Fiction, Myth, and General Terms

Philosophy 516: Selected Topics in Philosophy of Language

Fall 2006


Instructor:                              David Braun

Time & Location:                  Wednesdays 2:00-4:40, Lattimore 531

Office, Phone, E-mail:            Lattimore 525, (585) 275-8107,

Office Hours:                          Mondays 2:00-4:00.


In 1903, René-Prosper Blondlot, a prominent French physicist, thought that he had discovered a new type of radiation that caused some filaments in his laboratory to glow. He attempted to name this radiation ‘N rays’. Blondlot, and many other scientists at that time, believed that there were N rays. But they were wrong: there never were any N rays. So it seems anyway. But if there never were any N rays, then what does ‘N ray’ mean? What were those who thought there were N rays thinking about? What are we saying when we utter ‘There are no N rays’ and ‘Some scientists thought that there were N rays’? Similar questions arise about certain terms from myth, such as ‘unicorn’ and ‘witch’, and certain terms from fiction, such as ‘hobbit’. We will begin this seminar with an investigation into the semantics of general terms, which are (roughly speaking) linguistic expressions that can be correctly applied to more than one object. Examples include the adjectives ‘red’ and ‘round’, the common nouns ‘tiger’ and ‘table’, and the verbs ‘run’ and ‘rant’. Saul Kripke argued that certain general terms for natural kinds do not have descriptive contents, but instead rigidly designate kinds. However, his semantic theory for general terms was relatively undeveloped. We will examine various theories of the semantic contents of general terms for both natural and non-natural kinds. We will also consider the consequences of Kripke’s arguments for seemingly empty general terms coming from fiction, myth, and false scientific theory, such as ‘unicorn’, ‘witch’, and ‘N ray’. This will lead us into the metaphysics of fiction and myth.


I will assume that students in this seminar have taken a course that is equivalent to our Philosophy 247/447 (Philosophy of Language). In particular, I will assume familiarity with Kripke’s Naming and Necessity and standard (Kripkean) arguments against descriptivist theories of proper names. Knowledge of the material in Philosophy 217/417 (Logical Methods in Philosophy) or Philosophy 249/449 (Formal Semantics) may also be useful. Undergraduates must have my written permission to enroll in the course.


Our readings will be articles and chapters of books that I will put on reserve in the Beck library. You may want to purchase Kripke’s Naming and Necessity, if you do not already own it.


1.         Roughly ten short weekly papers, about 1-2 pages each.

2.        A class presentation.

3.         A longer paper, about 12 pages, due Friday, December 8, 2006.

Short Weekly Papers

You will write a 1-2 page (double-spaced, 12 point font) paper every week, except for the first week and those weeks near the end of the semester when we have student presentations. You will write roughly ten of these (the exact number will be determined later). Each paper will comment on the readings for that week. In each of these papers, I want you to present an important argument, or an important claim, from the reading for that week, and then offer a critical remark. I do not want comments of the form “I did not understand what X meant by saying P”. I do not expect polished work, but I do expect some evidence of your having thought about the reading.

The deadline for your short paper for a given week will be 8:30 am on Wednesday of that week. Early submissions are welcome. You will submit your short paper to me in an e-mail attachment sent to my e-mail address. Each short paper must be either a Word or a pdf document. I will attempt to e-mail a copy of your short paper to you, with my marginal comments, before the beginning of class that day. I may discuss your short paper during class.

Class Presentations

Your presentation will be an opportunity for you to get comments on a draft of your long paper. You will make a rough draft of your long paper available several days before the day of your presentation. (Details to be discussed later.) Your presentation, and our discussion of your presentation, should take about half of a seminar session (about 1.25 hours). All students are expected to read the papers in advance and to be prepared to make comments. For each student presentation, there will be a designated student who will lead discussion of the presented paper. The number of seminar sessions that we dedicate to presentations will depend on the number of students enrolled. I expect us to use at least the seminar meetings of November 29 and December 6 for presentations.

Long Paper

Your long paper will be a revision of the paper that you give in your class presentation. The most straightforward sort of long paper is a critique of a published paper on a topic relevant to this course. Your “target” may be an article or book that we discuss in class.


Comment papers: 15%          Class Presentation: 15%       Long paper: 70%

Readings and Schedule

Tentative and Subject to Revision

1. September 6 The Naive Theory, Millianism, Russellian propositions, proper names, and general terms. Descriptivism for proper names and arguments against it. Begin on Kripke’s arguments concerning natural kind terms.

Kripke, Saul. 1980. Naming and Necessity, lectures 1 and 2.

Braun, David. Forthcoming. “Names and Natural Kind Terms.” Available on Braun’s website.

