A Defense of the Descriptive Theory of Names and its Epistemic Applications

Richard J. Van Every, Western Michigan University


In recent decades the description theory of names has come under substantial attack from causal theorists. The most influential formulation of these attacks can be found in the writings of Ruth Barcan Marcus and Saul Kripke. In examining the modal argument, I conclude that the problem is essentially an incompatibility between the description theory and certain levels of modal involvement; since the description theory appears better grounded than does modal logic, the objection seems misguided. The second argument raises concerns about our ability to refer to objects despite our having limited or false beliefs about those objects. In order to defuse this argument I use a cluster theory as well as a "Resealing" of the causal theory to show that we can still preserve reference under the descriptivist view despite incomplete or false beliefs.

Finally, I use description theory to solve the referential argument leveled against indirect theories of perception. If correct, this solution provides the basis for a sophisticated epistemology that starts with phenomenal and introspective data, but has the resources to permit reference to--and naming of--objects with which we are not immediately acquainted.