Friday, May 15, 2009

Pure Demonstratives and Logically Proper Names

My ten month old hasn’t yet grasped pointing: “Look over there”, arm outstretched, hand clenched, index finger extended; he looks at the finger rather than anything else.

Observing this brings to mind remarks of Wittgenstein’s to the effect that even our most basic demonstratives are already embedded within what we might model as a representational schema:

Are “there” and “this” also taught ostensively?—Imagine how one might perhaps teach their use. One will point to places and things—-but in this case the pointing occurs in the use of the words too and not merely in learning the use. [P.I. 9]

I’ve always taken this kind of remark (i.e. it and many others like it) as telling against the possibility of a pure demonstrative, of a spoken “This” or of a “That” which successfully picks out an otherwise unknown something, without in so doing imposing preconceptions upon it.

From the logical point of view they would tell against the possibility of a purely designative occurrence of a name—one which in a subject-predicate sentence of the form “S is P” would allow all of the intensional content to reside with the predication.

Here, rehearsing Russell, we might draw the distinction between names as they commonly appear, which may be laden with predicative content—Ivan the Terrible, say—and logically proper names which, being purely designative, may not.

With this stipulation in place, note that whilst we all agree that names as they commonly appear are not logically proper names so defined, the claim at stake is the much stronger one that names howsoever they appear are never logically proper names. That is, that there are no such things as logically proper names. (This would not be worth remarking if the contrary were not, still, so commonly held.)

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