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Rigid Designators

 
 
Reply Mon 22 Feb, 2010 12:28 pm
The example of a rigid designator most commonly offered is that of "Richard Nixon", which identifies a particular person. One descriptive phrase for the person "Richard Nixon" could be "the 37th President of the United States". However, there are possible worlds in which Nixon lost the election or died shortly after birth. In those possible worlds, "the 37th President of the United States" doesn't designate Nixon but some other person, e.g. Hubert Humphrey.

The claim made by Kripke and other proponents of rigid designators is that while the "37th President of the United States" only refers to Nixon in this possible world, the phrase "Richard Nixon" refers to Nixon in all possible worlds, even in worlds where Richard Nixon was assassinated as Vice President, died of pneumonia while serving in the senate, had a different name or was even born with some kind of congenital deformity making him unrecognizable to us.

My problem now is that I don't know how far to take this. At what point do I start identifying someone similar to Nixon as a different person instead of Nixon?

Imagine a possible world in which Nixon has an identical twin brother and are both given up for adoption. However, neither of them are named Richard and they both take on the surname of their adopted parents. One is Frank and the other is Fred. Neither of them enter politics. One becomes an electrician and the other a carpenter. They live until ripe old ages, ending up in the same nursing home and dying a few days apart from each other.

Now, one of these men was Nixon and the other was not. Which one? If we can't tell the difference then what sense does it make to claim such a thing?

It seems that for rigid designators to be viable then we have to establish essential properties for identification, yet what essential property could single out a particular person from a crowd?
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Twirlip
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Feb, 2010 01:21 pm
@Night Ripper,
That's a Tricky question! Very Happy
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kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Feb, 2010 02:09 pm
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper;131076 wrote:
The example of a rigid designator most commonly offered is that of "Richard Nixon", which identifies a particular person. One descriptive phrase for the person "Richard Nixon" could be "the 37th President of the United States". However, there are possible worlds in which Nixon lost the election or died shortly after birth. In those possible worlds, "the 37th President of the United States" doesn't designate Nixon but some other person, e.g. Hubert Humphrey.

The claim made by Kripke and other proponents of rigid designators is that while the "37th President of the United States" only refers to Nixon in this possible world, the phrase "Richard Nixon" refers to Nixon in all possible worlds, even in worlds where Richard Nixon was assassinated as Vice President, died of pneumonia while serving in the senate, had a different name or was even born with some kind of congenital deformity making him unrecognizable to us.

My problem now is that I don't know how far to take this. At what point do I start identifying someone similar to Nixon as a different person instead of Nixon?

Imagine a possible world in which Nixon has an identical twin brother and are both given up for adoption. However, neither of them are named Richard and they both take on the surname of their adopted parents. One is Frank and the other is Fred. Neither of them enter politics. One becomes an electrician and the other a carpenter. They live until ripe old ages, ending up in the same nursing home and dying a few days apart from each other.

Now, one of these men was Nixon and the other was not. Which one? If we can't tell the difference then what sense does it make to claim such a thing?

It seems that for rigid designators to be viable then we have to establish essential properties for identification, yet what essential property could single out a particular person from a crowd?


I don't know what essential property would do that, but Kripke thought that, the parents Nixon had was an essential property of his, since he could not have been that Richard Nixon unless those were his parents. So, that is an example of an essential property that Richard Nixon had. (According to Kripke, of course).

But Kripke believed, for example, that William Shakespeare might not have written any such works as Hamlet or King Lear, but have been a farmer in Devon, and that those works ascribed to Shakespeare might have been written by a different man of the same name, "William Shakespeare". And that seems to be true. So it seems to be true that William Shakespeare might not have written any of the works of William Shakespeare, but that those works might have been written by a different man of the same name.
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Night Ripper
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Feb, 2010 02:51 pm
@Night Ripper,
I see no logical contradiction in the possibility of Nixon being born to different parents. For example, imagine a possible world exactly like this one except the only difference is that Nixon has a different mother. He's still the iconic 37th president, same physical appearances, same DNA, same life choices, etc., identical in every way except that his mother is a different woman. If, according to Kripke, that's not Nixon then I think he will have a hard time convincing Nixon of that fact.

