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