But not straightforwardly spoken-of. It's a theology post :o
I have hidden it so you don't read it by accident. It's a screenshot from the Derrida movie.
(and now that you know that, you can skip the movie. Total letdown.)
Given my background in theology, one of the first things I tried to figure out when I was getting into Hegel was whether he was some sort of atheist/pantheist/proto-Marxist radical/gnostic (etc.), or if he was a Lutheran of more or less orthodox stripe. All of the secondary literature I came across came down pretty strongly in favor of the former: Hegel was a modern Simon Magus, an Arch-heretic for a new age, or else he was secretly a Marxist before Marx, or some sort of pagan nature-mystic, or he was a follower of Valentinus, or... (there wasn't a clear consensus on what Hegel was, only that he wasn't a plain ol' Lutheran). The textual support for these claims was never particularly clear to me -- Hegel clearly opposed certain theological positions and certain conceptions of God, but then so does every orthodox Christian thinker. And when Hegel considers the question, he certainly doesn't seem to mince words: the longest paragraph in the "Philosophy of Spirit", §573, is dedicated to taking down those who "know" that philosophy promulgates a pantheistic doctrine. (He also devotes a great deal of attention to the topic in the introductions & prefaces to the Encyclopedia; Jacobi had claimed that all philosophy leads to pantheism, by which he meant Spinozism, since Spinozism is the only consistent philosophy.)
(An aside: I think it's clear that Spinoza is fairly counted as an atheist; the author of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus clearly wanted to convince his readers to give up their (Judaeo-Christian) religion in favor of a modern, natural science-minded philosophy. Strauss's reading of Spinoza here is, I think, blatantly correct. And so, by the standard Hegel refers to in §573, Spinoza is rightly considered an atheist by Jewish/Christian thinkers -- Spinoza is opposed to their religious conceptions, and intentionally sets out to undermine them. I don't think it's inconsistent to say all this while still allowing Hegel to be right in claiming that Spinoza is more properly viewed as an "acosmist" than an "atheist". For by §573's standard, someone can be a "theist" in some sense while still being an "atheist". Which is where Spinoza seems to fall. For in Spinoza's positive doctrine, he does posit a deus sive natura, and he does deny that "the world" apart from this monad has any reality. (I am aware that this is sketchy; I need to read more Spinoza.) Hegel's aufhebung of Spinoza here sets aside the polemical purpose Spinoza had in the Tractatus, just as it sets aside the acosmism -- insofar as Hegel is a Spinozist, he's a Spinozist who is not fairly counted as an atheist.)
It's become clear to me that many of Hegel's interpreters simply want him to not be a Lutheran. For if they regard themselves as Hegelians, they don't want to be seen as endorsing Christianity (or religion generally -- certainly not any sort of orthodox Protestantism); if they regard themselves as anti-Hegelians, they don't want to be seen as opposing Christian thought. I've noticed this in some of Pippin's stuff: whenever Hegel's religion is mentioned, it's always "Hegel's heterodox Christianity". (I'm not even going to go into what it would mean for a Protestant thinker to be heterodox -- if there's just one way to be an orthodox Protestant, than either Luther or Calvin or both are heterodox, for they disagree with each other over what each took to be foundational matters of doctrine. To say nothing of all the other branches of Protestant Christianity, such as Anabaptism or the various American phenomena. If you want to find some common core of Orthodoxy among all these groups, it's going to end up being pretty darn thin. And so it's going to become less and less plausible that Hegel rejects it.)
I recently read Hegel's foreword to Hinrich's Religion in its Inner Relation to Science. It's good. Really wish I'd encountered it a few years ago -- would've saved myself a lot of effort. Hegel even praises the Scholastics, which is really strange. Normally he says good things about Anselm, and then there's a few centuries of Deep Darkness under those Fiendish Papists and their retrograde "philosophy" which consisted of bungling Aristotle and contributing nothing positive. (It's not clear that Hegel read any medieval philosophy, apart from Anselm.) But when Hegel has his face set on arguing against Schliermacher-and-friends that speculative philosophy and theology aren't innately opposed to each other, well, he's clearly trying everything he can think of to show that they are dumb and wrong. Hegel writes a pretty decent polemic when he takes a mind to it.
