providing the correct solution. I want now to draw certain distinctions. For this purpose I . shall. for the remainder of this section. refer to an expression which has a uniquely referring use as “an expression" for short; and to a sen— ., tence beginning with such an expression as "a ' sentence" for short. The distinctions I shall ' -. draw are rather rough and ready, and, no doubt, ‘ difficult cases could be produced which would 7 “I call for their refinement. But I think they will serve my purpose. The distinctions are between: (Al) a sentence (A2) a use of a sentence (A3) an utterance of a sentence and. correspondingly. between: (Bl) an expression (BE) :1 use of an expression (B3) an utterance of an expression Consider again the sentence. “The king of France is wise." It is easy to imagine that this sentence was uttered at various times from. say. the beginning of the seventeenth century onwards. during the reigns of each successive French monarch: and easy to imagine that it was _ also uttered during the subsequent periods in ? which France was not a monarchy. Notice that it .- was natural for me to speak of “the sentence" or "this sentence” being uttered at various times . during this period; or, in other words. that it would be natural and correct to speak of one and the same sentence being uttered on all these var- ious occasions. It is in the sense in which it would be correct to speak of one and the same sentence being uttered on all these various occa- 231 sions that I want to use the expression (A1) “a sentence." There are, however, obvious differ- ences between different occasions of the use of this sentence. For instance. if one man uttered it in the reign of Louis XIV and another man uttered it in the reign of Louis XV. it would be natural to say (to assume) that they were respec- tively talking about different people; and it might be held that the first man. in using the sentence, made a true assertion. while the sec- ond man, in using the same sentence. made a false assertion. If on the other hand two differ- ent men simultaneously uttered the sentence (e.g. if one wrote it and the other spoke it) dur- ing the reign of Louis XIV. it would be natural to say (assume) that they were both talking about the same person. and, in that case. in using the sentence. they must either both have made a true assertion or both have made a false assertion. And this illustrates what I mean by a use of a sentence. The two men who uttered the sentence. one in the reign of Louis XV and one in the reign of Louis XIV, each made a different use of the same sentence; whereas the two men who uttered the sentence simultaneously in the reign of Louis XIV, made the some use1 of the same sentence. Obviously in the case of this sentence. and equally obviously in the case of many others, we cannot talk of the sentence being true or false. but only of its being used to make a true or false assertion or (if this is pre- ferred) to express a true or a false proposition. And equally obviously we cannot talk of the sentence being about a particular person, for the same sentence may be used at different times to talk about quite different particular persons. but only of a use of the sentence to talk about a par- ticular person. Finally it will make sufficiently clear what I mean by an utterance of a sentence if I say that the two men who simultaneously uttered the sentence in the reign of Louis XIV made two different utterances of the same sen- tence, though they made the same use of the sentence. If we now consider not the whole sentence. “The king of France is wise." but that part of it which is the expression. “the king of France," it is obvious that we can make analogous, though not identical distinctions between (I) the expression. (2) a use of the expression. and (3) an utterance of the expression. The distinctions 232 will not be identical; we obviously cannot cor- rectly talk of the expression “the king of France" being used to express a true or false preposition, since in general only sentences can be used truly or falsely; and similarly it is only by using a sentence and not by using an expres- sion alone, that you can talk about a particular person. Instead, we shall say in this case that you use the expression to mention or refer to a particular person in the course of using the sen— tence to talk about him. But obviously in this case, and a great many others, the expression (Bl) cannot be said to mention, or refer to, any- thing, any more than the sentence can be said to be true or false. The same expression can have different mentioning-uses, as the same sentence can be used to make statements with different truth-values. ‘Mentioning'. or 'referring’, is not something an expression does; it is something that someone can use an expression to do. Men- tioning. or referring to, something is a charac— teristic of a use of an expression, just as ‘being about’ something, and truth-or-falsity, are char- acteristics ofa use of a sentence. A very different example may help to make these distinctions clearer. Consider another case of an expression which has a uniquely referring use, viz. the expression "I“; and consider the sentence, ”I am hot.“ Countless people may we this same sentence; but it is logically impossible for two different people to make the some use of this sentence: or, if this is preferred, to use it to express the same proposition. The expression “I“ may correctly be used by (and only by) any one of innumerable people to refer to himself. To say this is to say something about the expres- sion “I": it is, in a sense, to give its meaning. This is the sort of thing that can be said about expressions. But it makes no sense to say of the expression “1" that it refers to a particular per- son. This is the sort of thing that can be said only ofa particular use of the expression. Let me use “type" as an abbreviation for “sentence or expression." Then I am not saying that there are sentences and expressions (types), and uses of them, and utterances of them, as there are ships and shoes and sealing-wax. I am saying that we cannot say the some things about types. uses of types, and utterances of types. And the fact is that we do talk about types: REFERENCE AND DESCRIPTIONS and that confusion is apt to result from the fail- ure to notice the differences between what we can say about these and what we can say only about the uses of types. We are apt to fancy we are talking about sentences and expressions when we are talking about the uses of sentences and expressions. This is what Russell does. Generally. as against Russell, 1 shall say this. Meaning (in at ‘ least one important sense) is a function of the sentence or expression; mentioning and refer- ring and truth or falsity, are functions of the use of the sentence or expression. To give the mean ing of an expression (in the sense in which I am using the word) is to give general directions for - its use to refer to or mention particular objects or persons; to give the meaning of a sentence is to give gen...
View Full Document

{[ snackBarMessage ]}

What students are saying

  • Left Quote Icon

    As a current student on this bumpy collegiate pathway, I stumbled upon Course Hero, where I can find study resources for nearly all my courses, get online help from tutors 24/7, and even share my old projects, papers, and lecture notes with other students.

    Student Picture

    Kiran Temple University Fox School of Business ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    I cannot even describe how much Course Hero helped me this summer. It’s truly become something I can always rely on and help me. In the end, I was not only able to survive summer classes, but I was able to thrive thanks to Course Hero.

    Student Picture

    Dana University of Pennsylvania ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    The ability to access any university’s resources through Course Hero proved invaluable in my case. I was behind on Tulane coursework and actually used UCLA’s materials to help me move forward and get everything together on time.

    Student Picture

    Jill Tulane University ‘16, Course Hero Intern