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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sense and Referent in Philadelphia

Willard V. O. Quine discusses the difference beteen the meaning of a word "sense" and the entity to which it refers (referent) and gives a bad example saying the referent of "the morning star" and "the evening star" are both Venus. This is silly. You can't step in the same river twice and a theory that there is an object made of unchanging atoms called Venus does not make "Venus on the following dates" the same referent as "Venus on these other dates".

I think I have a good example. The two verbal forms with different meaning but the same referent are "the President" and "the President" and the verbal situation is the constitutional convention in Philadelphia. How odd, not only do they have the same referent, they are homonyms too, but one was short for "the President of the constitutional convention" and the other for "the President to be of the United States to be."

They both had the same referent as the verbal form "George Washington". The point, which makes this a good example, is that the delegates were convinced that Washington was one entity whose essential characteristics were unchanging. They understood that "president of the convention" and "chief executive of the United States of America" denote quite different roles, but were reassured that creation of the second, very dangerous role, would not destroy the republic, because each of those legal entities would be made of the same atoms as reliable old George Washington.

That, after all, was one of the main points of the excercise. Roughly he could be trusted with executive authority, because he had surrendered it once when he surrendered his general command to the continental congress (That was the moment when US history became the central current of world history while the latest secession of a bunch of colonies was no more new or special than the latest declaration of a Democracy).

The US would not be a Presidential Republic without a candidate first President, who had the authority to be head of state and the willingness to cease to be head of state. Many other American countries (not to mention African countries) have attempted to become presidential republics without access to a George Washington. The record tends to illustrate the uniqueness of my example.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow; what a wonderful post.