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E. D. HIRSCH'S MISREADING OF SAUL KRIPKE by Michael P. Spikes Few literary theorists have commented upon the implications of Saul Kripke's view of language for contemporary literary theory, and those few who have, in myjudgment, have tended to misrepresent his position. In a recent issue ofPhilosophy and Literature, I pointed out some problems with Christopher Norris's reading of Kripke.1 In this essay, I wish to identify some difficulties with the reading of Kripke in E. D. Hirsch's "Meaning and Significance Reinterpreted." "Meaning and Significance Reinterpreted," first published in Critical Inquiry in 1984, is a revision of Hirsch's well-known, if not always wellreceived , theory of authorial intention and stable meaning which he first introduced in "Objective Interpretation" (1960) and subsequendy developed in Validity in Interpretation (1967) and The Aims ofInterpretation (1976). In this essay, Hirschenlists Kripke asan ally in his cause. Though he has definite reservations about some of the philosopher's ideas, he believes that his and Kripke's central contentions are strikingly similar, and he highlights those similarities in order to buttress and clarify his new theory. In what follows, I will not attempt to evaluate the merits of this new theory, nor will I even explicitly comment on the parallels Hirsch draws between Kripke's view and his own; rather, I will concentrate on a critique of Hirsch's presentation of Kripke's thought in order to suggest that Kripke cannot be useful to Hirsch in the ways he believes. Hirsch begins his brief analysis of Kripke by pointing out what he perceives to be a key difference between their positions. "It would be 85 86Philosophy and Literature wrong to say that Kripke had even tried to deal with the problem of meaning as we have defined it" [in "Meaning and Significance Reinterpreted ,"], Hirsch writes, "for I have associated meaning with mental contents, mental objects, whereas Kripke is interested in how certain words 'mean' (that is, refer) apart from mental contents."2 To illustrate his point, Hirsch cites an example from Kripke's work. Kripke demonstrates , Hirsch contends, that the proper name "Richard Nixon" carries "the same meaning-reference whedier a speaker is thinking of 'the person who won the election' or 'the person who lost die election' " (p. 219). This, for Hirsch, implies that "The meaning-reference of 'Nixon' is self identical in both instances because the function of the name is not to represent a mental content but rather to fix a reference to something in the world" (pp. 219-20). The Kripkean meaning -reference is not an idea or cluster of ideas, not a mental content, but rather only a physical thing in reality. Hirsch, I believe, misrepresents Kripke's position when he asserts that Kripke defines meaning apart from mental contents. Furthermore, this erroneous assertion leads him into further mistaken conclusions about Kripke's view. In order to discover exactly where the mistakes lie, with respect to the mental contents point and the other points as well, it is necessary to determine exactly what Kripke does say about linguistic meaning. Kripke's principal text on language, the one to which Hirsch alludes, is Naming and Necessity. This book consists of a preface, addenda, and three lectures which Kripke delivered at Princeton University in 1970. The "Nixon" example is introduced mid-way through the first lecture, in a discussion about necessary and contingent properties. Kripke raises the question of whether it is essential or merely accidental that Nixon was the winner of the 1968 election. His efforts to answer this question, in turn, lead him into more general questions about identity across possible worlds, questions about how one decides if someone, such as Nixon, is the same person in a counterfactual situation, where he does not do and think all the things which in the actual world he does and thinks, as he is in this world, where, of course, he does do and think all the things he does and thinks in the actual world. Kripke argues that transworld identifications are determined not by the properties, contingent or necessary, that the person has but rather simply by who the person is, irrespective of his or her...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 85-91
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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