Monday, September 04, 2006

Averroes and Jerrold J. Katz on Compositional Names

Averroes, commenting on Aristotle's "De Interpretatione," writes:

The noun is an utterance, which, by convention, signifies an idea without reference to time; yet if one of its parts were taken as uncombined, it would not signify any part of that idea, whether the uncombined noun were simple—like “Zayd” or “‘Amr”—or combined—like the “‘Abd al-Malik” which is a man’s name. That is because when “‘Abd” or “al-Malik” is removed from the combination “‘Abd al-Malik” which is a man’s name, neither one signifies any part of the idea they signify when taken together, as they do when in saying “‘abd al-malik” we man that he is a servant of the king; here, “servant” does signify one part of the idea signified by our saying “servant of the king,” and “the king” likewise signifies one part of the idea. The difference between simple and combined nouns—like “‘Abd Qais” and “Ba’albak”—is that a part of the simple noun, namely, one of the syllables which make up the noun, signifies nothing at all, neither essentially nor accidentally—like the “Z” of “Zayd.” Whereas, when a part of the combined noun is removed from the combination, it only accidentally means something—like when someone whose name is “‘Abd al-Malik” happens to be a servant of a king.

Whereas, Jerrold J. Katz, in his "The End of Millianism: Multiple Bearers, Improper Names, and Compositional Meaning," advances a distinction between what he calls proper and improper names.

Examples of the former are: "Dartmouth, Aristotle, Socrates, Moses, Gödel ...” Examples of the latter include: those containing a definite description, such as 'Jack the Ripper' and 'Attila the Hun' and those that do not, such as 'Superman' and 'Batman'. Improper names, for Katz, "contain meaningful syntactic constituents," while proper names do not. Furthermore, "The senses of improper names, unlike the senses of proper names, contain substantive properties in addition to the metalinguistic predicate "x is a bearer of 'N'". Substantive properties of an improper name "express necessary properties of its bearer" (158).

For example, Katz claims that 'Superman' "contains a substantive property like man with superhuman powers." To illustrate the difference between improper names which have additional substantive properties and proper names that do not, Katz gives the example of 'Goldman'. In this case, Katz says that there could be an improper version of 'Goldman' that would contain the substantive property of using gold symbolism in his superhero role whereas a bearer of the proper version of 'Goldman' need not have any special relation to gold and need not be a man.

Siding with Averroes, I think that this is an unnecessary and false bifurcation. Katz himself gives examples that show this distinction to be incorrect, although he nevertheless wishes to maintain it. For example he notes the possibility of "a cowardly Richard" who "commanded his subjects to call him 'Richard the Lion Hearted'" (158). In this example while Katz wants to maintain that 'Richard the Lion Hearted' is an improper name, it is not necessary that its bearer actually satisfy the relevant substantive property of being lion-hearted. This, however, seems patently contradictory given Katz's definition of improper name. Moreover, it is unclear what work the distinction is supposed to serve, except for the purpose of explaining how some names contain components that are individually meaningful.

Maintaining my own Millian intuitions, I do think that we must distinguish rather between the properties of a name (i.e. literal meaning, meaning of components) and properties of the bearer of a name. Furthermore, I see no necessary connection between any properties of a name and any properties of the bearer of a name. First, the properties of a name are irrelevant to the determination of that name’s reference. 'Goldman' refers to Goldman and ''Abd' Al-Malik' refers to 'Abd Al-Malik regardless of whether or not Goldman has any special relation to gold or Al-Malik is a servant of the king. Rather, this is a matter of Kripkean baptism. While one may be baptized with one name rather than another due to the correspondence between one’s own properties and those of some name, this need not be the case. It may or may not be the case that the bearer of a name that has properties also has those properties.


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