[This post is by guest blogger Tristan Haze of Sprachlogik.]
We have concepts of particular objects. The recognition of this piece of common sense enables us to solve a cardinal problem in the philosophy of language. Millianism, the view that the semantic content of a proper name is simply its referent, is apparently refuted by Frege's Puzzle (cf. Frege 1952). The major alternative, descriptivism - which comes in several varieties - is apparently refuted by Kripke's famous arguments (cf. Kripke 1980). The very natural view that names are associated with individual concepts allows us to solve Frege's Puzzle and accept Kripke's arguments against descriptivism, as well as his rigid designation thesis, with remarkable ease.
The solution of Frege's Puzzle is that 'Hesperus' and 'Phosphorus' are associated with different individual concepts, hence 'Hesperus is Phosphorus' differs semantically and cognitively from 'Hesperus is Hesperus'. Individual concepts are not descriptions, nor clusters thereof, hence the view is compatible with anti-descriptivism. Furthermore, it is not only compatible with Kripke's rigid designation thesis, but predicts it: if names are associated with individual concepts - concepts of particular objects - then it is immediate that they will designate the same object in all possible worlds where that object exists; designating another object is out of the question, since we are holding fixed the meaning of the proper name - the associated individual concept.
The basic idea above can be developed in various ways, particularly in connection with modality, and I am working on a development at present. The purpose of this advertisement is to bring the basic idea, simply expressed, to the attention of the philosophical community.
The linguist Barbara Abbott has independently made some strikingly similar suggestions in her detailed discussion (Abbott forthcoming). See also Francois Recanati's work on mental files and identity (Recanati 1993).
Abbott, Barbara. 'Support for Individual Concepts', forthcoming in Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations vol. 10.
Frege, Gottlob. 1952. first pub. 1893. ‘On Sense and Reference’, in P. Geach and M. Black (eds.) Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege, Oxford: Blackwell.
Kripke, Saul A. (1980). Naming and Necessity. Harvard University Press.
Recanati, Francois (1993). Direct Reference: From Language to Thought. Blackwell. (Also, look out for Recanati's more recent, as yet unpublished work on mental files and identity.)
-- Tristan Haze