Seminario del Grupo de Estudios Peirceanos
Universidad de Navarra, 23 de febrero del 2006


Giovanni Maddalena

The topic of proper names is very important to understand reference, namely the relationship between names and objects. It is the easiest way to start exploring the more general relationship between words and world or reality.

The two main reference theories of the twentieth century are the "descriptivist theory" of the so-called dominant paradigm and the theory of direct reference proposed by the American philosopher Saul Kripke. Since many authors attempted to develop this view in a realistic sense, the theory has been called "causalist theory". According to the descriptivists, proper names, like every other kind of names, have both a sense and a meaning, while for Kripke proper names and certain common names (at least those of natural species) have only meaning. According to the first model briefly summed up, proper names can be understood as short-cuts for one or more descriptions clustered together. In other terms, the meaning of a proper name is reachable through its sense, the denotation through the connotation. According to the second theory, proper names are "rigid designators": they merely denote. They are labels put on objects through an operation Kripke calls "baptism"; from that point on, objects retain that label whatever sense they assume during their history.

Peirce never wrote a paper or conceived a definite theory on this topic but his writings clearly show the importance he attached to the problem. The literature about Peirce and proper names, though not abundant, is significant. Different authors have tried to understand Peirce's thought by comparing it to the two main theories just referred to. Both of these theories appear to apply to some extent to Peirce's few notes on this topic. Among this literature I will just mention two papers that defend opposite interpretations: "C.S. Peirce’s Theory of Proper Names" by J. R. Di Leo in Studies in the Logic of Charles S. Peirce, and "Peirce on Names and Reference" by D. Boersema in Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, vol. XXXVIII, 3 (2002), pp. 351-362. The difference between these two thorough approaches to Peirce's view is relevant. Di Leo stresses Peirce's definition of proper name as an index and tries to show the perfect harmony between Peirce's and Kripke's theories. Proper names do not have any "sense", denote without connoting, and they follow a chain of causal transmission that starts with a "baptism". Boersema, on the other hand, maintains that Peirce's theory cannot support Kripke's approach because of its triadic concept of sign in which both object and interpretant play integral parts in the ongoing process of semiosis. If the object lies within the sign there is no room for "semantic proof", namely for the difference between the reality of the object and the "sense" included in our knowledge that is so important to Kripke's strategy. Besides, if we need an interpretant in order to identify the object of our reference, object and interpretant must stay within a sphere of sense through which we recognize the name as a sign.

Both analyses show a kind of reasonableness that deserves further inquiry. Accordingly, this paper tries to frame a new analysis of Peirce's statements on proper names and to see which interpretation is more faithful to the textual evidence. We will see that we must understand Peirce's view in all its semiotic depth and that if the descriptivist and causalist approaches have any validity, it is due to their semiotic foundation. The paper ends by proposing both a reference theory based on Peirce's suggestions and a way to justify this different view.

I. Peirce on Proper Names

According to Peirce, the overwhelming majority of languages comprise only class names and proper names.

A Term is simply a class-name or proper-name. I do not regard the common noun as an essentially necessary part of speech. Indeed, it is only fully developed as a separate part of speech in the Aryan languages and in the Basque -possibly in some other out of the way tongues (CP 8. 337).

But class names have always verbs, at least the copula, wrapped up in them.

The present author leaves the is as an inseparable part of the class-name; because this gives the simplest and most satisfactory account of the proposition. It happens to be true that in the overwhelming majority of languages there are no general class-names and adjectives that are not conceived as parts of some verb (even when there really is no such verb) and consequently nothing like a copula is required in forming sentences in such languages (EP 2:285).

This implies that, notwithstanding the desire of logicians, knowledge does not need to be founded on common nouns. Language and reality can be understood by using only the absolute determination typical of proper names and the generality expressed by the implication of verbs in class-terms.

This binary linguistic condition is well expressed in this passage by Peirce:

Every language must have proper names; and there is no verb wrapped up in a proper name. Therefore, there would seem to be a direct suggestion there of a true common noun or adjective. But, notwithstanding that suggestion, almost every family of man thinks of general words as parts of verbs (EP 2:285).

Proper names, on this view, are the only way to identify an individual to which we want to refer. Moreover, proper names are the only linguistic means we can use to identify an individual within a general class. This particular fact will become even more important when Peirce realizes that the nature of the relationship between individual and generality is the essential question to investigate for a true understanding of continuity, the crucial nexus of his whole philosophy (Maddalena 2004). Peirce explains that proper names fulfill the same function as the letters (or "selectives") that he uses to simplify his existential graphs.

