Reading Kripke's Naming and Necessity Lectures

Zarrar Shehzad · November 6, 2021

I read through the second lecture of Kripke’s Naming and Necessity. I’m still not sure I totally get it but some ideas were interesting.

One point was how the description that we assign to a name isn’t necessarily unique and there can be circularity involved. For instance, for someone, Einstein is described as a famous physicist. This might be all they know. Since there are many famous physicists, this description isn’t unique to Einstein. Or someone else might describe Einstein as the person who came up with the theory of relativity. But then you ask about the theory of relativity and they might say that’s Einstein’s theory. The description for Einstein in this case is circular and isn’t independent of the reference.

Another point he made is that often we don’t experience a name with it’s description by ourselves. Instead there’s some chain of communication that occurs to convey that knowledge. Kripke then distinguished between the initial creation of the name as this baptismal event. That’s an interesting thought that a concept + its name might first come into being at a particular moment, and anything afterwards is communication of this concept + name. I say concept here but most of Kripke’s examples relate to proper names and to real physical people.

In my discussion with a colleague on this, we noted that Kripke’s discussion didn’t entail mental representations as they are common in psychology or neuroscience. So for instance, I might describe Einstein as a famous physicist and also describe Feynman as a famous physicist. You might say that if this is the only information a person has then Einstein and Feynman are referring to the same person or could be confused for the same person. However, when a person associates this description “famous physicist” with a name, then there will be other information stored with that association at the same time. For instance, when in time and the context at the time that you learned that information (e.g., morning/evening, outside/inside, cold/warm). You also might store aspects like the state of your body or mind at the time (e.g., feeling hungry/full, heart rate slowed/racing, calm/excited). All these seemingly unrelated factors would render the mental representation of any name with the same description (famous physicist) to be different.

There’s another more trivial point that by having a different name, you likely just assume that the person is different. If you’ve never heard that name before, then you might try to retrieve other similar names and try to generalize your knowledge from other domains to this one. For instance, a name may sound ‘competent’ or sound ‘sophisticated’. Since each piece of information that is being stored for a name + its descriptions is not isolated but embedded in a much larger schema, it will something.

Another interesting point brought up by a colleague was what about learning about a name before you know the name for it. This made me think about how you might do like a body scan (e.g., during meditation) and learn information about the body. But then at some point, you start to name the particular states creating distinct categories. How might the knowledge you learned before impact assigning the name? Is the learning pre-categorization useful and special? What does assigning a name to a particular state do to subsequent learning?

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