Skip to main content

Between singularity and generality: the semantic life of proper names

Abstract

Although the view that sees proper names as referential singular terms is widely considered orthodoxy, there is a growing popularity to the view that proper names are predicates. This is partly because the orthodoxy faces two anomalies that Predicativism can solve: on the one hand, proper names can have multiple bearers. But multiple bearerhood is (prima facie) a problem to the idea that proper names have just one individual as referent. On the other hand, as Burge (J Philos 70:425–439, 1973) noted, proper names can have predicative uses. But the view that proper names are singular terms arguably does not have the resources to deal with Burge’s cases. In this paper I argue that the Predicate View of proper names is mistaken. I first argue against the syntactic evidence used to support the view and against the predicativist’s methodology of inferring a semantic account for proper names based on incomplete syntactic data. I also show that Predicativism can neither explain the behaviour of proper names in full generality, nor claim the fundamentality of predicative names. In developing my own view, however, I accept the insight that proper names in some sense express generality. Hence I propose that proper names—albeit fundamentally singular referential terms—express generality in two senses. First, by being used as predicates, since then they are true of many individuals; and second, by being referentially related to many individuals. I respond to the problem of multiple bearerhood by proposing that proper names are polyreferential, and also explain the behaviour of proper names in light of the wider phenomenon I called category change, and show how Polyreferentialism can account for all uses of proper names.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Bauer, L. (1983). English word formation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  2. Bauer, L. (2005). Conversion and the notion of lexical category. In L. Bauer & S. Varela (Eds.), Approaches to conversion/zero-derivation (pp. 19–30). Münster; New York: Waxman.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bauer, L., & Varela, S. (2005). Conversion or Zero-derivation: An Introduction. In L. Bauer & S. Varela (Eds.), Approaches to conversion/zero-derivation (pp. 7–18). Münster; New York: Waxman.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Burge, T. (1973). Reference and proper names. Journal of Philosophy, 70, 425–439.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Cannon, G. (1985). Functional shift in English. Linguistics, 23(3), 411–443.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Clark, E. V., & Clark, H. H. (1979). When nouns surface as verbs. Language, 55(4), 767–811.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Cruse, D. A. (1986). Lexical semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Delgado, L. (2011). Between singularity and generality: The semantic life of proper names. BPhil thesis, University of Oxford.

  9. Delgado, L. (2018a). David, some Davids, and all Davids: Reference, category change, and bearerhood of real-life names. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Barcelona.

  10. Delgado, L. (2018b). Names are not (always) predicates. Ms., University of Barcelona.

  11. Delgado, L. (2018c). Names vs nouns. Ms., University of Barcelona.

  12. Elbourne, P. D. (2005). Situations and individuals. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Falkun, I. L., & Vicente, A. (2015). Polysemy: Current perspectives and approaches. Lingua, 157, 1–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Fara, D. G. (2011). Names as predicates. Ms., Princeton University.

  15. Fara, D. G. (2015a). Literal’ uses of proper names. In A. Bianchi (Ed.), On reference (pp. 251–279). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  16. Fara, D. G. (2015b). Names are predicates. Philosophical Review, 124(1), 59–117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. García-Carpintero, M. (2017). The Mill-Frege theory of proper names. Mind, fzx010, https://doi.org/10.1093/mind/fzx010.

  18. Gray, A. (2014). Name-bearing, reference and circularity. Philosophical Studies, 171(2), 207–231.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Hanks, P., & Hodges, F. (2003). A dictionary of first names. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Hawthorne, J., & Manley, D. (2012). The reference book. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  21. Higginbotham, J. (1988). Context, models, and meanings: A note on the data of semantics. In R. Kempson (Ed.), Mental representations: The interface between language and reality (pp. 29–48). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Hinzen, W. (2016). Linguistic evidence against predicativism. Philosophy Compass, 11, 591–608.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Hornsby, J. (1976). Proper names: A defence of Burge. Philosophical Studies, 30, 227–234.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Jeshion, R. (2015a). Names not predicates. In A. Bianchi (Ed.), On reference (pp. 225–250). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  25. Jeshion, R. (2015b). Referentialism and predicativism about proper names. Erkenntnis, 80(S2), 363–404.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Jeshion, R. (2017). The’ problem for the-predicativism. Philosophical Review, 126(2), 219–240.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Jeshion, R. (2018). Katherine and the Katherine: On the syntactic distribution of names and count nouns. Theoria, 33(3), 473–508.

