On the internet, proper names are not rigid designators

One theory has it that proper names are rigid designators. A rigid designator, according to Saul Kripke who introduced the idea in his book Naming and Necessity, refers to exactly the same thing in all possible worlds.

As I see it then, there are thus two options. One, Kripke’s account is incorrect. Or two, the internet is not a possible world. It’s an impossible world.

Actually, there are three options, the third being the conjunction of the first two: Kripke is wrong, and also, the internet is an impossible world.

Why are these the only options? Because the things that can be said about a person on the internet are often so far removed from any plausible reality that by no stretch of the imagination can what’s said about the person seemingly described by the same name, pick out the same person as the one currently alive on Earth (and, perhaps, even now quietly weeping into their laptop). The internet is an impossible world, in this sense: that it distorts and lies and gives information and misinformation and obfuscation and clarity and detail and rumour, all in such a higgledy piggledy manner, that no possible sense can be made of the sum of it.

So, on the internet, proper names of course sometimes pick out the real, flesh and blood person; and sometimes don’t. Sometimes, they pick out that person’s fictitious Evil Twin, an Evil Twin which exists only in the disordered phantasy of some saddo, and those other saddos who then comment on the first saddo’s disordered phantasy, mistaking it for reality, perhaps because they read too much Kripke at graduate school and have gone slightly bonkers.

There’s an additional normative reason for thinking this too, of course: the argument from self-defence. Momentarily upset when I realised that, on the first page of google searches about me, there were posts which just talked utter garbage, I realised that the moronic speculations about what this strange person with the same name as me had or had not claimed and what could or could not be inferred from what this person had or had not allegedly implied, were so daft, the whole thing so monumentally silly, that there was no way that this could feasibly be about me, the actual me, myself, I.

With a sigh of relief, I stopped worrying, as I realised that these comments had nothing to do with yours truly at all, but with a fictional entity that existed only in the fevered imagination of people who did not know me from Adam. On the internet, proper names, far from being rigid designators, are useless, flaccid things, rather like some of those who feel free to comment whether under their own names, using a slightly silly made-up name, or anonymously, and armed only with a mistaken thesis in philosophical logic, on those they impotently attempt to name.

Paula Boddington

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