Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Non-Denoting Singular Terms In The News


1. A large subset of the population and the media are celebrity-obsessed


2. It is common to become a celebrity for no good reason at all--that is, basically, to become famous for being famous...or even to become famous just for being disgusting

Consequently, we end up hearing a lot about people like Donald Trump. This is a guy who is so stupid, frivolous and disgusting that I have no reason to even know his name...and I'd be much better off if I didn't. I don't want to waste any nonzero percentage of my brain knowing about this lame-ass mofo.

However, he does provide us with a wee example of a philosophically interesting claim in the news--specifically, a non-denoting singular term. The buffoon aforementioned gives us this today:
"It is very important to me that the right Republican candidate be chosen to defeat the failed and very destructive Obama Administration, but if that Republican, in my opinion, is not the right candidate, I am not willing to give up my right to run as an Independent candidate," Trump said in a statement.
Here 'the failed and very destructive Obama Administration' is, of course, a non-denoting singular term. Like 'Santa Clause,' 'The present king of France," and 'Donald Trump's interesting and important thought,'' 'the failed and very destructive Obama administration' fails to refer to anything that actually exists.This contrasts with singular terms that do denote, e.g. 'the failed and destructive Bush/Cheney administration,'* or 'the buffoon-filled field of Republican presidential candidates.'

Thinking about non-denoting singular terms can actually help us think about how language works more generally, as you may recall from whatever encounters you've had with Russell's famous paper "On Denoting."

Here's a link to it, for your edification and amusement.

*As is common in such matters, here I ignore questions about tense.


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