Quinean predicativism


In Word and Object, Quine proposed that names be treated as the predicate elements of covert descriptions, expressing the property of being identical to the named individual. More recently, many theorists have proposed a predicativist view according which a referential name expresses the property of being called by that name. Whereas this Being-Called Predicativism has received much attention in the recent literature, Quinean Predicativism has not. This neglect is undeserved. In this paper, I argue, first, that close appositive constructions suggest that names can function as predicates expressing identifying properties of the sort proposed by Quine, and, second, that a predicativist analysis which extends this view to referential names overcomes some of the central objections that have been raised against Being-Called Predicativism.

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  1. 1.

    For convenience of formulation, I will gloss being-called properties in metalinguistic terms, involving a mention of the relevant name. Fara (2011b, 2015), following Matushansky (2005), argues that names are used rather than mentioned in being-called contexts (as the predicate element of a small clause). That said, Fara (2015, fn. 26) allows that e.g. being called Alfred is equivalent to bearing the name ‘Alfred’. At any rate, the arguments in the present paper are orthogonal to this issue, and readers should feel free to imagine away the quote marks.

  2. 2.

    By “bare referential occurrences of names” (or just “referential names,” as I’ll often abbreviate) I mean those paradigmatic cases where names occur as arguments to verbs and are (in English) unaccompanied by any overt determiner or modifier. So ‘Alfred is clever’ or ‘I met Alfred’ exhibit bare referential occurrences, in contrast to the predicative occurrence in the examples above.

  3. 3.

    Gray (2017) argues for a similar form of Being-Called Predicativism. There are a number of other predicativist views in the literature that depart in one way or another from the Being-Called Predicativism defended by Fara (2015), and which I don’t have the space to consider in detail here. First, some, like Burge (1973) and Sawyer (2010) take referential names to involve a covert demonstrative rather than a covert definite determiner. Second, there are views that join Fara in postulating a covert definite determiner, but differ with regard to the property involved. Matushansky (2008), for example, invokes contextually determined naming conventions, and holds that a referential occurrence of e.g. ‘Alfred’ expresses the property of bearing the contextually salient naming convention R to the phonological string ‘Alfred’ is spelled out as. Elbourne (2005), on the other hand, analyzes referential ‘Alfred’ in terms of the description ‘the x: \(x=y\) and x is called ‘Alfred’ ’, where y is the particular Alfred referred to on a given occasion. Elbourne’s view is something of a hybrid between Being-Called Predicativism and Quinean Predicativism, and I shall occasionally comment on how the points I discuss below bear on it.

  4. 4.

    For an overview of the evolution of Quine’s views on names, see Fara (2011a).

  5. 5.

    On close apposition, see e.g. Burton-Roberts (1975), Jackendoff (1984), Meyer (1989), Payne and Huddleston (2002), and Acuña-Fariña (2016). There are a number of related constructions that I will not discuss here, including ones like ‘the city of London’ (which contains an ‘of’ between the name and sortal noun), ‘my friend Sylvia’ (which is possessive and involves a relational noun), ‘Mark Jacobs the designer’ (where the name occupies initial position), and ‘that guy John’ (which is fronted by a demonstrative). See Acuña-Fariña (2016) for various ways in which these differ from “prototypical” close appositives of the kind I focus on.

  6. 6.

    The arguments in this section and the next elaborate on ones in Rieppel (2013).

  7. 7.

    Proposals of this sort are put forward by Lasersohn (1986) and Saebø (2019), for example.

  8. 8.

    Schiffer (2003) also makes this observation in relation to ‘the Italian singer Pavarotti’, noting that we can’t substitute ‘the greatest tenor’ to obtain ‘the Italian singer the greatest tenor’. Schiffer takes this to constitute a counter-example to the principle that co-referential singular terms are always substitutable. But as MacBride (2011) observes, Schiffer’s example might instead be taken as evidence that the name ‘Pavarotti’ functions as a predicate in this construction.

  9. 9.

    Though my examples are drawn from Swiss German, I will use standard German orthography for ease of presentation. Names are accompanied by overt definite articles in various languages besides German, such as Catalan, Greek, European Portuguese, Icelandic, and certain dialects of Italian, among many others. English could be argued to have some examples as well, as in e.g. ‘the Mississippi’, ‘the Louvre’, ‘the Netherlands.’

  10. 10.

    I say “intersectively interpreted” to flag that these seem to differ from more common examples like ‘bird house’ or ‘university library’, where the designated entities do not belong in the extension of both nouns.

  11. 11.

    When presenting this material, I have sometimes gotten the complaint that the semantic value given on behalf of the Quinean is illegitimate because it is specified using a name that isn’t predicative (since it occurs in the argument position of the identity symbol). But note first that the Quinean Predicativist isn’t denying that names in English can occur referentially, in argument position, just proposing a certain analysis of such occurrences (as covert descriptions involving a predicative name, see Sect. 6 below). This analysis could then also be applied to referential occurrences of names in the the semantic metalanguage, if one wished. An alternative option would be to point out that the character of the metalanguage is up for stipulation, and that we could therefore introduce names that are stipulated to be type e into our metalanguage, and use them to specify semantic values for predicative, \(( e,t )\) type Quinean names in the object language.

  12. 12.