Also, in the example I gave, it's not the problem that Nixon's parents are different, it's the problem of which twin Nixon is. We know it's supposed to be one of the twins but which and for what reason? It seems like there's some mysterious essence being posited.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Feb, 2010 02:58 pm
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper;131141 wrote:
I see no logical contradiction in the possibility of Nixon being born to different parents. For example, imagine a possible world exactly like this one except the only difference is that Nixon has a different mother. He's still the iconic 37th president, same physical appearances, same DNA, same life choices, etc., identical in every way except that his mother is a different woman. If, according to Kripke, that's not Nixon then I think he will have a hard time convincing Nixon of that fact.

Also, in the example I gave, it's not the problem that Nixon's parents are different, it's the problem of which twin Nixon is. We know it's supposed to be one of the twins but which and for what reason? It seems like there's some mysterious essence being posited.


Well, that is Kripke's intuition. But that would mean that Nixon would have a different genetic makeup than he actually had. I don't know whether that is possible.

Nixon would, of course, be Nixon, but not that Nixon.He could, however, be a different Nixon.
Emil
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Feb, 2010 02:59 pm
@Night Ripper,
Rigid Designators (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
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Night Ripper
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Feb, 2010 09:51 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;131144 wrote:
But that would mean that Nixon would have a different genetic makeup than he actually had.


I stipulated that his DNA would be the same. Though of course it's highly unlikely, there is no logical contradiction in having different parents but winding up with the same DNA.

Also, even assuming different DNA, surely there is a possible world where Nixon is born with Down syndrome or has some other genetic abnormality that our Nixon doesn't have.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Feb, 2010 10:14 am
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper;131391 wrote:
I stipulated that his DNA would be the same. Though of course it's highly unlikely, there is no logical contradiction in having different parents but winding up with the same DNA.

Also, even assuming different DNA, surely there is a possible world where Nixon is born with Down syndrome or has some other genetic abnormality that our Nixon doesn't have.


Yes. I don't know what Kripke would say about that. He might say that your view that Nixon might have had different genes expresses an epistemic possibility, not a metaphysical possibility. (But please do not ask me what a metaphysical possibility is).
Fil Albuquerque
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Feb, 2010 10:36 am
@kennethamy,
There we go with Determinism again...

A Rigid designator only makes sense if one considers the total amount of variables and their possible interactions in a discrete Space\Time Reality...

...each of this variables results in its form from the Whole effect which shapes them...

...so Nixon in order to have a rigid designator would have to be referred as the meta-subject resulting from all the possible alternate realities caused from the Omniverse...
0 Replies
 
mickalos
 
  1  
Reply Tue 30 Mar, 2010 02:13 pm
@Night Ripper,
Old topic, but I'm reading Naming and Necessity at the moment, so what the hell.

Night Ripper;131076 wrote:
The example of a rigid designator most commonly offered is that of "Richard Nixon", which identifies a particular person. One descriptive phrase for the person "Richard Nixon" could be "the 37th President of the United States". However, there are possible worlds in which Nixon lost the election or died shortly after birth. In those possible worlds, "the 37th President of the United States" doesn't designate Nixon but some other person, e.g. Hubert Humphrey.

The claim made by Kripke and other proponents of rigid designators is that while the "37th President of the United States" only refers to Nixon in this possible world, the phrase "Richard Nixon" refers to Nixon in all possible worlds, even in worlds where Richard Nixon was assassinated as Vice President, died of pneumonia while serving in the senate, had a different name or was even born with some kind of congenital deformity making him unrecognizable to us.

My problem now is that I don't know how far to take this. At what point do I start identifying someone similar to Nixon as a different person instead of Nixon?


Having read the first lecture, Kripke's position on this seems to be that the problem of transworld identity (at least in this form) is based on a misguided view of possible worlds. You are thinking that when we make a statement like, "Richard Nixon might not have been President", we have to whip out our subjunctive telescope, look at all the possible worlds, find Richard Nixon in each of them, and then check whether or not he's President. However, Kripke says that possible worlds are stipulated, not discovered. Who, or what, is the statement, "Richard Nixon might have lost the 1968 election" about? Is it a statement about some possible Nixon in some possible world? That seems strange. Rather, the subject of the statement is the actual Nixon in our world, and surely it is true of the real Nixon that he might not have been president. As Kripke puts it, "We can point to the man, and ask what might have happened to him, had events been different." [Emphasis is Kripke's own]

Quote:
Imagine a possible world in which Nixon has an identical twin brother and are both given up for adoption. However, neither of them are named Richard and they both take on the surname of their adopted parents. One is Frank and the other is Fred. Neither of them enter politics. One becomes an electrician and the other a carpenter. They live until ripe old ages, ending up in the same nursing home and dying a few days apart from each other.

