Fiction and the Causal Theory of Names - Pavel

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Poetics 8 (1979) 179-191 0 North-Holland Publishing Company FICTION AND THE CAUSAL THEORY OF NAMES THOMASG.PAVEL The paper discusses the causal theory of names and its impact on the theory of fiction. It is claimed that the causal theory of names has a structural and a historical component. Names of fictional beings are structurally alike to usual proper names. As for the historical aspect, it is claimed that the historical or causal chain condition for name adequacy is too strong when mytho
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  Poetics 8 (1979) 179-1910 North-HollandPublishingCompany FICTION ND THE CAUSAL THEORY OF NAMES THOMASG.PAVEL The paper discusses the causal theory of names and its impact on the theory of fiction. Itis claimed that the causal theory of names has a structural and a historical component. Namesof fictional beings are structurally alike to usual proper names. As for the historical aspect, it isclaimed that the historical or causal chain condition for name adequacy is too strong whenmythology and fiction are taken into consideration. A flexible ontology Including various kindsof beings is necessary to adequately account for mythological and fictional beings. Philosophers who examined the problem of literary characters and, more gener-al, fictional objects, often worried about what appears to be a common sense com-mitment to some kind of existence and individuation of such characters and ob-jects. Hamlet, Anna Karenina, Sherlock Holmes, Macbeth’s dagger, Des Essaintes’mansion, Proust’s madeleine, are constantly talked about both by literary criticsand ordinary people as if these characters and objects were fully individuated andeven as if, in some unspecified way, they existed. But at the same time, accordingto the most widespread view in the philosophy of language, names like Hamlet orAnna Karenina and definite descriptions like ‘Proust’s madeleine’ do not denote.Various solutions have been proposed to this puzzle, none of which have escapedcriticism.A detailed discussion of this issue can be found in Howell (1979). Howell exam-ines and rejects in turn “(i) a quasi-actualist, Meinongian treatment of fictionalobjects; (ii) the idea that fictional objects are non-actual but well-individuatedentities existing in metaphysically possible worlds; (iii) the non-referential, substitu-tionalquantification-style view of such objects and (iv) a recent de dicfo-style model approach to fictional objects”.At least one. other treatment of fictional char-acters has recently been proposed, under which these characters are non-instanti-ated kinds (Wolterstorff 1979).Howell’s discussion and rejection of alternative (ii), namely the view that fic-tional objects are non-actual but well-individuated entities existing in metaphysi-cally possible worlds, involves the causal theory of reference propounded by suchphilosophers as Kripke, Kaplan, Plantinga, Donnellan and Putnam. ’ The purpose 1 For an account of this theory, containing several major papers, an introduction and an exten-sive bibliography, see Schwartz (1977).179  180 T.G. Pave1 J Fiction and the causal theory of names of the present paper is to argue that some aspects of the causal theory of reference,far from undermining the above-mentioned alternative, render it in fact very plausi- ble. It will be necessary to distinguish between two aspects of the causal theory of reference and to claim that one of these aspects is not close enough to the practiceof reference, such as it occurs in ordinary discourse. It will be argued then thatreference to fictional characters and objects is not a logically strange activity, butrather that it relates to a common way of referring. The argument will suggest aview of fictional objects close to alternative (ii) and to Howell’s own proposal. Iwill conclude by briefly examining the notion of ‘world of work of art’. 1. Consider the following sentences:(1) John is just like Peter: neither can make a decision in due time.(2) John is just like Hamlet: neither can make a decision in due time.Sentence (2) is a case of what Woods (1974) calls ‘mixed’ sentences, i.e., sen-tences which contain names with actual referents and names of fictional characters.How are these sentences to be understood? One alternative is to consider that (1)says that John and Peter have in common the property of not making decisions indue time and that (2) assigns this property to John and to Hamlet. If, furthermore,one assumes that names are abbreviations standing for sets (or clusters) of definitedescriptions, then (1) may be taken as saying that(la) In the set (or cluster) of the definite descriptions which the name John standsfor one can find the description ‘the one who cannot make the decision in due time’.The same description can be found in the set (or cluster) of definite descriptionswhich the name Peter stands for.In a similar way (2) may be understood as asserting that the same property figuresin both the sets (clusters) of definite descriptions ‘John’ and ‘Hamlet’ stand for.One is free to compare John and Hamlet despite the lack of denotation of the lat-ter: a standard Russellian representation of the sentence protects the user fromunwanted ontological consequences.However, not all mixed sentences are as easily dispensed with. Consider an exam-ple from Woods (1974):(3) Freud psychoanalyzed Gradiva.Does this sentence mean that Freud psychoanalyzed the set (cluster) of definitedescriptions ‘Gradiva’ stands for? Or, more acutely:  T.G. Pave1 / Fiction and the causal theory of names 181(4) Mary is in love with Jago.Does (4) mean that Mary is in love with the set (cluster) of definite descriptions‘Jago’ stands for? If so, what about:(5) Despite all she knows about Jago, Mary is in love with him.Kripke (1972) has convincingly shown that proper names are not abbreviationsof definite