Predicates and proper names have been traditionally treated under different semantic categories. Proper names are considered as singular noncomplex terms whereas predicates are taken as general ones. There are two major positions on the question of the role that proper names play in a formal semantic theory, namely, the referential theories and the predicative theories. Referential theories claim that a proper name is a singular noncomplex term and that it stands for its reference. However these theories are not able to explain certain uses of non-descripting names and the occurrences of proper names in identity or existential statements and opaque contexts. In order to cope with these difficulties and form a Fregean view ordinary proper names were considered by Russell as abbreviations of definite descriptions or as disguised definite descriptions and he reserved the role of singular terms for “logical proper names”. Quine also holds a predicate view but rejects the Russellian distinction between ordinary and logically proper names. He provides us a method to transform ordinary proper names into artificial predicates and guarantees the univocity of reference stipulating that the constructed predicate must be true of only one bearer.
In “Reference and Proper Names” Tyler Burge goes farther that Quine maintaining a modified predicate view. He rejects both the Russellian position for violating the preconception that proper names do not describe and the Quinean thesis since it has been widely regarded as having the vice of artificiality. Burge argues that there is no reason to hold that the constructed predicate must be true of only one object because the multiple applicability of ordinary proper names shows that there are more than one object to which a proper name is applied. The failure to appreciate this point has stemmed largely from concentrating on singular uses of proper names. Proper names also take the plural, indefinite or definite articles and quantifiers: “There are relatively few Alfreds in Princeton”, “An Alfred joined the club today”, “The Alfred who joined the club today was a baboon”, “Some Alfreds are crazy; some are sane”. However, the modified uses of proper names urged by Burge seem to go against the idea that a proper name is a nomen individui because they behave as count nouns. We can ask: How many? But the question is pointless for proper names as singular terms. Hence there is an anomaly that must be explained. According to Burge the anomaly stems from considering modified uses only as metaphoric or ironic ones. Therefore he distinguishes between literal and metaphoric uses arguing that the above examples are cases of literal modified uses of proper names where no anomaly is presented. It is argued on this paper that even adopting the literal/metaphoric distinction for modified and unmodified uses of proper names the non-predicative conception can do justice to the intuition that proper names are the paradigm of singular terms and the apparent functioning of proper names as count names can be explained. The way out is twofold:
(i) when literal modified uses of proper names occur in a sentence it must be regarded as an elliptical sentence that involves a self-referential element. The sentence “There are relatively few Alfreds in Princeton” must be read as “There are relatively few persons called ‘Alfred’ in Princeton”.
(ii) when a metaphoric use of a proper name occur in a sentence like “George Wallace is a Napoleon” it should be read as “George Wallace is a Napoleon” it should be read as “George Wallace is a Napoleon (under certain relevant aspects)”. Therefore Burge has no conclusive argument to rule out modified uses of proper names either literal or metaphoric as special cases. Burge gives another reason to lodge proper names in the category of general terms based on a semantic principle of simplicity claiming that postulation of special uses of a term, semantically unrelated to what are taken to be its paradigmatic uses, is theoretically undesirable. However this principle meets counterexamples: given the predicate “x smokes” and the use of modifiers we can obtain expressions like “the x such that x smokes” or “the smoker” and the just constructed expressions are not assigned to the predicate category but to the singular term category. Hence the simplicity principle though desirable is not a reliable one.
According to Burge proper names are predicates in their own right but differ from many other predicates; they are “special” kind of predicates. He rejects special uses of predicates at the cost of recognizing “excentric predicates” which involve a mild self-referential element in the application conditions of proper names. However, the non-predicate view used the self-referential element to vanish the apparent functioning of proper names as count names. These excentric predicates have to include the proper name itself in the application conditions since a proper name is (literally) true of an object just in case that object is given that name in an appropriate way. However, the non-predicate view also takes the notion of “giving that name in an appropriate way” to claim that proper names are singular terms. In this paper it is argued that such notion is vague and calls for a pragmatic elucidation.
Burge maintains that modified uses of proper names play the role of predicates and the unmodified singular uses play the roles of a demonstrative and a predicate. Then singular proper names are incomplete definite descriptions and those sentences in which they occur are open sentences that take on truth value only if the user of the sentence carries out an act of reference. Therefore the object referred to by the language user is specified in the truth theory by means of a set of reference clauses. Letting aside the technical problems pointed by other authors the main difficulty that can be found is to reverse the priority of referential and predicate uses of proper names. The deep structure of singular uses reveals a predicate and a demonstrative and for that reason singular uses are considered as secondary uses whereas the primary use must be ascribed to the modified uses where the deep structure reveals only a predicate. However it is implausible to subordinate singular uses to modified ones because (a) from a statistical point of view predicative uses are secondary uses of proper names and (b) proper names play a vocative role strongly tied with the referential functioning of singular uses of these terms. To conclude: Burge’s formal account seems to be simpler that the position which regards proper names as ambiguous indexed individual constants. But simplicity is only apparent. It is necessary for Burge’s theory to add primitive referential clauses in which it is reproduced the indexation phenomena in order to deal with demonstrative constructions.
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