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Volume 46 • Number 3

July 2009



Socrates and "Socrates"

by Stefano Predelli

William Kneale famously noted that "it is obviously trifling to tell [a man] that Socrates was called Socrates" (Kneale 1962, p. 630). Leaving aside some debatable details in Kneale's example, it would indeed seem trivial to tell someone that, say,

(1) Socrates bears "Socrates."

The reason why this sort of communication strikes us as eminently uninformative has occasionally been treated as the symptom of a semantic phenomenon—more precisely, as evidence in favor of nominal descriptive approaches to the semantic behavior of proper names such as "Socrates." According to these approaches, it is obviously trifling to tell someone that Socrates bears "Socrates" because the descriptive condition of bearing "Socrates" is part of the meaning of "Socrates" in some semantically significant sense of "meaning." The aim of this essay is to present a novel counter-argument against nominal descriptivism, and to defend a nondescriptivist explanation of cases such as (1). In particular, it is argued that (i) nominal descriptivism is independently untenable, since it yields incorrect logical verdicts, and (ii) even disregarding its independent inadequacy, nominal descriptivism does not provide an analysis of the peculiar status of (1) preferable to the treatment proposed in what follows.

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ISSN: 2152-1123