Subjectivity and Kripke

This article has to do with certain claims Saul Kripke makes in “Naming and Necessity.” The latter is a transcript of a series of three lectures that logician Saul Kripke gave at Princeton in 1970. As Kripke acknowledges at the outset, the editing of the published manuscript is not very good, but he prefers to just let it be. It is considered by some to be an important event in analytic philosophy, and I am assuming that others think it is some sort of scandal.

Kripke begins his series of lectures by discussing the nature of proper names. A view that a proper name can be taken as the equivalent of a number of accidental qualities or descriptions is attributed to Frege-Russell and embodied in the “theory of descriptions.” Kripke argues against this view explicitly and at length, showing that descriptions, whether numerous or singular, cannot hold an equivalence relation to proper names. Descriptions or accidental qualities are used instead to “fix the reference” and not as an equivalence relation. An oft used example, “Aristotle was the teacher of Alexander the Great,” is employed. Aristotle could still have been Aristotle but have not taught Alexander the Great.

One of the interesting things Kripke does in the second lecture is to introduce a fictional term “schmidentical” to indicate the equivalence of something with itself as opposed to its descriptions, which could often turn out to be faulty. Instead, proper names are referred to as “rigid designators” of an object, and the characteristic of rigid designators is that they share an identity in possible worlds and the “actual” world.

The concept of a possible world is used repeatedly in Kripke’s argumentation to show where the theory of descriptions breaks down and the necessity of the concept of a “rigid designator.”

One of the highlights of the lecture is when Kripke extends his discussion to the use of a non-proper noun, and discusses the concept of a “meter.” He uses Wittgenstein to show the plausibility of his proposal, but we cannot get into this at this time.

In lecture two we see that just because there is no equivalence relation does not mean that the relation of necessity does not necessarily hold between a subject and a description. “A cat is an animal” would be an example of this type of description, which brings us towards an Aristotelian essentialist view. The argument is that if a particular cat were found not to be an animal, and instead say a demon or a robot, we would not say that “cats are not animals”, but that “Those are not cats.” I am assuming that Kripke would bite the bullet to say that, if we found out that no cats were animals, then we would have to say that “cats do not exist,” and we would be required to call them something else.

As Kripke performs his analysis, he also brings to bear the important discussion of the relationship between a priori knowledge and necessity. Not everything presumed to be a priori is actually so, but could be considered a posteriori in disguise. Kripke uses possible worlds to explore this as well. He uses Kant’s example of “gold is a yellow metal” as an example of this, arguing that if one were to find a “blue” gold, one would not say that “gold does not exist”, but something like “gold is not as we thought it was.”

Perhaps most interestingly, Kripke tries to extend the argument to indicate that certain claims that are made a posteriori can, in fact, hold a relation of necessity. This concept is explored in the third lecture. This ought to be considered the most controversial of the lectures because here Kripke attempts to lay the foundation for a robust scientific realism, arguing that certain a posteriori scientific descriptions are necessary. Examples such as “the atomic number of gold is 79” and “heat is molecular motion” are used. Kripke argues that these relations are necessary and hold for all possible worlds.

This is where I have to disagree with Kripke, and I would like to give a short, but roundabout argument against Kripke’s claim of necessity. Subjectivity does not merely impinge on our view of reality, but ultimately has to hold an equivalence relation in the sense that “my” view of the world must always ultimately be considered as coextensive with the world. This can be shown quite simply. Anything that happens in the world can be construed as occurring in a dream. But, in a dream state, gold would presumably not be gold, but dream gold. Paradoxically, in this dream state, dream gold could be found to have the atomic number of 79, but that would not mean that the relation was necessary, because presumably whatever holds for gold does not necessarily hold for dream gold. This becomes clearer when we consider the example “heat is molecular motion.” In a dream, heat could be found to be molecular motion, but that would not mean that heat was molecular motion, but that dream heat was molecular motion.