    Jackendoff (1984) draws attention to the indefinite article, but other non-definite determiners would do as well: ‘every philosopher Russell’ or ‘no philosopher Russell’ also sound defective. That close appositives do not admit an indefinite article is also noted by Burton-Roberts (1975) and Acuña-Fariña (2016). Marcus Rossberg has pointed out to me that there are examples where indefinite articles sound fine (imagine e.g. a receptionist at an office saying these):

    (i) a.    A doctor Anna Bailey stopped by to see you.
    b.    A detective Poirot left a message for you.

    However, in such examples, the noun seems to function as a mere title. To force the kind of reading at issue in close appositives, it helps to modify the noun, as in e.g. ‘the distinguished Belgian detective Poirot.’ An indefinite article now again sounds quite bad to my ear in comparison with the definite.

  13. 13.

    Indeed, the indefinite sounds a bit better in these examples. Incomplete definite descriptions generally incorporate a “familiarity condition,” so for the definite examples, it helps to imagine a context where a particular philosopher or book was previously mentioned.

  14. 14.

    Elbourne’s (2005) hybrid view (see footnote 3) arguably faces a version of this problem. Although Elbourne analyzes referential names in terms of both an identifying property and a being-called property, the identifying property is not contributed by the name itself, but as a separate covert argument to the definite article. Since the name itself just expresses a being-called property on his view, one would expect the compound predicate “philosopher Russell” to be multiply satisfiable, and thus to allow for an indefinite article.

  15. 15.

    Both Schwarzschild (2002) and Hawthorne and Manley (2012, §4.5 ) do not commit themselves on whether covert restrictors are realized syntactically via unvoiced pronominal elements, or whether they enter the compositional process by some other means. I will here follow them in this regard. The same goes for my discussion of covert determiners in the next section: I will generally speak as if covert definite determiners on bare names are syntactically realized at LF, as suggested by Fara (2015), but the Quinean proposal seems to me in principle compatible with regarding the determiner as entering the compositional process by other means.

  16. 16.

    Chierchia (2010, p. 137) also proposes to analyze names in such languages in the Quinean manner. For a different view see Longobardi (1994) and Lekakou and Szendröi (2012), who argue that the definite article in such languages is expletive, or semantically vacuous (a view that would go naturally with a referentialist analysis of such names). A version of Being-Called Predicativism has been defended for such languages by Matushansky (2006, 2008).

  17. 17.

    Names are sometimes claimed to be rigid in the even stronger sense of denoting the same individual at any given world, period, even if that individual does not exist in that world. Whether Quinean Predicativism secures such “obstinate” rigidity will inter-alia depend on whether one thinks an individual i has the property of being identical to i even at worlds where i does not exist, and the kind of semantics one gives for the definite article. Letting \(\alpha\) be an obstinate designator of i, Salmon (1981, §3), for example, regards \(\ulcorner\) \(x = \alpha\) \(\urcorner\) as true at every world under an assignment of i to ‘x’, but still holds that \(\ulcorner\) \(\iota x(x = \alpha )\) \(\urcorner\) fails to denote anything with respect to worlds where i does not exist. One could however use a different semantics for the \(\iota\)-operator so that whether \(\ulcorner\) \(\iota x(x = \alpha )\) \(\urcorner\) denotes with respect to a world w depends only on wether there is a unique individual under an assignment of which to ‘x’, \(\ulcorner\) \(x= \alpha\) \(\urcorner\) is true at w .

  18. 18.

    Elbourne’s (2005) hybrid view arguably also faces this difficulty. Since on his view the name itself just expresses a being-called property (with the identifying property contributed by a separate covert argument to the covert definite determiner), it isn’t clear why the anaphoric ‘one’ should not be able to pick up on this being-called property, as it does in (45).

  19. 19.

    One option might be to pursue a version of Gray’s (2017) two-determiner proposal (which in turn builds on Schwarz 2009). Very roughly, he argues that English has two definite articles: a “strong” article that is used for discourse referents that are only available within the local conversational context, and a “weak” article that is used if the referent is cross-contextually available, and which is realized covertly in combination with names in English. Since Quinean identifying predicates would be ideally suited to refer to cross-contextually available referents, one would expect them to occur with Gray’s weak article, which is covert.

  20. 20.

    For some different proposals, see e.g. Hawthorne and Manley (2012); Leckie (2013); Rami (2015); Schoubye (2017). This issue is closely connected to another I have not addressed here, about the relationship between referential and various different predicative uses of names, besides being-called uses. See Jeshion (2015) for a nice taxonomy of a variety of predicative uses.


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For helpful suggestions and conversations about this material, I’d like to thank David Braun, Cian Dorr, Jan Dowell, Arpy Katchirian, Arc Kocurek, Richard Lawrence, Friederike Moltmann, Dilip Ninan, Paolo Santorio, Boaz Schuman, Marcus Rossberg (who gave comments at the Pacific APA), and an anonymous referee at this journal, as well as audiences at the NYPLW and the 2019 Pacific APA. Thanks also to Ana Guerrero, Richard Lawrence, Hille Paakkunainen, and Lukas Rieppel for discussion of data from languages other than English.

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Rieppel, M. Quinean predicativism. Philos Stud 178, 23–44 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-020-01419-w

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