There Mill, “a proper name is but an unmeaning

There are multiple theories regarding the names, moreover in case with fiction names it is important to answer the question do the fictional names mean anything, what is their semantic value? The answer to this question lays in the problem with fictional discourse overall.

Let us first consider what the term proper name stands for. According to Mill, “a proper name is but an unmeaning mark which we connect in our minds with the idea of the object, in order that whenever the mark meets our eyes or occurs to our thoughts, we may think of that individual object” (Mill 1872, 22). This view suggests that the role of names in a discourse is simply to link, in other words to refer to their bearers. The problem with this view are the names that lack bearers, which means that they also lack meaning.

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The essence of this problem lies in the problem of non-existent objects. Examples of these are: “Sherlock Holmes”, “Don Quixote”, “Zeus”, “Wonderland” etc. In order to understand let us consider the statement, for example “Sherlock Holmes does not exist”, the statement can be considered as having sense, because we assume that they have a sort of subject. So, we can conclude that something has to exist in order to be understood. The perspective on this statement are different, some agree with the statement, for instance Kant (Kant 2010, 348), Russel (Russell 1996). Gareth Evans adopted the view of Russell: “what does not name anything is not a name and therefore if intended to be a name is a symbol devoid of meaning.” (1919, p. 179). He assumed that most of the proper names are “Russelian” and have a bearer. (R. M. Sainsbury and David Wiggins) The summary of their main ideas can be presented like this “(1) all genuine names have bearers and (2) that fictional names do not”. (Sainsbury 243). However, there are other researchers argue that this statement is true only for some objects: See Parsons 1980, 7 and Zalta, 1983.

In this paper I will oppose to the idea that the names must have particular referent. I will not go deep into the theories that support the idea of names having a referent, instead I will show the idea that supports the idea that fictional names have meaning. 


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