In such a case, and indeed in any case in which the lines of identity become too intricate to be perspicuous, it is advantageous to replace some of them by signs of a sort that in this system are called selectives. A selective is very much of the same nature as a proper name; for it denotes an individual and its outermost occurrence denotes a wholly indesignate individual of a certain category (generally a thing) existing in the universe, just as a proper name, on the first occasion of hearing it, conveys no more (CP 4.460).

Starting with this function of individuation within a generality, I will develop in this section two semiotic features of proper names: (1) proper names are words to some extent and as such they share a certain form of generality; (2) their function is to identify an object: in semiotic terms, they are indices.

(1) Peirce uses "the George Washington example" to explain what he means by the generality of proper names.

What do you make to be the meaning of "George Washington"? […] it must be admitted that pragmaticism fails to furnish any translation or meaning of a proper name, or other designation of an individual object.
[…] you will perceive that the pragmaticist grants that a proper name (although it is not customary to say that it has a meaning) has a certain denotative function peculiar, in each case, to that name and its equivalents; and that he grants that every assertion contains such a denotative or pointing-out function. […] Whatever exists, ex-sists, that is, really acts upon existents, so obtains a self-identity, and is definitely individual. As to the general, it will be a help to thought to notice that there are two ways of being general. A statue of a soldier on some village monument, in his overcoat and with his musket, is for each of a hundred families the image of its uncle, its sacrifice to the union. That statue, then, though it is itself single, represents any one man of whom a certain predicate may be true. It is objectively general. The word "soldier", whether spoken or written, is general in the same way; while the name "George Washington" is not so. But each of these two terms remains one and the same noun, whether it be spoken or written, and whenever and wherever it be spoken or written. This noun is not an existent thing: it is a type, or form, to which objects, both those that are externally existent and those which are imagined, may conform, but which none of them can exactly be. This is subjective generality (EP 2:341-342).

It follows that proper names are subjectively general signs. This subjectivity forbis them to be entirely substituted by definite descriptions. A definite description – i.e. "to die for the cause of the union" –can substitute for the common image of the statue and hence for the common noun "soldier" represented by the statue. "Objective generality" consists in this peculiar feature. But the same cannot be said of a proper name. The proper name can only boast the subjective generality that belongs to every name: it can never coincide with the individual referent. But the proper name does not have any kind of objective generality, namely there is no definite description nor number of individuals nor predicate that can substitute for or satisfy the sense of the name. However, it retains a certain "denotative or pointing-out function".

How can we define more precisely this kind of generality capable to point an individual? In his letter to Lady Welby of 12 October 1904, Peirce classifies proper names as Rhematic Indexical Legisigns (CP 8.341). The three terms express the classification of signs according to the relationship the sign has with itself, with the dynamical object and with the interpretant.

From the standpoint of the sign's relation to its interpretant, Peirce's reconstruction considers a proper name a "rheme". Peirce defines a "rheme" as "any sign that is not true nor false" (CP 8.337). The interpretant reads the rhematical sign "as if it were a character or mark (or as being so)" (CP 8.337). In the "if it were" lies the specificity of any rheme, and thus it applies to proper names as well. Proper names bring a mark that we can interpret. Peirce says that "the Interpretant of a Rhematic Indexical Legisign represents it as an Iconic Legisign". This mark is not a predicate that a certain amount of objects, finite or numerically infinite, can saturate; it is a kind of reference that is neither individual nor general in the sense of a law. Rhemes are fragmentary signs that must be embedded in "completer signs" (propositions or arguments); they express a possibility that may become actual or general. In Peirce's words, they are "a sign of essence" (EP 2:294).

Before examining the indexical dimension of proper names, let us turn to the "legisignic" one. By classifying proper names as legisigns, Peirce is claiming that what makes them signs as such, or allows them to operate qua signs, is their own generality or law-like character.

As it is in itself, a sign is either of the nature of an appearance, when I call it a qualisign; or, secondly, it is an individual object or event, when I call it a sinsign […]; or thirdly, it is of the nature of a general type, when I call it a legisign (CP 8.334).

