Recently there has been a lot of talk, here at this blog (Kripke, Consciousness and the ‘Corn, and Two Concepts of Transitive Consciousness) and over at the Brain Hammer (Me So ‘Corny, Kripkenite, and Crushing Puppies, Superman) about kripke and causal theories of reference. I have been arguing that a causal theory of reference is independently motivated and if we happen to like higher-order theories of consciousness it gives us a very nice answer to several objections that seem wide spread and in fact gives us an implementation of the higher-order strategy and saves very many of the Cartesian intuitions that people have about consciousness.
But even though I think that all of this is true, I do not think that there is any such thing as rigidity. That is I do not think that there is a semantic property that names have and that definite descriptions lack. Following Kent Bach, I deny that there are any rigid designators in natural languages. I addressed this in my PMS WIPS Kripke, Devitt, Bach where I introduce ‘Frigidity’ and ‘frigid stipulation’ as a contrast to rigidity and rigid designation but I thought I would bring it up again…
The semantic thesis of rigidity is that the meaning of a name is its reference and since the meaning of our terms stay the same when we evaluate modal scenarios then the individual that is relevant to determining the truth of the sentence in question stays the same, whereas for descriptions the meanings of the terms stay the same and the individual that is relevant to determining the truth of the sentence can vary. So consider the following pair of sentences.
1. The greatest living philosopher likes tea
2. Saul Kripke likes tea
The meanings of all the words in (1) stay the same but its truth will vary depending on when you say it. It is true now because it (arguably) picks out Kripke (and he does like tea), but it might have been false if said in 362 BCE, and true again in 1905 because its truth depends on different people at different times (Aristotle and Russell respectively). (1) also behaves this way when we evaluate it with respect to modal scenarios. So we can imagine that Kripke never became a philosopher (maybe he became a shoe salesman) (1) would then designate someone else (perhaps Putnam). The name ‘Saul Kripke’ on the other hand names the same person in all modal contexts where the actual Saul Kripke exists (hence it wouldn’t name him before his birth, or in fact before his initial baptism). The truth of (2) depends on just one individual for its truth if it depends on anybody; the truth of (1) can depend on many individuals.
The pragmatic thesis of frigidity, on the other hand, separates meaning from reference. The meaning of a name is one thing, how it is used to refer another. The meaning of a name contributes to determining the truth-conditions of the sentence in which it occurs but the sentence can only be true when it is used to perform some speech act or other. So in order to evaluate the following sentences for truth we must first take them to be particular utterances, said by someone.
3. The first great analytic philosopher taught Wittgenstein
4. Betrand Russell taught Wittgenstein
(3) and (4) by themselves are not true or false; they have conditions which specify when they would be true, but it is only the sentence as used that actually has a truth value. Who is relevant to determining the truth of an utterance is a property of how language is used, so whether (3) and (4) depend on the same individual or not depends on how someone uses them rather than on the meaning of the words.
The obvious fact that the truth conditions for sentences like (4) and (2) vary depending on who the speaker means to be referring to is an argument against rigidity and for frigidity. But again, this is all a clam about sentences, not about thoughts. On this view, the causal theory of reference is a theory that tells us how it is that we can have singular thoughts.