How does an austere treatment of the sense of names differ from that provided by one guided by a rich conception of sense?

In this essay I am going to analyse in depth both accounts of the sense of names using all the relevant contrasts drawn by McDowell in his paper ‘on the Sense and Reference of a Proper Name’.

‘Richness as opposed to austerity, is the shape which immodesty takes in the case of names’, according to McDowell. So, to understand the contrast between richness and austerity, we also need to consider the contrast between immodesty and modesty, respectively.

According to Mc Dowell, Dummett’s exposition of the notion of modesty is the notion of a theory which is not intelligibile if you don’t already understand the expressions it deals with, and it does not say what would suffice for understanding the language nor what this ability consists in.

Therefore, it seems that the notion of modesty is somehow connected to the concept of implicitness.The notion of implicitness, opposed to the one of explicitness, is mainly used to explain the concept of ‘psychologism’ and is therefore connected more with the inner realm of the speakers than with the things themselves.

The contrast between speakers and things as well as the one between knowledge of truth and knowledge of things reaffirms the contrast between the inner world –of the speakers in this case- and the outer world- of the things. This is the most important difference in order to understand all the contrasts that McDowell examines and, ultimately, the difference between the austere treatment and the rich one.

The key point is that the austere treatment considers the referent of the name sufficient to understand the sense of a sentence in which the name is contained; while the rich conception takes into account the sense as well, according to Frege’s distinction between sense and reference.

For Frege the reference is, in the case of names, the bearer of that name, while the sense is the ‘mode of presentation’ i.e. the way in which the hearer grasps the intended object. So, even in the case of the contrast between reference and sense, what matters is the perspective: things and communicators, respectively.

The contrast between connotation and denotation, in my opinion, is the most useful one in order to understand the difference between sense and reference, respectively. Indeed, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, connotation is ‘the abstract meaning or intension of a term which forms a principle determining which objects or concepts it applies to’ while denotation is ‘the object or concept to which a term refers, or the set of objects of which a predicate is true’.

To be more precise, denotation corresponds to the referent, which is a slightly different thing from ‘reference’; while the referent is the object picked out in the world, the reference is the way of picking out that object. Reference can be considered a ‘mode of presentation’ and therefore associated to the concept of sense.

The fact that the distinction between sense and (Fregean) reference is the same as the one between (non- Fregean) reference and referent can show that ‘crediting names with senses is not necessarily crediting them with anything like connotation or descriptive meaning’.

Indeed the main difference between ‘reference’ and ‘connotation’ (or ‘descriptive meaning’) is the fact that while the word ‘reference’ necessarily implies a referent in the world, the words ‘connotation’ or ‘descriptive meaning’ don’t.

Frege introduces the difference between sense and reference to attribute a meaning even to bearerless names. Indeed, ‘a name without a bearer could, in Frege’s view, have a sense in exactly the same way as a name with a bearer’.

However, the ‘reasonableness’ is what guides the interpreter in ascribing beliefs to the subject in order to make sense of the subject’s behaviour. Therefore, a person using a berarerless name would undermine this principle.

On the other hand, on behalf of Frege, a bearerless name is a name, which has only an intrinsic characterization and not an extrinsic one. The referent is the extrinsic characterization of the name in the actual/external world of things while the intrinsic characterization is the sense of the name in the inner world of the speakers. According to Frege, in order to express a thought it is not necessary for that thought to have an extrinsic characterization.

However, following Frege’s account there is the risk of falling in the psychologism, which takes the speaker’s mind as the protagonist., unlike behaviourism, which takes the speaker’s behaviour as the protagonist. Actually, McDowell says that there is Frege’s anti-psychologism (…) which gives the mind a place in reality and is an intermediate between the two.

On the other hand, Frege’s account does not satisfy our purpose of constructing an exhaustive theory of names because its richness and immodesty make it a ‘hidden psychologism’, which is ‘pseudo-scientific’ and therefore not valid.

Moreover, another famous account of names is the causal theory, in which deduction moves from axioms, which assign semantic properties to sentence-constituents, to theorems, which assign truth-conditions to sentences. This shows that truth and meaning are interconnected.

The problem with this account is that from the particular causal relations between the speaker, the name and the bearer it is not possible to construct a general relational formula true of every name and its bearer.

In conclusion, I agree with Saul Kripke’s suspicion that ‘any substantial theory of names is most likely to be wrong’ since the main risk of the austere treatment of the sense of names is to be reductive in focusing only on the reference, while the main risk of the rich conception is to pose too much attention on the speaker’s mind and therefore fall into psychologism.

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