Linguistics and Philosophy

, 33:325

Understanding proper names

Research Article


There is a fairly general consensus that names are Millian (or Russellian) genuine terms, that is, are singular terms whose sole semantic function is to introduce a referent into the propositions expressed by sentences containing the term. This answers the question as to what sort of proposition is expressed by use of sentences containing names. But there is a second serious semantic problem about proper names, that of how the referents of proper names are determined. This is the question that I will discuss in this paper. Various views consistent with Millianism have been proposed as to how the semantic referents of proper names are determined. These views can be classified into (1) description theories and (2) causal theories, but they can also be classified into (3) social practice theories, on which a name’s referent is determined by a social practice involving the referent, and (4) individualistic theories, on which the referent of the use of a name is determined by the speaker’s state of mind. Here I argue against social practice theories of the sorts proposed by Kripke and Evans and in favor of an individualistic approach to name reference. I argue that social practice is irrelevant to determining name reference and that, as a consequence, names have no meanings in natural languages. In the second part of the paper I motivate and propose a new form of individualistic theory which incorporates features of both description theories and Evans’s social practice theory.


Proper names Names Reference Anaphora Meaning Semantics 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wayne State UniversityDetroitUSA

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