What Kripke Really Thinks

In an earlier post I introduced a distinction between rigidity, a semantic property that some words have and that others lack, and frigidity, a pragmatic property whereby reference is determined by how a word is used. In this post, I argue that frigidity actually better captures what Kripke is talking about. Upon looking at what Kripke says it seems undeniable that what he is concerned about is the truth conditions of utterances that express singular thoughts. Thus our intuitions about the truth of sentences like 1. and 2. are really intuitions about the thoughts that these sentences are taken to be used to express.

1. The first great analytic philosopher might not have been the first great analytic philosopher
2. Bertrand Russell might not have been Bertrand Russell

That is, our intuitions are about particular uses of sentences and Kripke is talking about token utterances. This means that who these sentences depend on for their truth can vary depending on how they are used, and hence that frigidity better captures Kripke’s idea.

This becomes much clearer when we look at Kripke’s later article, “Speaker Reference and Semantic Reference,” (Kripke 1977/1991) where he is much more explicit about what the jobs of semantics and pragmatics are.  He begins, following Grice, by distinguishing between speaker and semantic meaning.

The notion of what words can mean in a language is semantical: it is given by the conventions of our language. What they mean on a given occasion is determined, on a given occasion, by these conventions, together with the intentions of the speaker and various contextual features. Finally what the speaker meant, on a given occasion, in saying certain words, derives from various further special intentions, taken together with various general principles applicable to all human languages regardless of their special conventions (Cf. Grice’s maxims) (SR p 84)

So, in effect we have three kinds of meaning. We have the general meaning of the words as given by the conventions of the language (what Grice called timeless meaning (Grice 1957/1994)), we have the meaning of the words on a given occasion which is determined by the conventions of the language and the intentions of the speaker and ‘various contextual features’. This allows us to resolve any ambiguities, figure out what any indexical or demonstrative elements are being used for and in general determine what proposition the sentence expresses. Finally we have what the speaker meant on a given occasion in saying what they did, which may diverge from what the sentence that they said means on that occasion.

So far this all looks like standard the Gricean picture. Kripke then goes on to distinguish the semantic referent of a term from the speaker’s referent, which he says are special cases of semantic and speaker meaning. 

…the semantic referent of a designator is given by a general intention of the speaker to refer to a certain object whenever the designator is used. The speaker’s referent is given by a specific intention, on a given occasion, to refer to a certain object (p 84)

The semantic referent is given by a general intention which means that I have a general intention to refer to Kripke by using ‘Kripke’.  This means that I have something like a standing intention; I generally use tokens of ‘Kripke’ as a way of referring to Kripke. As he says,

…he uses ‘Jones’ as a name of Jones-elaborate this according to your favorite theory of proper names-and, on this occasion, simply whishes to use ‘Jones’ to refer to Jones,” (ibid).

The reason that I am able to do this is elaborated by his favorite theory of names, which is a causal theory. So, who it is that I have in mind is determined by the causal link that the name (token) has to an individual. This determines who the thought is about.The picture he is developing seems to be like this. When things go right, the speaker has someone in mind, that is, has a singular thought about a particular person, has a word that he (generally) uses as a name for that person (this person is the semantic referent of the term) and on this occasion he intends to refer to that person by using the name (this is the speaker reference).

Now let us return to the question at hand. When we evaluate sentences like 1. and 2. what is it that we are evaluating? I have suggested that Kripke thinks we are evaluating sentences that are taken to express singular thoughts. That is, thoughts about a particular individual. It is in this way that we can understand why Kripke thinks that the test for rigidity is a metaphysical one. This emerges clearly when Kripke says,

In practice it is usual to suppose that what is meant in a particular use of a sentence is understood from the context. In the present instance, that context made it clear that it was the conventional use of ‘Aristotle’ for the great philosopher that was in question. Then, given this fixed understanding of [Aristotle was fond of dogs], the question of rigidity is this: Is the correctness of [Aristotle was fond of dogs], thus understood, determined with respect to each counter-factual situation by whether a certain single person would have liked dogs (had that situation obtained)? …this question is entirely unaffected by the presence or absence in the language of other readings [of the sentence]. For each such particular reading separately, we can ask whether what is expressed would be true of a counter-factual situation if and only if some fixed individual has the appropriate property. (NN P.9)

Kripke means to be talking about sentences as used on a particular occasion. What he is concerned with is particular uses of sentences, and their meaning and reference are determined by who the speaker has in mind and his intentions. So the big picture is that we express a singular thought about something and we want to know the truth conditions for it. The way we determine the truth conditions of the thought is by looking at the token utterance that we take as expressing it and as we have seen this is done partly by the speaker’s intentions (since ‘Aristotle’ names more than one object), and partly due to the context of utterance. This is called semantics because we are talking about truth-conditions, but it is important to see that on this view it is token sentences that get evaluated and that these token sentences are taken as expressing singular thoughts.

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