Cherniak Aleksei

The Problem of References of Proper Names: Theological Aspect

Cherniak Aleksei (2016) "The Problem of References of Proper Names: Theological Aspect ", Vestnik Pravoslavnogo Sviato-Tikhonovskogo gumanitarnogo universiteta. Seriia I : Bogoslovie. Filosofiia. Religiovedenie, 2016, vol. 63, pp. 79-98 (in Russian).

DOI of the paper: 10.15382/sturI201663.79-98


In the article some problems concerned an application of standard conception of reference to the word “God” are considered in tradition of analytic philosophy. The author engages in a discussion with R. Swinburne and W. Alston. According to conception mentioned above proper names denote particular things. But an interpretation of such expressions in accord with the standard view presupposes that proper referents should be assigned to them, and those to be found in a world the utterance of the name is about. But in order to do this an interpreter has to be able to identify the referent. Meanwhile even those things which we can immediately interact with, are structurally complex and susceptible to changes, including differences in presentations to subjects. This makes their givennes and identification quite a problem. Yet more problematic looks an assignment of a standard reference to a name which is supposed to designate something unable to be immediately given to any competent language speaker, like historic object, event or person, or God. This paper analyses different accounts of interpretation of proper names. It proposes a model of interpretation according to which proper names may be assigned standard references without the referents to be somehow given an agent of an utterance, based on a Kripkean historical account coupled with an understanding of proper names as anaphors. Its application to conventional uses of the name «God» in monotheistic discourses is critically analyzed.


Proper Name, Reference, Particular Thing, Interpretation, Utterance, Discourse, Anaphora, Definite Description, Direct Reference, Theme, Usual Talk.


1. Nikiforov A. L. 2012 “Ontologicheskij status imen sobstvennyh” (Ontological Status of Personal Names), in Jepistemologija i filosofija nauki, 2012, vol. 32/2.
2. Rikkert G. Granicy estestvennonauchnogo obrazovanija ponjatij (Borders of Ideas’ Formation in Natural Science), Saint-Petersburg, 1997.
3. Frege G. Izbrannye raboty (Selected Works), Moscow, 1997.
4. Alston W. P. 1988 “Referring to God”, in Philosophy of Religion, 1988, vol. 24, pp. 114–115, 117–118.
5. Barwise J., Cooper R. 1981 “Generalized Quantifiers and Natural Language”, in Linguistics and Philosophy, 1981, vol. 4/2, pp. 159–219.
6. Burge T. 1973 “Reference and Proper Names”, in Journal of Philosophy, 1973, vol. 70/14, pp. 425–439.
7. Donnellan K. S. 1972 “Proper Names and Identifying Descriptions”, in Davidson D., Harman G. (eds.) The Semantics of Natural Language, Dordrecht, 1972.
8. Heim I. The Semantics of Definite and Indefinite Noun Phrases, Amherst, 1982.
9. Kamp H. A. 1981 “Theory of Truth and Semantic Representation”, in Groenendijk A. G., Janssen T. M. V., Stokhof M. B. J. (eds.) Formal Methods in the Study of Language, Amsterdam, 1981, pp. 277–322.
10. Kamp H., Reyle U. From Discourse to Logic, Kluwer, 1993.
11. Kripke S. A. Naming and Necessity, Cambridge (MA), 1980.
12. Maier E. 2009 “Proper Names and Indexicals Trigger Rigid Presuppositions”, in Journal of Semantics, 2009, vol. 26, pp. 253–315.
13. Mill J. S. A System of Logic, London, 1867.
14. Montague R. 1974 “The Proper Treatment of Quantification in Ordinary English. Formal Philosophy”, in Selected Papers of Richard Montague, London, 1974, pp. 17–34.
15. Putnam H. Mind, Language and Reality: Philosophical Papers, Cambridge, 1975.
16. Russell B. A. W. 1983 “Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description”, in Idem. The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, 1983, vol. 6, pp. 148–161.
17 Russell B. A. W. 1905 “On Denoting”, in Idem. The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, 1905, vol. 4, pp. 415–427.
18. Russell B. The Problems of Philosophy, New York, 1997.
19. Searle J. 1958 “Proper Names”, in Mind, 1958, vol. 67, pp. 166–173.
20. Strawson P. F. Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics, London, 1959.
21. Swinburne R. The Coherence of Theism, Oxford, Clarendon, 1993.
22. Van der Sandt R. 1992 “Presupposition Projection as Anaphora Resolution”, in Journal of Semantics, 1992, vol. 9, pp. 333–377.

Information about the author

Cherniak Aleksei