Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


The Necessity of Naming – Sydney

Image via Twitter. Design by Mike Raven.

How do we judge, assess, and label “things”?

My interest stems from a similar question that I had previously in the semester: Is our personality based upon who we are in situations where we are uncomfortable and don’t know what we’re doing, or who we are when we’re comfortable and do know what we’re doing? This initial question was inspired by another teacher’s statement while instructing us through a difficult game/situation. He claimed that during these conflicts where we were under a time limit and must figure out a certain solution is when our “true colours would come out; [we] can’t hide from who [we] are.” At the time, I was mildly doubtful of his position on what our personalities are based upon, but I thought it was an interesting point and wondered what we really mean when we describe ourselves as a certain way. Would I say that I have frizzy hair because that’s the way it is after air-drying, or would I say my hair is flat and oily because that’s the way it is two days after I shower?

In attempt to answer this question, I have started to read Naming and Necessity by Saul A. Kripke:

“… We may raise the question whether a name has any reference at all when we ask, e.g., whether Aristotle ever existed. It seems natural here to think that what is questioned is not whether this thing (man) existed. Once we’ve got the thing we know that it existed. What really is queried is whether anything answers to the properties we associate with the name – in the case of Aristotle, whether any one Greek philosopher produced certain works, or at least a suitable number of them.”

One of the most important aspects of this reading that addresses my question is the fact that Kripke describes that a “name” is a proper name, such as the name of a city, person, or country (pg. 254). This clarifies what is meant when we label these things, as opposed to a “designator” that can be used as a common term to cover names and descriptions (pg. 2). Another topic that Kripke addresses that sheds light on my question is John Stuart Mill’s A System of Logic, which describes that names have denotation but not connotation (pg. 3). A denotation is the explicit or direct meaning of the word, while connotation is the associated or secondary meaning of the word. An example of this would be when home connotes a sense of belonging and comfort whereas house denotes little more than a structure. This helps me explore my topic because it offers some suggestion on how names are related to descriptions.

The relationship between names and descriptions raises another question that is also brought up in the reading: Is ‘God’ a name or a description? Does it describe God as the unique divine being or is it a name of God? I find this an interesting question as well, but I don’t think I will be exploring it during this unit. However, more questions that are raised by Kripke’s work that I may want to explore are effectively summarized in, I’ll admit, a Wikipedia article (which seems to be reliable, as far as I’ve explored):

  • How do names refer to things in the world?
  • Are all statements that can be known a priori (independent of experience) necessarily true, and are all the statements known a posteriori (dependent on experience) contingently true?
  • Do objects (including people) have any essential properties?

The first question seems to be somewhat of a rewording of the main question that I am currently focussing on, but I also find the second and third questions particularly interesting and I might research them further.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *