Volume 6, Issue 1, Spring 2012
M. Fletcher Maumus
Attribution and Reference
Principally under the influence of Saul Kripke (1972), philosophical semantics since the closing decades of 20th century has been dominated by the
phenomenon Nathan Salmon (1986) aptly dubbed Direct Reference “mania.” Accordingly, it is now practically orthodox to hold that the meanings of proper names are entirely exhausted by their referents and devoid of any descriptive content. The return to a purely referential semantics of names has, nevertheless, coincided with a resurgence of some of the very puzzles that motivated description theories of names in the first place, to wit: the informativeness of true identity statements of the form ‘a=b’ and the failure of substitutivity salve veritate for co-referential names in propositional attitude ascriptions. I argue that a Metalinguistic Description Theory of proper names, which treats the meaning of an arbitrary proper name as roughly equivalent to the definite description ‘the bearer of NN,’ offers a novel, semantically innocent solution to these puzzles when synthesized with Keith Donnellan’s (1966) insight that descriptions are semantically ambiguous between attributive and referential meanings. The ensuing account is then defended against two well-known Kripkean objections to metalinguistic
semantics: the Circularity Objection and the Paderewski Puzzle.