Suggested Readings

Salmon, Nathan. 2005. Reference and Essence (second edition), Chapters One and Two. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Kripke, Saul. 1980. Naming and Necessity, lecture 3.

Putnam, Hilary. 1975. “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’.” In K. Gunderson (ed.), Language, Mind, and Knowledge, 131-193. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Reprinted in Putnam’s Philosophical Papers, Volume 2.


2. September 13 Against descriptivism about general terms. Designating kinds.

Kripke, Saul. 1980. Naming and Necessity, lecture 3.

Putnam, Hilary. 1975. “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’.” In K. Gunderson (ed.), Language, Mind, and Knowledge, 131-193. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Reprinted in Putnam’s Philosophical Papers, Volume 2.

Salmon, Nathan. 2005. Reference and Essence (second edition), Chapter Two.

Linsky, Bernard. 1984. “General Terms as Designators.” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 65, 259-276.

Soames, Scott. 2002. Beyond Rigidity, Chapters 9 and 10. New York: Oxford University Press.

Salmon, Nathan. 2003. “Naming, Necessity, and Beyond.” Mind 112, 475-492. Reprinted in Salmon 2005.

3. September 20 Problems for the Naive Theory with empty proper names. Critiques of descriptivism for empty proper names. Names from myth vs. names from fiction.

Braun, David. 1993. “Empty Names.” Noûs

Braun, David. 2005. “Empty Names, Fictional Names, Mythical Names.” Noûs, section 1.

4. September 27 Meinongian theories

Parsons, Terry. 1980. Selections from Nonexistent Objects.

Fine, Kit. 1984. Review of Parsons’s Nonexistent Objects. Philosophical Studies 45, pp. 95-112.

5. October 4 Fictional characters and truth in fiction: Lewis and Currie.

Lewis, David. 1978. “Truth in Fiction.” Amer Phil Quar 15, pp. 37-46. Reprinted in Lewis’s Philosophical Papers Volume 1 (1983).

Currie, Gregory. 1990. Selections from The Nature of Fiction. Cambridge: CUP.

6. October 11 Fiction and fictional characters: van Inwagen and Kripke.

van Inwagen, Peter. 1977. “Creatures of Fiction.” Amer Phil Quar 14, pp. 299-308.

Kripke, Saul. Unpublished. Reference and Fiction (John Locke lectures).

7. October 18 Fictional characters and fictional names. Mythical characters and mythical names.

Salmon, Nathan. 1998. “Nonexistence.” Noûs.

Braun, David. 2005. “Empty Names, Fictional Names, Mythical Names.” Noûs.

8. October 25 Pretense Theory

Walton, Kendall. 1990. Selections from Mimesis as Make-Believe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.

Crimmins, Mark. 1998. “Hesperus and Phosphorus: Sense, Pretense, and Reference.” Phil Review 107, pp. 1-48.

Richard, Mark. 2000. “Semantic Pretense.” In Everett and Hofweber, pp. 205-232.

9. November 1 Empty general terms. Critique of descriptivism for empty general terms.

Salmon, Nathan. 1998. “Nonexistence”

Kripke, Saul. Unpublished. Reference and Existence.

Salmon, Nathan. 2002. “Mythical Objects.” In Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O’Rourke, and David Shier (eds.), Meaning and Truth: Investigations in Philosophical Semantics. New York: Seven Bridges Press.

10. November 8 Continue last week’s topic.

11. November 15 Catch up and review

☞No class on November 22 - Thanksgiving Break

12. November 29 Student presentations

13. December 6 Student presentations

Suggestions for Further Reading

Anthologies and Useful Resources

Everett, Anthony and Hofweber, Thomas. 2000. Empty Names, Fiction, and the Puzzles of Non-existence. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.

Caplan, Ben. 2000. “Empty Names: An Essay on the Semantics, Pragmatics, Metaphysics, and Epistemology of Empty Names and Other Directly Referential Expressions.” UCLA PhD Dissertation. Available on Caplan’s website.

Frege and Russell

Frege, Gottlob. “On Sense and Reference.”

Church, Alonzo. Introduction to Introduction to Mathematical Logic, notes 18, 22, 71.

Russell, Bertrand. “On Denoting”.

Russell, Bertrand. “Knowledge by Acquaintance and by Description.”

Russell, Bertrand. Selections from “The Philosophy of Logical Atomism”: end of lecture 1, section on existence in lecture 5, and lecture 6. In Russell, Logic and Knowledge and Russell, The Philosophy of Logical Atomism.

Meinong and Theories Inspired by Meinong

Meinong, Alexius. 1960. “Theory of Objects.” In R. Chisholm (ed.), Realism and the Background of Phenomenology.

