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SAUL KRIPKE AND POSTSTRUCTURALISM: A REVALUATION by Michael P. Spikes Christopher norris has claimed diat in Naming and Necessity Saul Kripke offers a "powerful critique" of "the view of language more or less taken for granted in post-structuralist dieory." ' Kripke, according to Norris, "asserts the case for determinate reference," thereby reversing the Saussurean precept "that the signified is always already constructed by die system of interrelated signifiers which bring it into play."2 I find diese claims curious in light of the fact diat in Naming and Necessity Kripke does not talk about language in general, but rather, as the tide ofhis book suggests , restricts his observations to names, primarily proper names and names for natural kinds. It would seem that at best his view implies a challenge for but a limited aspect of die poststructuralist position, specifically, how a name — not any and every word — signifies. Nonetheless , I concur with Norris's central contention that Kripke's insights call into question contemporary theories founded on Saussure's principle. What I propose to do in diis essay is explain, as Norris does not, how diese insights may be extended to all of language and dius how diey actually work to controvert poststructuralism. This extension will involve a careful scrutiny of Kripke's notion of reference and a consequent critique of the way Norris, and odiers, have interpreted it. In short, my reading of Kripke will affirm the challenge his arguments pose for much modern literary theory but will present that challenge from a different perspective and in fuller terms than Norris does. The key concept in Kripke's theory of names is rigid designation, a notion which he defines very simply and straightforwardly in the following 301 302Philosophy and Literature terms: "Let's call somediing a rigid designator if in every possible world it designates die same object."3 This concept is designed to counter the view, having its genesis in the language philosophy of Gotdob Frege and Bertrand Russell, diat proper names are abbreviated definite descriptions or disguised families of descriptions, diat a name's referent, and by implication its meaning, is equatable with and dierefore given by some property or set of properties it embodies (pp. 27-30). For example: "Joe Doakes" is short for "the man who corrupted Hadleyburg" (p. 28), or "Aristotie" means "Plato's disciple," "die teacher ofAlexander die Great," etc. (p. 30). Kripke admits that die Frege-Russell thesis is "really very powerful" (p. 27), but he nevertheless rejects it outrighdy. He, to die contrary, believes that a name represents something which cannot be equated widi any or all of its properties that might be cited in a description of it. One of die ways he makes his case is through counterfactuals, showing mat in odier possible worlds the referent of a given name may lack key qualities it possesses in diis world, yet die name would have die same referent in this and die odier worlds alike. For example, Nixon was die winner of the 1968 election , owned a dog named Checkers, etc. But it is possible to imagine some counterfactual situation in which Nixon did not win die 1968 election, did not own a dog named Checkers, etc. Still, according to Kripke, Nixon would still be Nixon, die same Nixon in the imagined world diat he is in reality (pp. 40-47). In Kripke's own words: "We can simply consider Nixon and ask what might have happened to him had various circumstances been different" (p. 47). "Nixon" is a rigid designator; it picks out the same object — in this case a particular man— in every possible world. This object constitutes a sense, a meaning, of"Nixon" which remains constant from context to context. Proper names, such as "Nixon," are not the only terms Kripke identifies as rigid designators. He shows, for example, that the natural kind term "gold" picks out die same object in every possible world (p. 127). Furthermore , he insists that not only can diings be known apart from their contingent properties — properties which may be detached from a thing widiout altering its fundamental identity — but diey may also be identified apart from their essential properties — properties which...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 301-306
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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