Between singularity and generality: the semantic life of proper names

  • Laura DelgadoEmail author


Although the view that sees proper names as referential singular terms is widely considered orthodoxy, there is a growing popularity to the view that proper names are predicates. This is partly because the orthodoxy faces two anomalies that Predicativism can solve: on the one hand, proper names can have multiple bearers. But multiple bearerhood is (prima facie) a problem to the idea that proper names have just one individual as referent. On the other hand, as Burge (J Philos 70:425–439, 1973) noted, proper names can have predicative uses. But the view that proper names are singular terms arguably does not have the resources to deal with Burge’s cases. In this paper I argue that the Predicate View of proper names is mistaken. I first argue against the syntactic evidence used to support the view and against the predicativist’s methodology of inferring a semantic account for proper names based on incomplete syntactic data. I also show that Predicativism can neither explain the behaviour of proper names in full generality, nor claim the fundamentality of predicative names. In developing my own view, however, I accept the insight that proper names in some sense express generality. Hence I propose that proper names—albeit fundamentally singular referential terms—express generality in two senses. First, by being used as predicates, since then they are true of many individuals; and second, by being referentially related to many individuals. I respond to the problem of multiple bearerhood by proposing that proper names are polyreferential, and also explain the behaviour of proper names in light of the wider phenomenon I called category change, and show how Polyreferentialism can account for all uses of proper names.


Proper names Reference Predicativism Predicates Polyreferentialism Category change Philosophy of language 


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I’m especially indebted to Manuel García-Carpintero, Ofra Magidor, and Elia Zardini, for invaluable comments and discussion on several drafts of this paper. I would also like to thank Robin Jeshion, Claudia Picazo, Ricardo Santos, David Yates, and an anonymous referee for comments and discussion that helped me to improve this paper significantly. Different parts of the material in the paper have been presented in 2013 at the LOGOS Seminar (University of Barcelona) and at the 7th meeting of the Spanish Society for Analytic Philosophy (SEFA 2013); in 2016 at the IIF-SADAF Seminar (University of Buenos Aires), at the Metaphysics, Epistemology, Logic and Language Seminar (University of Lisbon), and at the LanCog Seminar (University of Lisbon); in 2017 at the workshop ‘Entia et Nomina 2017’ in Goa, India, at the PLM Conference (Ruhr University Bochum), and at the St Andrews Graduate Conference (University of St Andrews); in 2018 at the LEME Seminar (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro). I’d like to thank all these audiences for stimulating comments and discussion. I’m also very grateful to all the informants who shared their knowledge of their native languages with me. At different stages during the development of this paper I have benefitted from an AHRC Postgraduate Studentship Award, from a Doctoral Award from the project CONSOLIDER-INGENIO 2010 CSD2009-00056 of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation on Philosophy of Perspectival Thoughts and Facts (PERSP), and from a Doctoral Award from the programme of grants to new researchers (FI-DGR) of the Catalonian Government.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LOGOS Research Group, Departament de Lògica, Història i Filosofia de la CiènciaUniversitat de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

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