Chisholm, Roderick. “Beyond Being and Nonbeing.” In R. Chisholm, Brentano and Meinong Studies.

Parsons, Terry. 1980. Nonexistent Objects.

Zalta, Edward. 2000. Appendix to “Pretense Theory and Abstract Object Theory.” In Everett and Hofweber, pp. 117-147.

Fine, Kit. 1984. Review of Parsons’s Nonexistent Objects. Philosophical Studies 45, pp. 95-112.

Fine, Kit. 1982. “The Problem of Non-existents.” Topoi 1, pp. 97-140.

Fictional Characters, Metaphysics and Semantics

Thomasson, Amie. 1998. Fiction and Metaphysics. Cambridge: CUP. See also her website for various papers.

Yagisawa, Takashi. 2001. “Against Creationism in Fiction.” Philosophical Perspectives 15, pp. 153-172.

Kroon, Frederick. 1996. “Characterizing Non-existents.” Grazer Philosophische Studien 51, pp. 163-193.

Friend, Stacie. 2000. Review of Thomasson 1998. Mind 109, pp. 997-1000.

Millianism and Gappy Propositions

Donnellan, Keith. 1974. “Speaking of Nothing.” Phil Review 83, pp. 3-31.

Adams, Fred and Stecker, Robert. 1994. “Vacuous Singular Terms.” Mind and Language 9, pp. 387-401.

Adams, Fred and Stecker, Robert. 1997. “The Semantics of Fictional Names.” Pacific Phil Quar 78, pp. 128-148.

Taylor, Kenneth. 2000. “Emptiness Without Compromise.” In Everett and Hofweber, pp. 17-36.

Pretense Theory

Walton, Kendall. 2000. “Existence as Metaphor?” In Everett and Hofweber, pp. 69-94.

Kroon, Fred. 2000. “Negative Existentials.” In Everett and Hofweber, pp. 95-116.

Deutsch, Harry. 2000. “Making Up Stories.” In Everett and Hofweber, pp. 149-181.

Stanley, Jason. 2001. “Hermeneutic Fictionalism.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 25, 36-71.

Other Approaches

Richard, Mark. 1998. Selection from “Commitment.” Philosophical Perspectives 12, pp. 255-281.

Reimer, Marga. 2001a. “A ‘Meinongian’ Solution to a Millian Problem.” APQ 38, pp. 233-248.

Reimer, Marga. 2001b. “The Problem of Empty Names.” Australasian J. of Phil 79, pp. 491-506.

Further Possible Sources

Sainsbury, Mark. 1999. “Names, Fictional Names, and ‘Really’”. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume, 73, pp. 243-69.

Byrne, Alex. 1993. “Truth in Fiction: The Story Continued.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 71, 24-35.

Brock, Stuart. “Fictionalism About Fictional Characters.” Noûs 36, 1-21.

General Terms and Natural Kind Terms

Schwartz, Stephen. 1980. “Formal Semantics and Natural Kind Terms.” Philosophical Studies 38, 189-198.

Donnellan, Keith. 1983. “Kripke and Putnam on Natural Kind Terms.” In Carl Ginet and Sydney Shoemaker (eds.), Knowledge and Mind. New York: Oxford University Press.

Laporte, Joseph. 2000. “Rigidity and Kind.” Philosophical Studies 97, 293-316.

Schwartz, Stephen. 2002. “Kinds, General Terms, and Rigidity: a Reply to Laporte.”      Philosophical Studies 109, 265-277.

Gomez-Torrente, M. 2004. “Beyond Rigidity? Essentialist Predication and the Rigidity of General Terms.” Critica 36, 37.

Soames, Scott. 2004. “Reply to Ezcurdia and Gomez-Torrente.” Critica 36. Also available on his website.

Marti, Genoveva. 2004. “Rigidity and General Terms.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 104, 131.

Schnieder, Benjamin Sebastian. 2005. “Property Designators, Predicates, and Rigidity.” Philosophical Studies 122, 227-241.

Oliver, Alex. 2005. “The Reference Principle.” Analysis 63, 177-187.

May, Robert. 2005. “Comments on Nathan Salmon’s ‘Are General Terms Rigid?’”. Available on May’s website (cite only with his permission).

Salmon, Nathan. 2005. “Are General Terms Rigid?” Linguistics and Philosophy 28, 117-134.

Linsky, Bernard. 2006. “General Terms as Rigid Designators.” Philosophical Studies 128, 655-667.

Soames, Scott. 2006. “Reply to Critics.” Philosophical Studies 128, 711-738.