In the case of legisigns, generality is internal to the sign and does not depend upon, or is not received from, its interpretant. As generals, proper names cannot be pure sinsigns (something that is a sign by virtue of its singularity) but at the most the special kind of sinsigns that are actual replicas of legisigns. But what is the difference between legisign and qualisign? As Peirce explains,

The difference between a legisign and a qualisign, neither of which is an individual thing, is that a legisign has a definite identity, though usually admitting a great variety of appearances (CP 8.334).

To be a legisign allows the proper name to conserve its identity in different occurrences, and in this sense every proper name shares an aspect of law like governing power.

So far, then, generality seems to prevail, but things change when we consider that proper names serve to indicate a single object or event. In the relationship with its object, the proper name is definitely an index. Once again, as it is the case with continuity and with reasoning, Peirce in his later years focuses his research on the problem of knowing the general through or in the individual.

(2) What does it mean to say that proper names are indices?

The triad Icon, Index, Symbol classifies the three types of connection between object and representamen. Icons represent an object by similarity and Symbols represent their objects "independently alike of any resemblance or real connection, because dispositions or factitious habits of their interpreters insure their being so understood" (EP 2:461). Indices, on which we are focusing our attention, represent a comparison, a real connection, a clash, that we can associate with what happens in acts of volition or, more generally, of existence. Index has a force but neither sense nor character (CP 3.434).

An Index, or Seme (σημα), is a Representamen whose Representative character consists in its being an individual Second. If the Secondness is an existential relation, the Index is genuine. If the Secondness is a reference, the Index is degenerate. […] Examples of Indices are the hand of a clock, and the veering of a weathercock. Subindices or hyposemes are signs which are rendered such principally by an actual connection with their objects. Thus, a proper name, [a] personal, demonstrative, or relative pronoun, or a letter attached to a diagram, denotes what it does owing to a real connection with its object, but none of these is an Index, since it is not an individual (EP 2:274).

As for their relationship to the object, proper names semiotically speaking are indices. Peirce's metaphysical studies confirm this view: when he talks about relationships among existent individuals he maintains that we must consider an individual as an undetachable ultimate unity (as Duns Scotus’ haecceitas) that we can call by a proper name.

[…] every correlate of an existential relation is a single object which may be indefinite, or may be distributed; that is, may be chosen from a class by the interpreter of the assertion of which the relation or relationship is the predicate, or may be designated by a proper name, but in itself, though in some guise or under some mask, it can always be perceived, yet never can it be unmistakably identified by any sign whatever, without collateral observation. Far less can it be defined. It is existent, in that its being does not consist in any qualities, but in its effects – in its actually acting and being acted on, so long as this action and suffering endures. Those who experience its effects perceive and know it in that action; and just that constitutes its very being. It is not in perceiving its qualities that they know it, but in hefting its insistency then and there, which Duns called its haecceitas […] (CP 6.318)

Keeping in mind the general (but subjective) character capable of identifying an individual and the indexical one, even though a name can never be an individual, Peirce's conclusion is that a proper name is a conventional index "which denotes a single individual well known to exist by the utterer and interpreter" (EP 2:307). "Well known" refers both to the "collateral knowledge" — acquired by observation — that utterer and interpreter must share the first time they use a proper name in conversation, and to the non-collateral knowledge that refers to one's competence with using a general system of signs.

All that part of the understanding of the Sign which the Interpreting Mind has needed collateral observation for is outside the Interpretant. I do not mean by "collateral observation" acquaintance with the system of signs. What is so gathered is not COLLATERAL. It is on the contrary the prerequisite for getting any idea signified by the Sign. But by collateral observation, I mean previous acquaintance with what the Sign denotes (EP 2:494).

Proper names involve a peculiar mixture of generality and individuality that needs further exploration.

Peirce himself tried to refine his theory of indexicality in order to explain the entanglement between generality and singularity in proper names. In an article written in 1903, he wrote:

A proper name, when one meets with it for the first time, is existentially connected with some percept or other equivalent individual knowledge of the individual it names. It is then, and then only, a genuine Index. The next time one meets with it, one regards it as an Icon of that Index. The habitual acquaintance with it having been acquired, it becomes a Symbol whose Interpretant represents it as an Icon of an Index of the Individual named (EP 2:286).

