Chapter

Essentialism about Meaning: Empty Names

Howard Wettstein

in The Magic Prism

Published in print April 2004 | ISBN: 9780195160529
Published online January 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780199835072 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/0195160525.003.0008
 Essentialism about Meaning: Empty Names

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A possible undesirable consequence of the direct reference theory is that its truth would imply empty names, e.g. Zeus, Santa Claus, lack significance. An advantage of Frege’s theory is that it makes good sense of the fact that we ordinarily treat empty names as significant, and perfectly able to function in discourse. It is argued that the direct reference theorist need not resort to denying that empty names have semantic significance, or to maintaining that propositions with empty names as constituents are intact – say something – but have gaps in the subject position. Essentialism about meaning declares that it is an essential condition for being a proper name of a language that it has a bearer; Wettstein proposes to drop this requirement in favor of a paradigm-centered approach in order to dissolve the problem about empty names. The advantages of this approach with regard to fictional names and negative existentials are discussed.

Keywords: empty names; Essentialism; fictional names; negative existentials; paradigm-centered approach; semantic significance

Chapter.  7430 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

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