As I mentioned before, I recently found out that a proposed paper of mine had been accepted for the upcoming Final Fantasy and Philosophy volume of the Blackwell Pop Culture and Philosophy series. This is very exciting! I have always been a fan of the series (I hope to some day be able to edit a Terminator and Philosophy volume myself). Way back in 2000, when I taught my very first course as a Graduate Teaching Associate at SFSU I use The Simpsons and Philosophy as a text for my critical thinking class (along with Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric) so it is kind of cool to now be writing a piece for one! Anyway, I figured people might be interested in teh abstract, so here it is.
Everyone knows that moogles are disgustingly cute. I know people who would kill to be able to have one in real life, but could there really be moogles? Say, for instance, that archeologists discovered a species of animal in some remote land that completely resembled the moogle. Would that count as discovering that the beloved Final Fantasy creatures were real? Even if we don’t make such a discovery are moogles metaphysically possible? That is, can we coherently imagine a situation which would count as one which contained moogles? The answer to these questions depends on what the meaning of ‘moogle’ is. One group of philosophers has argued that the meaning of a word like ‘moogle’ is given by an associated description. On this theory ‘moogle’ might mean something like ‘small, cute creatures that are generally helpful…and very intelligent. They usually have white fur and red, purple, or pink wings, and a colored “pom-pom” sticking out of their head. Many exposed to people can speak their common language; however, most only know how to speak cries of “KUPO!”’ (final fantasy wiki). If this were the meaning of ‘moogle’ then should we ever discover a creature that fit the description we would have discovered moogles and even if we don’t we can certainly imagine a creature fitting that description and so moogles would be metaphysically possible. For a period of time this was the dominant view in the philosophy of language. However in the 1970’s a different view of the meaning of natural kind terms was put forth by Saul Kripke, among others. According to this view the meaning of a word is given by the thing to which it refers, not by a description. The basic idea of Kripke’s theory is that a word’s meaning is fixed in an initial ‘baptism’; in essence we point at the thing and say something like ‘we’ll call that kind of thing ‘dog’. Thus the reason that ‘dog’ means dog is because there is a causal-historical chain running from my use of the word back to the original baptism(s). Now in the case of ‘moogle’ the causal-historical chain grounds out in a creative act by the person who made up moogles. But if this is the case then it turns out that moogles are epistemologically and metaphysically impossible; they are essentially fictional. No animal we discover, no matter how much it resembled a moogle, would count as finding one. Even were it to yell ‘greetings, kupo!’ This is Kripke’s argument for the epistemological thesis that we could never discover moogles. He also gives an argument that they would be metaphysically impossible; that is, ‘no counter-factual situation is properly describable as one in which there would have been’ moogles. This is because we do not know enough about the internal structure of the race. In this paper I will review the description theory of the meaning of natural kind terms, the Kripkean objections to this kind of theory and fill in the details of Kripke’s argument.