A strictly Millian approach to the definition of the proper name
Coates, R. (2009) A strictly Millian approach to the definition of the proper name. Mind and Language, 24 (4). pp. 433-444. ISSN 0268-1064
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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0017.2009.01369.x
A strictly Millian approach to proper names is defended, i.e. one in which expressions when used properly (‘onymically’) refer directly, i.e. without the semantic intermediaryship of the words that appear to comprise them. The approach may appear self-evident for names which appear to have no component parts (in current English) but less so for others. Two modes of reference are distinguished for potentially ambiguous expressions such as The Long Island. A consequence of this distinction is to allow a speculative neurolinguistics of proper (‘onymic’) and semantic (‘non-onymic’) reference. A further consequence is that translation of onymically referring expressions is impossible (since they have no semantic content), and some apparently self-evident objections to this view are met by insisting on a distinction between a proper name as a referring expression and its etymology. The nature of the linguistic mechanism(s) by which an expression becomes proper (i.e. loses sense) shows that etymological opacity is a precondition for the survival of words in certain proper names, furnishing evidence for reference without sense. The process of becoming proper amounts to abrogation of sense for the purpose of reference, which is precisely the requirement for a systematic defence of Mill.
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