Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Onto-Epistemological Foundations of the Theory of Reference of Proper Names

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Onto-Epistemological Foundations of the Theory of Reference of Proper Names

Article excerpt


In the philosophy of language the dispute over the reference of proper names has not been abating yet. In the twentieth century the most well-known theories of reference are Frege and Russell variants of the descriptive theory and the causal historical theory advanced by Kripke. This article attempts to make a critical review of these theories in the context of D. Kaplan theory of indexicals. Also, we will analyze these theories in the context of contemporary metaphysics, in particular realism and anti-realism. To achieve these goals, we will rely on the methodology of analytic philosophy.


This theory goes back to G. Frege's and B. Russell's ideas. Its essence is reduced to the fact that the names are some concise definitions, descriptions that determine the object of naming. So, Frege believed that the proper names to be determined by the meaning of the sentence containing a name (Frege G., 2008, p.38). For example, if we compare the following sentences

Hillary Clinton is the US presidential candidate (1)

Hillary Clinton is the wife of the former US President (2),

It stands to reason, that depending on the meaning of a sentence (1) or (2) we will proceed from the fact whether the meaning of all the other sentences in which we meet the name "Hillary Clinton" is defined.

According to Frege, the name is associated not only with the subject which it designates but also with the meaning expressed in use of the name. This special meaning emphasis allows us to introduce the distinction of what the signified is given in the language. It is a matter of principle in cases when the same subject has two different names. If a and b are the names of a subject, it is clear that the equality a = b is different from trivial identity a = a. For example, the phrase "Jack London - John Cheyne" is not identical from the cognitive point of view with simply "Jack London - Jack London". Knowing of Jack London's real name to be John Chaney is the knowledge not of a real person but of the names by which he is represented, that is, the knowledge of the different senses of the used signs.

In turn, Russell's theory of descriptions argues that any propositional sentence is a vague description, which can be expressed in the following form

Some A is B (3)


[there exist]x (4x[and]Bx) (4)

This approach allows Russell to solve the problem of reference to the non-existent objects (Russell, B., 1957, p. 108).

Thus, from the standpoint of the descriptive theory of proper names, proper names are not dependent in their use on referents as they represent the semantic meaning of a definite description. It is not difficult to note that, based on such position, it becomes very problematic to explain the way the name refers to the same subject, in particular, if we assume the possibility of changing descriptions. It is this difficulty of descriptivism that Saul Kripke focuses on.


According to Kripke's argumentation, changing the meaning of the descriptive definition would not in any way affect references of the name to the denoting objects. If it would suddenly be revealed that William Shakespeare was not the author of "Hamlet", it would not change the fact that, saying "Shakespeare", we mean exactly Shakespeare, but not any other playwright, who was the real author of "Hamlet".

Kripke explains it by the fact that proper names are directly linked to the referent. In other words, the name is associated with the subject of relation of the direct reference. Therefore, Kripke defines proper names as rigid designators. It means that the names "designate the same object in all possible worlds" (Kripke, Saul, 1980, p. 48). It is clear that the term "possible worlds" refers to the worlds in which descriptive definition of the object is different from its description in the actual world. …

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