FellowZsofia Zvolenszky
Project NameProper Names: Why Go Presuppositional?
Host organisationInstitute of Philosophy
Duration of the project12.01.2016 - 31.12.2018

Abstract
The project NAMES is based in the philosophy of language but extensively draws on work in theoretical linguistics. If granted the opportunity, during the SASPRO Fellowship period, I aim to develop a presuppositional account of proper names that is superior to Saul Kripke’s proposal that proper names are rigid designators (keep their reference across possible worlds) as well as competing proposals that have recently been put forth in linguistics and philosophy. My starting point is a clarified and modified version of John Searle’s view that proper names are associated with clusters of descriptions: that there is a crucial distinction to be drawn between ordinary and extraordinary uses of proper names (the latter of which include, among others, negative existential claims and identity statements); and that in the ordinary cases (but not the extraordinary ones), the descriptive material in the cluster is presupposed rather than asserted. The crux of my presuppositional account is that in ordinary uses of proper names, the descriptive material is not featured in the truth conditions of the utterance; instead, the truth conditions plausibly feature the object only and the descriptions are part of what’s presupposed. And, more broadly, my aim is to couch these in a comprehensive theory of proper name meaning that accounts for not just truth conditions but also other components of meaning (which include various presuppositions), and specifies systematic connections among these components. With a suitably laid out view of presuppositions (which takes into account recent developments in linguistics), I aim to provide a theory of the meaning of proper names accounting for (among other things) uses like “There are three Marks living in our building” as well as fictional names in a way that is more unified and elegant than rigid-designation-based alternatives and other recent proposals.

Project Summary with Interim Results

The project NAMES is based in the philosophy of language but extensively draws on work in theoretical linguistics. During the SASPRO Fellowship period, I aim to develop a presuppositional account of proper names that is superior to Saul Kripke’s proposal that proper names are rigid designators (keep their reference across possible worlds) as well as competing proposals that have recently been put forth in linguistics and philosophy. The crux of my presuppositional account is that in ordinary, referential uses of proper names, the truth conditions plausibly feature the object only and certain descriptions associated with the proper name are part of what’s presupposed. More broadly, my aim is to outline a comprehensive theory of proper name meaning that accounts for not just truth conditions (the traditional focus of semantics for proper names) but also other components of meaning (which include various presuppositions), and specifies systematic connections among these components.

One crucial testing ground for a presuppositional proposal is names without referents, among them fictional names. After all, for various popular rigid-designation-based accounts, specifically, direct-reference accounts (according to which the referent exhausts the contribution that a proper name makes to the truth conditions of the sentence in which it occurs), capturing the semantic contribution of such names has remained a major challenge. Towards this end, during the first project year, I have been exploring, on the one hand, to what extent Kripkean insights about fictional names being rigid designators may be upheld, and what connections there are between a Kripke-inspired account of proper names and a certain stance on the metaphysics of fictional characters: abstract artifact theory, according to which characters like Harry Potter and Hermione Granger are abstract, human-created objects much like the game of soccer or Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. On the other hand, I have been considering constraints and limitations on an account of a fiction-operator like ‘According to the Harry Potter novels, …’. Getting a clearer perspective on the workings of such an operator has been crucial for three reasons: (i) the fiction-operator is featured in mainstream versions of abstract artifact theory; (ii) understanding the fiction-operator better has broader application to analyses invoking possible worlds, thus providing central points of connection to ongoing work in my host department by four colleagues participating in the Fictionalism VEGA project that began almost simultaneously with my SASPRO fellowship; and (iii) various notions of possible worlds (for example, what is deontically required, that is, required by the worlds that are most law-abiding by the lights of certain set of laws/requirements), turns out to hold important insights into how not to rely on possible worlds in an adequate account of the fiction-operator. So there are lessons between possible-worlds-based analyses and the fiction-operator going in both directions. These considerations about fictional names and the fiction-operator will yield a better understanding of the challenges for Kripke-inspired proposals for proper names, and in what ways a presuppositional account can offer advantages.

Operationally, the project NAMES’ objectives are twofold. At the level of (1) individual research achievement, NAMES sets out to produce several papers, a book manuscript, with numerous conference/workshop/departmental presentations of the results along the way. At the level of (2) community-oriented achievement, the project aims to develop and strengthen regional, European and transatlantic cooperation among philosophers and linguists through organized events, volumes and consortial grant applications. (1) and (2) are reflected in the planned activies and deliverables set out in the original work plan. 

As of February 1, 2017, having completed the first of the three years of the SASPRO fellowship, (1) and (2) have been well underway. (1), individual-level achievements: I have published 3 papers, am working on two paper manuscripts to be submitted by April, another to be submitted by September, plus an additional invited book chapter to be completed by the end of 2017. During the first fellowship year, I gave 20 presentations, about half of them at conferences/workshops, half of them as invited lectures; 10 of these were regional, primarily in Slovakia and Poland, and 9 of these were in the U.S. and Canada, most of them at top universities/venues.

(2), community-oriented achievements: I joined my SAS department’s VEGA project (“Fictionalism in Philosophy and in Science” grant no. 2/0049/16, headed by my scientist in charge, running for 3 years, starting January 2017), and joined its regular reading group as well as established a new “Proper Names” reading group. I’m heading a 4-year Hungarian grant (OTKA–NKFIH 2016–2020) “Meaning, Communication; Literal, Figurative: Contemporary Issues in Philosophy of Language” with thematic ties to NAMES as well as the Fictionalism grant. I’m also participating in a planned APVV grant proposal for my SAS department; I will also act as main proposer for an EU grant proposal (COST) to bring together the most prominent researchers working on the philosophy of fiction from over 10 countries across Europe, including the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands. I have also launched a workshop series, first held in October 2016 called Bratislava Pre-Conference, Pre-Read Proper Names Workshop: PrPrProper Names.

For the next two years, the primary individual-level objectives are: publishing articles and writing a monograph. And as for community-oriented objectives: securing grants for regional, European and transatlantic cooperation; collaborating closely with my departmental colleagues (including another SASPRO fellow) in our existing grant; continuing the Bratislava PrPrProper Names workshop series, the “Proper Names” reading group and organizing other events; expanding contact and cooperation among graduate students in philosophy of language and logic in Bratislava and Budapest, and also more broadly across Visegrad countries; editing a volume of the prominently ranked open-access journal managed by my department, Organon F. The overarching aim is to strengthen my position of international leadership in developing and fostering regional, European and transatlantic cooperation among philosophers and linguists, helping to position SAS Institute of Philosophy as a center of activity during the upcoming two years and beyond.