To understand how a proper name can be a genuine Index the first time we meet with it and a degenerate one or an Icon of an Index the second time, we need to look at two more quotations from the same year of 1903:

It is desirable that you should understand clearly the distinction between the Genuine and the Degenerate Index. The Genuine Index represents the duality between the representamen and its object. As a whole it stands for the object; but a part or element of it represents [it] as being the Representamen, by being an Icon or analogue of the object in some way; and by virtue of that duality, it conveys information about the object. The simplest example of a genuine index would be, say, a telescopic image of a double star. This is not an icon simply, because an icon is a representamen which represents its object solely by virtue of its similarity to it, as a drawing of a triangle represents a mathematical triangle. But the mere appearance of the telescopic image of a double star does not proclaim itself to be similar to the star itself. It is because we have set the circles of the equatorial so that the field must by physical compulsion contain the image of that star that it represents that star, and by that means we know that the image must be an icon of the star, and information is conveyed. Such is the genuine or informational index (EP 2:171-172).

A genuine Index and its Object must be existent individuals (whether things or facts), and its immediate Interpretant must be of the same character. But since every individual must have characters, it follows that a genuine Index may contain a Firstness, and so an Icon, as a constituent part of it. Any individual is a degenerate Index of its own characters (EP 2:274).

The first time we meet with it, a proper name is an Index that contains an Icon so that it is capable of conveying information. Afterward it becomes degenerate because it merely conveys reference without any information. But since it is similar to the first one, it is an Icon of an Index.

A Degenerate Index is a representamen which represents a single object because it is factually connected with it, but which conveys no information whatever. Such for example, are the letters attached to a geometrical or other diagram. A proper name is substantially the same thing; for although in this case the connection of the sign with its object happens to be a purely mental association, yet that circumstance is of no importance in the functioning of the representamen. […] A degenerate index may be called a Monstrative Index, in contradistinction to an Informational or Genuine Index (EP 2:172).

To conclude this analysis we can say that the function of a proper name, as an index that contains an icon, thus as a genuine index existentially connected with the object that it represents, is operative only in its first occurrence when it conveys new information. The second time only the reference remains. Moreover, from the third time on, a symbolic habit sets in.

Now, which of the two most popular theories of reference can we associate Peirce's view of proper names with? Subjective generality and indexical character of the representamen "proper name" bring his theory on the tracks of direct reference theory. As a matter of fact, there is always a difference between a proper name and a definite description, and the proper name itself expresses a rigid connection that, once set, changes itself first into an icon of index and then in a symbol interpreted as an icon of an index. That symbol then may be used without the real or existential presence of the object itself.

[…] meaning is the association of a word with images, its dream exciting power. An index has nothing to do with meanings; it has to bring the hearer to share the experience of the speaker by showing what he is talking about (CP 4.56).

Di Leo appears to be right when he says that there are "affinities between Peirce's and Kripke's views" (Di Leo 1997: 593).

However, Boersema's impression that Peirce sometimes intends a name to signify certain characters remains. Indeed the definition of a genuine Index as Informative makes one think about such a possible sense. Intuitively, Semitic or native American proper names, or, more generally, the etymology of proper names, suggest that the claim that proper names have meaning is sensible. The problem is that, according to Peirce's theory, we cannot use a descriptivist approach because subjective generality and indexicality exclude it. Although we cannot say that there is a definite description wrapped up in a proper name, we do need to explain how its representative power makes us recognize it as a proper name and often leads us to identify correctly the object to which it refers. Since we cannot make use of the generality of the interpretant because it is subjective and we cannot substitute a definite description for it, we must focus our research on the role played by iconicity inside the genuine index. Peirce himself seems to have followed this path or at least to have broached these questions in a manuscript of 1905:

Yet it does not follow and could only very rarely be true that the name signifies certain defining marks, so as to be applicable to anything that should possess those marks, and to nothing else. For not to speak of the fact that the interpreter only uses the marks as aids in guessing at his acquaintance’s identity, and may possibly be mistaken, however extraordinary they may be, there will be no one definite set of marks which the name signifies rather than another set of equally conclusive marks. If there were any mark which a proper name could be said essentially to signify, it would be the continuity of the history of its object (MS 283:317-318)

Peirce's conclusion appears therefore to be really close to Kripke's, but it leaves open a perspective that I would like to follow. If there was an essential mark in the object, it would be found in the history of the object. Now, taking it for granted that the name is an index, which expresses a direct reference, we can find whether there are marks of its latent meaning or sense. This investigation should explain why we recognize the identity of an object. In Peircean terms: can we provide a satisfactory account of the iconic aspect implied in the genuine index, namely in a proper name at its first occurrence?

I suggest that we can, if there are proper names that make us see their origin. Once we find them, we will verify whether such proper names carry with them the essential marks of the history of their object.

