I want to parse like Superman (was Re: Identity)

Miles Sabin msabin at cromwellmedia.co.uk
Wed Jun 23 11:08:05 BST 1999

Gregg Reynolds wrote,
> Okay, you guys got my philosophical homunculus in an 
> uproar.  He insists that I splutter thusly:
> You should quote, not only the names "Clark Kent" and 
> "Superman", but all others as well. The question is 
> perhaps more fruitfully stated as "how can we 
> determine that two names have the same denotation".  
> The classic example is: the names "Sir Walter Scott" 
> and "the author of Waverly" have the same denotation, 
> whether anybody knows it or not (although they may 
> have different senses).  But we can't directly talk 
> about any denotation; we can only use names.  

I disagree. Clark Kent and Superman _might_ be special 
cases, because they're fictional characters, but even 
there it's dubious.

As far as Scott and the author of Waverly are concerned, 
tho', you're dead wrong. We can meaningfully ask,

  Is Scott the author of Waverly.

and we can also meaningfully ask,

  Does "Scott" denote (in English) the same 
  person denoted (in English) by "the author of 

These are _different_ questions. The first is about 
Scott (and would also be about the author of Waverly if 
that were a different person). The second is primarily 
about the use of names in English. It's a classic 
use/mention, de dicto/de re thing.



Miles Sabin                          Cromwell Media
Internet Systems Architect           5/6 Glenthorne Mews
+44 (0)181 410 2230                  London, W6 0LJ
msabin at cromwellmedia.co.uk           England

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