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Public Defense of Nikhil Mahant on "Names are Words"

Monday, December 19, 2022, 3:00 pm – 6:00 pm

The Department of Philosophy cordially invites you to the Public Defense of the PhD Dissertation

by Nikhil Mahant (PhD candidate, Department of Philosophy)

on "Names are Words"


Members of the Defense Committee:

Supervisor: Tim Crane (CEU)

External examiner: Zoltan Szabo (Yale University)

Internal Examiner: Hanoch Ben-Yami (CEU)

Chair: Michael Griffin (CEU)


The defense will be held on Monday, 19 December 2022 from 3.00 PM in room A-415



To someone who does not already belong to the clique of theorists working on the philosophy of names, the title of this dissertation may come as a surprise—of course names are words, what else could they be? And yet, for much of the history of analytic philosophy the rich linguistic properties of names qua words have remained largely ignored. The past two decades, however, have witnessed nothing short of a revolution in the philosophical thinking about names, with the discussion widening from a limited enquiry into the referential uses of names (i.e., their use to refer to individuals) to a broader investigation that takes note of the philosophically important, but often ignored, non-referential uses (e.g., the use of ‘Alfred’ in ‘No Alfred has ever walked on the Moon’). This dissertation is a part of the new revolution and contributes to the new philosophical treatment of names that places central importance to their status as words with wide ranging morphological, phonetic, and semantic properties. The dissertation makes four central claims: First, it argues that the dominant construal of names as ‘simple tags’ makes them exceptional within the class of words—a consequence that must be avoided on grounds of uniformity and parsimony. Second, it proposes a general way of distinguishing between literal and non-literal uses of names and argues that an important class of non-referential uses of names (i.e., ‘predicative’ uses) count as literal. Third, it argues that ‘metalinguistic views’ of names—i.e., views that specify the meaning of a name by mentioning the name—are not necessarily vulnerable to any sort of circularity. Finally, by focusing attention to a distinctive yet largely overlooked linguistic feature of names (i.e., unlike other words, the cross-linguistic uses of names are unproblematic and prevalent) the dissertation provides a new argument for metalinguistic views.



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