Meeting on 02/26: Éno Agolli

The Meaning Group will meet online on February 26, 1-2pm. Éno Agolli will present his recent work.


Standardly, proper names are taken to be rigid designators, while definite descriptions are taken to be flaccid designators. This is due to the contrast between 1, which is unambiguously false, and 2, which can receive a true (de re) reading.

  1. Joe Biden might not have been Joe Biden.
  2. The President of the U.S. in 2021 might not have been the President of the U.S. in 2021.

However, the standard story has neglected the full range of data. The modal operators involved in these sentences are plausibly metaphysical. When we turn to epistemic modals, it seems that the equivalent constructions yield unambiguously false readings for both names and definite descriptions:

  1. Joe Biden might not be Joe Biden.
  2. The President of the U.S. in 2021 might not be the President of the U.S. in 2021.

To complicate the situation, sentences like 5 below show that at least some names cannot be rigid, for if all names were rigid, then the sentence should come out necessarily false, though it isn’t:

  1. Elon Musk might be Satoshi Nakamoto, but then (again) Elon musk might not be Satoshi Nakamoto.

In this presentation, I aim to offer a semantic story that accommodates all of these data. One such account exists (Ninan, 2019), but relies heavily on the dynamic semantics account of epistemic modality to yield the right predictions. I attempt a static account instead. The static account I favor requires two-dimensional semantics, but the true innovation consists in re-imagining how variables work in the semantic framework. I argue that the right predictions are delivered on the assumption that variables do not range over individuals, but rather over two dimensional individual concepts. Questions are raised as to the philosophical consequences of this formal move, quantification, and singular terms under iterated modalities.

Zoom information will be sent by email and can be obtained from Stefan Kaufmann.