Now, one of these men was Nixon and the other was not. Which one? If we can't tell the difference then what sense does it make to claim such a thing?
Notice that you stipulated the Nixon-twin world, and, indeed, you stipulated that Nixon was in it. The problem here is epistemic rather than metaphysical. Certainly, it is possible that Richard Nixon might not have been called Richard, and there is no reason why he shouldn't have had a twin brother. Nor is there any reason why he couldn't have pursued a career other than politics; he might have even been a Democrat! However, you have said, "Nixon might have been born with a twin. The parents might have called the twins Fred and Frank. Which one is Nixon?" I only have enough information to say that I don't know, but one of them is Nixon.
GoshisDead
 
  1  
Reply Tue 30 Mar, 2010 02:59 pm
@mickalos,
This problem is not a language problem it is a physics problem, it hinges on the possibility of an entity that could never be refered to without further modification making it somewhat less rigid. A person saying Richard Nixon in its rigid sense, relies on the current cultural matrix that defines Richar Nixon from all other possible Richard Nixons in this world, it should and in my opinion must use an experiential matrix that excludes Richard Nixons from other plains of existence.
0 Replies
 
Night Ripper
 
  1  
Reply Tue 30 Mar, 2010 03:14 pm
@mickalos,
mickalos;146316 wrote:
Old topic, but I'm reading Naming and Necessity at the moment, so what the hell.



Having read the first lecture, Kripke's position on this seems to be that the problem of transworld identity (at least in this form) is based on a misguided view of possible worlds. You are thinking that when we make a statement like, "Richard Nixon might not have been President", we have to whip out our subjunctive telescope, look at all the possible worlds, find Richard Nixon in each of them, and then check whether or not he's President. However, Kripke says that possible worlds are stipulated, not discovered. Who, or what, is the statement, "Richard Nixon might have lost the 1968 election" about? Is it a statement about some possible Nixon in some possible world? That seems strange. Rather, the subject of the statement is the actual Nixon in our world, and surely it is true of the real Nixon that he might not have been president. As Kripke puts it, "We can point to the man, and ask what might have happened to him, had events been different." [Emphasis is Kripke's own]

Notice that you stipulated the Nixon-twin world, and, indeed, you stipulated that Nixon was in it. The problem here is epistemic rather than metaphysical. Certainly, it is possible that Richard Nixon might not have been called Richard, and there is no reason why he shouldn't have had a twin brother. Nor is there any reason why he couldn't have pursued a career other than politics; he might have even been a Democrat! However, you have said, "Nixon might have been born with a twin. The parents might have called the twins Fred and Frank. Which one is Nixon?" I only have enough information to say that I don't know, but one of them is Nixon.


Great response. I had thoughts along this line but then I had trouble seeing how this supports the idea of necessary a posteriori truths. Can you shed some light on the claim that it is a necessary a posteriori
mickalos
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 01:34 am
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper;146338 wrote:
Great response. I had thoughts along this line but then I had trouble seeing how this supports the idea of necessary a posteriori truths. Can you shed some light on the claim that it is a necessary a posteriori


If you took water to simply be a vague watery property, then you'd be right, but Kripke thinks terms like 'gold', 'water' and 'Tigers', are more like proper names than properties, except they name kinds of thing. Just like proper names have to refer to the same object across possible worlds, kind terms have to name the same kind of thing across possible worlds. It's firstly a matter of meaning, just as 'Richard Nixon' means the person who was actually named thus (as opposed to meaning a bundle of Presidential properties as Russell would have you believe), 'water' refers to the kind of thing, the substance, that somebody, long ago, baptised as 'water'. The question then becomes about metaphysics: how much can we change one kind of thing without it being a different kind of thing?