II. Nickname Theory

Nicknames are the kind of proper names we are looking for because they allow us to see the prehistory of the name, and this suggests a different "image" of the "baptism" proposed by Kripke.

First, I would like to stress the asymmetry existing between nicknames and proper names from an epistemological point of view.

Let us consider a statement likely to have been pronounced in Rome in 1605 on the occasion of introducing a certain person: "This is Michelangelo Merisi, called Caravaggio". There is no doubt that the reference works. Both "Michelangelo Merisi" and "Caravaggio" are rigid designators. A hearer with some level of linguistic (or geographical) competence, however, could conceivably ask "why" because to such a person the statement could sound like "This is Mont Blanc", or, rather,"xy is z" where "xy" and "z" are different individuals possibly belonging to different species.

Of nicknames, as in this case, we can often ask "why"? because to a person with linguistic competence they show a heterogeneity of references. To establish the identity of the two terms, an explanation then becomes necessary. A proper name, on the other hand, does not create the same ambiguity and does not call for explanation, except in the case when it is used as a nickname.

Are we facing here the very same problem encountered in the classical statement "Hesperus is Phosphorus"? I think so. But this case makes it fully clear why "Hesperus is Phosphorus" does not imply the existence of a "sense" through which the reference gets set. It is only empirically that we can find out that "Michelangelo Merisi is Caravaggio". It does not on its own express unambiguously two equivalent ways of referring to the same object – a confusion that "Hesperus is Phosphorus" avoids because here we have two different referents that are said to point to the same object. How, then is the identification taking place? What are the elements upon which we can base our knowledge of meaning or reference? Kripke says that there are "contingent marks by which we identify a certain planet and give it a name" (Kripke 1980: 105). The two referents establish an identity by providing an explanation that, instead of focusing on the object's qualities (such as are not a priori wrapped up in the sense of the proper name itself) or the circumstances of its naming, looks rather at historical relationships between particulars or individuals. From the interpreter’s point of view, these properties assume an iconic appearance, which is recognizable in our knowledge.

It is worth noticing at this point that for those who do not have the adequate linguistic competence the nickname "Caravaggio" works exactly as any other proper name without requiring any explication. In other words, nicknames are also proper names to the extent that without linguistic competence their peculiarity cannot be acknowledged.

Let us go back to the "characteristic marks" that the interpreter recognizes or rather to the properties of the object they come from. Kripke came to call them the "essential properties", and made the metaphysical claim that we use them in order to refer to an object "in every possible world". Kripke's example is the following: Richard Nixon remains Richard Nixon even in the possible world where he does not win the 1968 presidential elections. The object of the reference remains the same. What are the "essential properties" we cannot change if we do not want to change the reference itself? Here Kripke and his epigones took different paths, taking sometimes hyper-realistic attitudes not easily defendable (Devitt 1987). In "Naming and Necessity" essential properties seem to coincide with the Aristotelian synolos but there is no compelling reason to prefer this thesis over some other one.

Nicknames show that the object of reference has essential properties that coincide both with certain properties belonging to the historical evolution of the object and with what we have acknowledged and known about it. Such properties don't refer to "qualities" implied in the sense of a name, but to "criteria of identity of particulars in terms of other particulars, not qualities" (Kripke 1980: 52). To be born in Caravaggio is an accidental and particular property. However, at a certain point in history, someone selected that property as essential and decisive for identifying the painter-object that we call "Caravaggio". What is at stake here is a quality or a property – understood in relationship to other particular qualities or properties or objects – that some historical "baptist" found, erroneously or not, to be essential at a certain historical moment. In point of fact, "Caravaggio" was not born in Caravaggio but in Milan. The possibility of error does not work against the possibility of exploiting the fact that there are historical relationships that make some properties essential. These historical relationships are also the only way we have to identify an object in a different possible world that we stipulate. When we do that, we assume a world with all these historical relationships in the same place, except those we want to modify. These historical relationships are also the only characters we may use to recognizably identify an object in a different possible world that we stipulate. All we need to do is to assume a world in which all these historical relationships still hold except for the few that we modify. For example, we may stipulate a world in which all the conditions found in 1605 remain the same, except that we introduce a person nicknamed "Caravaggio" who is not a painter. Larger-scale modifications would turn the conditional situation we want to explore into utter nonsense (we could envision a situation in which "Caravaggio" is a pig in an Orwellian tale set in 1756; but then all the world would be "a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing"[Macbeth, act V, scene V]).