  28. Katz, J. (2001). The end of millianism: Multiple bearers, improper names, and compositional meaning. The Journal of Philosophy, 98(3), 137–166.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Krifka, M., Pelletier, F. J., Carlson, G., ter Meulen, A., Chierchia, G., & Link, G. (1995). Genericity: An introduction. In G. Carlson & F. Pelletier (Eds.), The generic book (pp. 1–124). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Larson, R., & Segal, G. (1995). Knowledge of meaning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Leckie, G. (2013). The double life of names. Philosophical Studies, 165(3), 1139–1160.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Martsa, S. (2013). Conversion in English: A cognitive semantic approach. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Matushansky, O. (2006). Why Rose is the Rose: On the use of definite articles in proper names. In O. Bonami & P. C. Hofherr (Eds.), Empirical issues in formal syntax and semantics (Vol. 6, pp. 285–308). Paris: CNRS.

  34. Matushansky, O. (2008). On the linguistic complexity of proper names. Linguistics and Philosophy, 31(5), 573–627.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Matushansky, O. (2015). The other Francis Bacon: On non-bare proper names. Erkenntnis, 80, 335–362.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Nunberg, G. (1995). Transfers of meaning. Journal of Semantics, 12, 109–132.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. OED: Oxford English Dictionary Second edition. (1989). Oxford: Oxford University Press (Online version June 2011).

  38. Pelczar, M., & Rainsbury, J. (1998). The indexical character of names. Synthese, 114(2), 293–317.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Pennanen, E. V. (1971). Conversion and zero-derivation in English (Acta Universitatis Tamperensis, Series A, Vol. 40). Tampere: University of Tampere.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Perry, J. (2001). Reference and reflexivity. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G., & Svartvik, J. (1985). A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Rami, D. (2014a). On the unification argument for the Predicate View on proper names. Synthese, 191, 841–862.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Rami, D. (2014b). The use-conditional indexical conception of names. Philosophical Studies, 168, 119–150.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Rami, D. (2015). The multiple uses of proper nouns. Erkenntnis, 80(S2), 405–432.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Rami, D. (2016). Names, naming and name-using practices. In P. Stalmaszczyk & L. Fernández Moreno (Eds.), Philosophical approaches to proper names (pp. 55–92). New York: Peter Lang.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Récanati, F. (1993). Direct reference: From language to thought. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Sainsbury, R. M. (2015). The same name. Erkenntnis, 80, 195–214.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Sawyer, S. (2010). The modified predicate theory of proper names. In Sarah Sawyer (Ed.), New waves in philosophy of language (pp. 206–226). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  49. Schoubye, A. (2017). Type-ambiguous names. Mind, 126, 715–767.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Schoubye, A. (2018). The predicative predicament. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 96(3), 571–595.

  51. Segal, G. (2001). Two theories of names. Mind and Language, 15, 547–563.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Sloat, C. (1969). Proper nouns in English. Language, 45(1), 26–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Vendler, Z. (1967). Linguistics in philosophy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Voltolini, A. (1995). Indexinames. In J. Hill & P. Kotatko (Eds.), Karlovy vary studies in reference and meaning (pp. 258–285). Praha: Philosophia Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Zandvoort, R. W. (1965). A handbook of English grammar. London: Longmans, Green & Co.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

I’m especially indebted to Manuel García-Carpintero, Ofra Magidor, and Elia Zardini, for invaluable comments and discussion on several drafts of this paper. I would also like to thank Robin Jeshion, Claudia Picazo, Ricardo Santos, David Yates, and an anonymous referee for comments and discussion that helped me to improve this paper significantly. Different parts of the material in the paper have been presented in 2013 at the LOGOS Seminar (University of Barcelona) and at the 7th meeting of the Spanish Society for Analytic Philosophy (SEFA 2013); in 2016 at the IIF-SADAF Seminar (University of Buenos Aires), at the Metaphysics, Epistemology, Logic and Language Seminar (University of Lisbon), and at the LanCog Seminar (University of Lisbon); in 2017 at the workshop ‘Entia et Nomina 2017’ in Goa, India, at the PLM Conference (Ruhr University Bochum), and at the St Andrews Graduate Conference (University of St Andrews); in 2018 at the LEME Seminar (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro). I’d like to thank all these audiences for stimulating comments and discussion. I’m also very grateful to all the informants who shared their knowledge of their native languages with me. At different stages during the development of this paper I have benefitted from an AHRC Postgraduate Studentship Award, from a Doctoral Award from the project CONSOLIDER-INGENIO 2010 CSD2009-00056 of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation on Philosophy of Perspectival Thoughts and Facts (PERSP), and from a Doctoral Award from the programme of grants to new researchers (FI-DGR) of the Catalonian Government.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Laura Delgado.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Delgado, L. Between singularity and generality: the semantic life of proper names. Linguist and Philos 42, 381–417 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10988-018-9251-1

Download citation

Keywords

  • Proper names
  • Reference
  • Predicativism
  • Predicates
  • Polyreferentialism
  • Category change
  • Philosophy of language