There is certainly one sense in which water might have been a different molecule. Before we knew anything about molecules, we we first started discovering that things were made of molecules it might have turned out that water was actually composed of XYZ; however, it didn't turn out that things were that way. De re, we discovered (hence the a posteriori) that water is, and always has been, composed of H2O. Asking whether or not it could have been made from something different is kind of like asking, "Could this substance have been a different substance?" i.e. could H2O have been XYZ?

Certainly we can think of a possible world that has XYZ flowing through its rivers, but is that enough to say that water might have been XYZ? Presumably we would say it that it's not water, that is in fact something entirely different, just as if we brought a sample of liquid composed of XYZ back from a distant planet. Presumably, upon discovering it's molecular structure, we would not conclude that some water is not H2O, instead we would treat as we treat fool's gold: it isn't gold. Therefore, a planet with XYZ in it's oceans would not be said to contain water, but a kind of fool's water, hence it seems to be a necessary a posteriori that water is made from H2O.

The same goes for statements like Nixon might have been a goat. We certainly might discover that Nixon had been an elaborately disguised goat all along, but let's assume that's not true. Given that Nixon is a human, is it possible that he might have been a goat? I can't see it myself.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 01:50 am
@mickalos,
mickalos;146999 wrote:

The same goes for statements like Nixon might have been a goat. We certainly might discover that Nixon had been an elaborately disguised goat all along, but let's assume that's not true. Given that Nixon is a human, is it possible that he might have been a goat? I can't see it myself.





Doesn't it look as if when we come across a statement of possibility that Nixon might have been a goat, and it offends our intuition, we then just decide it is not a logical possibility, but rather rather merely an epistemic possibility. It is convenient, but, on what grounds do we decide this?
mickalos
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 06:39 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;147002 wrote:
Doesn't it look as if when we come across a statement of possibility that Nixon might have been a goat, and it offends our intuition, we then just decide it is not a logical possibility, but rather rather merely an epistemic possibility. It is convenient, but, on what grounds do we decide this?


The principle that one object cannot itself be a different object, I would think. I think it's fair to say we have enough evidence to say that Nixon was, in fact, not a cleverly disguised swan, and that he was actually a human. Given that fact, we can still say that a swan might have beaten Humphrey in the 1968 Presidential Election, then beaten McGovern in 1972, resigning in 1974 after scandal; they may even call the swan 'Nixon'. What I don't think we can say is that this swan is the same object as Richard Nixon, instead, it is something different from Nixon that is being placed in similar situations.

Is there any way we might be able to say that the swan is Nixon? There's certainly a munitions factory worth of bullets one might bite on this topic. You might say that some freakish genetic mutation could take place in utero rendering Nixon a swan; although, that raises questions about the point at which Nixon can be said to come into existence. You might say that there is absolutely no problem with Nixon being born a swan, to swan parents, from a swan egg. How this wouldn't simply be a swan, I don't know. Alternatively, you might simply reject causal naming theories; though they seem the most plausible to me.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 06:55 am
@mickalos,
mickalos;147038 wrote:
The principle that one object cannot itself be a different object, I would think. I think it's fair to say we have enough evidence to say that Nixon was, in fact, not a cleverly disguised swan, and that he was actually a human. Given that fact, we can still say that a swan might have beaten Humphrey in the 1968 Presidential Election, then beaten McGovern in 1972, resigning in 1974 after scandal; they may even call the swan 'Nixon'. What I don't think we can say is that this swan is the same object as Richard Nixon, instead, it is something different from Nixon that is being placed in similar situations.

Is there any way we might be able to say that the swan is Nixon? There's certainly a munitions factory worth of bullets one might bite on this topic. You might say that some freakish genetic mutation could take place in utero rendering Nixon a swan; although, that raises questions about the point at which Nixon can be said to come into existence. You might say that there is absolutely no problem with Nixon being born a swan, to swan parents, from a swan egg. How this wouldn't simply be a swan, I don't know. Alternatively, you might simply reject causal naming theories; though they seem the most plausible to me.