It is the act of stipulation itself that requires this acceptance of our actual world up to the point or up to the property we want to change in order to develop a given reasoning. To stipulate the world in which Richard Nixon loses the 1968 presidential elections, we need to take for granted all the other properties that bring him up to that precise moment. If he had had a broken nose through boxing, had not been married, had been a democrat, and had always lived in Indianapolis, would he have still been Richard Nixon? May be so —and this is Kripke's answer— but not the one in the possible world that stipulates that Richard Nixon does not win the presidential elections of 1968. In this sense I think Kripke is wrong to claim that these essential "properties of an object in another possible world, for such an identification is not needed. Nor need the essential properties of an object be the properties used to identify it in the actual world, if indeed it is identified in the actual world by means of properties" (Kripke 1980: 53). Precisely because we need to start from objects and not from worlds, such objects need to be defined by certain historical relationships that make them such as we want them to be up to the moment (or to the moments or to the properties) that we decide to modify.

If our representation of these essential or historical properties, as also suggested by Peirce's analysis, is correct, then we need to change the image of "baptism". Nickname creation supposes a "baptist" who underlines some historical marks that belong or should belong to the object. Therefore, the meaning is neither reached through the sense nor rooted in an isolated object: it is rooted in the meeting between essential or historical properties and the baptist’s ability to recognize them. Nicknaming as a kind of "baptism" stems from recognizing as icons the historical properties belonging to the object itself. This done, the rest of the causal chain that Kripke describes remains functionally valid.

I think that this conclusion is independent from both descriptivist and causalist frameworks. Here we obtain meaning without identifying reference through sense, while also avoiding identifying the object with an implausible and unrecognizable existence completely detached from experience. Iconic marks belong to the object and its history but their acknowledgment depends on human understanding.

IV. Suggestions

Two suggestions arise from what we have seen, one metaphysical and one historiographical.

The metaphysical one deals with the a posteriori necessity Kripke insists on. Our nickname theory wholly supports that kind of necessity. The "historical connotation" we give to the essential properties makes it necessary to look at accidental particulars. One problem is that there is a gap between the essentiality of particulars when we recognize and use them in the baptism and their necessity. This distinction between "essential" and "necessary" requires further study.

The second suggestion stems from the fact that our nickname theory is supported by Peirce's analysis of the genuine index and its involved icons. This shows that in the debate on reference Peirce helps solve the prejudice common to both descriptivists and causalists that every kind of representation is subjective and that, therefore, knowledge can work in an objective way only if it talks about facts or signs that objectively "stand for" facts. In this sense, Frege's example of a telescope remains the common root of both theories (Frege 1980: 60).

However, if we consider representation as a possible object of study, namely, if we look at representation as potentially objective knowledge, we can better understand what is going on in the debate between descriptivists and causalists and justify our nickname theory.

Descriptivists use only one kind of sign: symbols. Symbols represent facts without any real connection either of similarity or of existential compulsion. It is because symbols imply no genetic relationship with their objects that they can be devised and formalized. This explains why many descriptivists are always longing for a perfectly formalized language.

Kripke's critique of descriptivism uses another kind of signs: indices. It is through indices that he appeals to the physical and direct relationship between object and name (proper name in our case) and that he stresses the importance of the singularity of reference. Kripke’s strength is that he achieves this result by appealing to a semantical and epistemological reasoning that is perfectly understandable from a symbolic point of view. His weakness lies in not realizing that he is using a different kind of signs and that there are even more kinds that can help solve the problems of identification his theory poses.

Using Peirce's analyses we have tried to show that there is a kind of sign that we often use unconsciously and that represents the connection between proper names and "essential relationships" (Peirce) or "essential properties" (Kripke) of an object. In Peirce's terms, that kind of sign is an icon. Its advantage is that it neither fixes an objective representation in a positivistic sense nor does it allow for an arbitrary or conventionalist view of reference.

The semiotic analysis thus makes much sense, but it does not preclude the fact that the other two theories — the descriptivist and the causalist — each have validity within a certain field and that, though they are not fully viable alternatives, they are complementary within a multi-level semiotic view of reference whose basic level is iconic. In other words, the method of inquiry stems from the fact that there is an object "out there" endowed with essential properties, but it can work only because there is a semiotically intelligent subject.


Fecha del documento: 17 de febrero 2007
Ultima actualización: 17 de febrero 2007

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