descriptions but rigid designators. A being is given a name which refersto him, even if his set (cluster) of properties is unknown, variable or different fromwhat one believes it is. ‘Shakespeare’ is not the name of ‘whoever wrote Hamlet or Othello’, since if one day irrefutable evidence is brought up, according to whichthese plays were written by, say, Bacon, this discovery would not entail that Bacon is Shakespeare, nor that Shakespeare ceases to be Shakespeare. Consequently,‘Bacon’ and Shakespeare’ or any proper name for that matter, are linguistic labelspegged to individuals, independently of the properties these individuals display. ’Let us call this aspect of the ‘causal theory of reference’ the structural aspect. Byshowing that proper names cannot be identified with abbreviations of sets (or clus-ters) of definite descriptions and by proposing instead the illuminating notion of aproper name as a rigid designator attached to some person or object, Kripke de-scribes the structure of the relationship between the linguistic label and its bearer.Once attached to a being, a proper name refers to it, regardless of the possiblechanges in properties this being undergoes, and Q fortiori regardless of the changesin our knowledge of them. This qualification ‘once attached to a being’ is of utmostimportance in relation to a second aspect of the ‘causal theory of reference’ whichcould be called the historical aspect. While the structural aspect of the theory dealswith the indexical nature of proper names, the historical aspect focuses on the oper-ation of imposition of names. The historical component will be examined in detailshortly.It is not difficult to see that the structural considerations of the ‘causal theory’apply to fictional names as adequately as to ordinary proper names. ‘Hamlet’ is notmerely an abbreviation for a set of descriptions, since it can be naturally employedcounter-factually. Our knowledge about this character can be modified without thereference of the name being changed. One can say for example:(6) Had Hamlet married Ophelia, both would have lived happily ever after.In the world where Hamlet marries Ophelia and lives happily ever after, he is still2 In a different context, fragment 688 of Pascal’s Pensees dramatically sets in contrast identityand qualities: “. . . what about a person who loves someone for the sake of her beauty; does helove her? No, for smallpox, which will destroy beauty without destroying the person, will putan end to this love for her. And if someone loves me for my judgement or my memory, do theylove me? me, myself? No, for I could lose these qualities without losing my self”.  182 T.G. Pave1 / Fiction and the causal theory of names Hamlet and she is still Ophelia, in the same way in Kripke’s arguments, a Napoleonwho spent his whole life in Corsica, would still have been himself: The history of lit-erature presents us with several examples of changes in literary works which did notaffect the use of fictional names. The eighteenth century public, for instance, couldnot accept the death of Cordelia in King Lear. Consequently, a modified version ofthe play by Nahum Tate, a minor eighteenth century dramatist, was preferred tothe srcinal play. According to Tate’s version, Cordelia survives and marries Edgar.If a conjunction of descriptions theory of names was true for fictional characters, itwould follow that Shakespeare’s Cordelia is an entirely different character fromNahum Tate’s Cordelia. Although some aestheticians would probably want to claimthis, the common intuition is rather that Nahum Tate has not created a secondCordelia, but simply has provided Cordelia with a happier destiny. One may com-pare this situation with real-life occurrences of sudden success, when, say, ‘beingwretched’ ceases to belong to the set of descriptions of John. One can say, in suchcases(7) John is no more the person he was; happiness changed him entirely.It is understood that (7) does not refer to John’s identify. A possible objection to the extension of the ‘causal theory’ to fictional names isto point out that the ‘cluster’ variant of the description theory seems to accommo-date cases such as Cordelia’s. According to the ‘cluster of descriptions’ theory ofnames, a name is related to a cluster of properties, none of which is necessary forthe name to apply. However, the application of the name is correct only when atleast an unspecificied number of properties belonging to the cluster are present.Under this theory, ‘Cordelia’ stands for a group of properties like ‘x is Lear’syoungest daughter’, ‘x marries the king of France’, ‘x leads a French landing inBritain’, ‘x is a prisoner of Edmund’, ‘x is murdered at Edmund’s orders’, ‘xmarries Edgar’. Notice that the last two properties are to some extent incompatible,or at least they can be modified so as to become incompatible. However, this neednot deter the ‘cluster of description’ proponents. A term like ‘game’ may well beassociated with a cluster of properties, some of which are mutually exclusive, e.g.,‘x is played by two players’, ‘x is played by four players’, etc. Accordingly, NahumTate’s character may be properly called Cordelia, even if some of the propertiesdisplayed are incompatible with some properties of the character in Shakespeare’splay. But ‘Cordelia’ will be nothing more than an abbreviation for a group of properties belonging to the cluster.To counter this possible objection, one may recall that the paradigm-case for the‘cluster of descriptions’ theory is a group of rather exceptional cases, names like‘game’, ‘language’, and so on, the referents of which do not appear to have a smallgroup of essential features in common. As Putnam (1970) convincingly argued, thisis not necessarily the case for other types of names. Names of natural kinds, forinstance, cannot be treated as referring to ‘clusters of descriptions’. A generaliza-
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