Yes, very puzzling. I think we need some deeper understanding of how metaphysical possibility is supposed to differ from logical possibility, since it is logically possible that Nixon was a swan (I suppose). Is there a deeper understanding of metaphysical possibility?
ughaibu
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 07:55 am
@mickalos,
mickalos;146316 wrote:
Is it a statement about some possible Nixon in some possible world? That seems strange. Rather, the subject of the statement is the actual Nixon in our world, and surely it is true of the real Nixon that he might not have been president. As Kripke puts it, "We can point to the man, and ask what might have happened to him, had events been different."
So, this is modal actualism rather than modal realism?
0 Replies
 
mickalos
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 02:46 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;147044 wrote:
Yes, very puzzling. I think we need some deeper understanding of how metaphysical possibility is supposed to differ from logical possibility, since it is logically possible that Nixon was a swan (I suppose). Is there a deeper understanding of metaphysical possibility?

To me, the idea that Nixon might have been a swan seems like some kind of modal category mistake, akin to 'Caesar is a prime number'. Maybe Carnap was right to analyse 'Caesar is a prime number' as meaningless, but what about 'Caesar is not a prime number'? Seems closer to true than meaningless. 'Caesar might have been a prime number' or 'It is necessary that Caesar is not a prime number'? Whatever side you come down upon on the status of these statements, I think conjectures about Nixon's swanhood have to be treated in a similar manner. I would say that just as it's impossible for Caesar to be a prime number, it is impossible for Nixon to be a swan, though I have no idea whether these are metaphysical or logical impossibilities, or both.

One example that might be relevant came up in a discussion of Descartes' ontological argument. In a nutshell, God is the being of all perfections, necessary existence is a perfection, therefore God exists. The idea of an object that necessarily exists seems to be conceivable using possible world semantics: something that necessarily exists exists in all possible worlds, or it exists in none. Now, is a being with necessary existence possible? An answer might be that there is certainly no contradiction involved in a thing that exists in every possible world, and it is thus a logical possibility; mathematical realism comes to mind here. However, from the point of view of metaphysics, if an object can be instantiated, it can be uninstantiated too, and so it is not metaphysically possible. I'm inclined to say that objects can't necessarily exist, and metaphysical and logical possibility are the same thing, but this is the most baffling example I could come up with.

Quote:

So, this is modal actualism rather than modal realism?
Yeah, I don't know of any modern day modal realists, apart from Lewis.
0 Replies
 
Night Ripper
 
  1  
Reply Thu 8 Apr, 2010 09:08 am
@mickalos,
mickalos;146999 wrote:
Presumably we would say it that it's not water, that is in fact something entirely different, just as if we brought a sample of liquid composed of XYZ back from a distant planet. Presumably, upon discovering it's molecular structure, we would not conclude that some water is not H2O, instead we would treat as we treat fool's gold: it isn't gold.


I can think of two objections.

1. If Nixon can have different properties in different worlds, being a president, being a janitor, etc, why can't water have different properties? Why call non-H2O water Fool's Water but not call non-presidential Nixon Fool's Nixon. In both cases something extremely central to our concepts is missing.

2. There is a lot more to the reason why we call pyrite Fool's Gold than its molecular composition. If pyrite had all the same physical properties as gold; ductile, malleable, conductive, etc, then I don't think it would be such a big difference.

So, it seems like I can imagine a possible world where Nixon isn't president and water isn't H2O. It seems like I could imagine a possible world with a beaker full of H2O but when applying a flame, it explodes instead of extinguishes. It seems like I could imagine a possible world with a beaker full of water but its molecules are made of XYZ.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Thu 8 Apr, 2010 09:13 am
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper;149584 wrote:
I can think of two objections.

1. If Nixon can have different properties in different worlds, being a president, being a janitor, etc, why can't water have different properties? Why call non-H2O water Fool's Water but not call non-presidential Nixon Fool's Nixon. In both cases something extremely central to our concepts is missing.

2. There is a lot more to the reason why we call pyrite Fool's Gold than its molecular composition. If pyrite had all the same physical properties as gold; ductile, malleable, conductive, etc, then I don't think it would be such a big difference.

So, it seems like I can imagine a possible world where Nixon isn't president and water isn't H2O. It seems like I could imagine a possible world with a beaker full of H2O but when apply a flame, it explodes instead of extinguishes. It seems like I could imagine a possible world with a beaker full of water but its molecules are made of XYZ.


Sure, you can imagine it. But that doesn't mean it is metaphysically possible. It means it is epistemically possible. For all I know, someone can imagine a five-sided triangle. Who knows what people are able to imagine. But that doesn't mean that five-sided triangles are logically possible. Imagination is a subjective matter.
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