But anyway, on to the impetus for my writing this post. I've been skipping around in "Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition", which is agreeably crazy and fun. (Yes, Hegel really liked Jacob Boehme. He also admitted that it's hard to figure out what the heck he was getting at, and that you can't read him for long before putting the book down because it's too darned strange.) In the introduction, in a footnote, Magee quotes from Hegel's letters. I'll just reproduce the entire footnote:
In a July 3, 1826, letter to Friedrich August Gottreu Tholuck (1799-1877), Hegel writes, "I am a Lutheran, and through philosophy have been at once completely confirmed in Lutheranism." See Hegel: The Letters, trans. Clark Butler and Christianne Seiler [citation details omitted]. In 1826 a small controversy erupted in Berlin when a priest attending Hegel's lectures complained to the government about allegedly anti-Catholic statements made by Hegel. Hegel responded: "Should suit be filed because of remarks I have made from the podium before Catholic students causing them annoyance, they would have to blame only themselves for attending philosophical lectures at a Protestant university under a professor who prides himself on having been baptized and raised a Lutheran, which he still is and shall remain."Pro Tip: Don't respond like this when someone threatens to take you to court for being a bigot.
So far, Magee's book is trying too hard to find "hermetic" elements in Hegel. There's certainly some weird stuff in there -- Magee's right that "anti-theological" readings of Hegel have to excise a lot of stuff -- but sometimes he goes too far. For instance, the quotation at the head of his introduction is itself a quotation; I remember chasing down the reference once (it required a good bit of work to figure out who "C.F.G." was), and it didn't turn out to be anything earth-shattering. If memory serves, he was a theologian. He certainly wasn't anyone who I wouldn't expect to be quoted as expounding Christian ("revealed religious") doctrine. Magee holds back on the fact that his header is neither original to Hegel nor Hermetic in origin.
Magee's exposition of "hermeticism" is also tilted in favor of his conclusion. He positions it between Christianity and pantheism, ignoring the fact that 1) Hegel doubts that anyone has ever held the latter position and 2) Christianity is a bigger tent than he lets on. He implies that Hermeticism spoke of "moments" in the way Hegel did; it did not. Hegel took the term from contemporary mechanics. (I'm positive that this is mentioned in an endnote in the Hackett Encyclopedia Logic, but "moment" is not in the index and I can't find it by skimming. The point was credited to Findlay.) He claims that Hegel's philosophy of nature spoke of nature "emanating" from God; this was a point at which Hegel criticized von Baader (see the third preface to the Encyclopedia, ps.15/16 in the Hackett Encyclopedia Logic, footnote. The relevant paragraph in the Philosophy of Nature, which is what von Baader was discussing, is admirably clear, considering its subject-matter).
I've not gotten to his attempt to claim the Phenomenology as a sort of hermetic "initiation" to the System yet. I'm pretty sure that my antecedent commitments about the relationship between the PhG and the Encyclopedia system are going to outweigh whatever evidence he can dredge up for that conclusion. I'm curious if he has anything more to back up his claim that Hegel is "not a philosopher", past that one line about raising "love of wisdom" to "wisdom itself". Certainly Hegel continued to refer to what he was doing as "philosophy"; he seems to use "philosophy" and "science" interchangeably when referring to his System. Magee requires "science" to mean something very specific, and very peculiar; Hegel seems to be using it in that good ol' super-broad sense it has in German.
Magee does have a section on Hegel and Mesmer (animal magnetism and all that); that should be fun. Hegel really did have some weird views there -- though most of them are presumably unremarkable for his time, they really do look crazy now. This is one way I can tell that most slanderers of Hegel haven't read him: they never mention animal magnetism. (A short version: Hegel thought that mind-reading was real. He cites a slew of sources to back himself up on the point, which tells me that the view was at least a little crazy at the time. But, in his theoretical account of how it might work, he only allows that feelings might be communicated from one body to another -- not thoughts. Communicating thoughts requires language (or gestures, or writing, or something cultured like that).) There really is some flat embarrassing stuff in the "Subjective Spirit" section of the Encyclopedia -- I'm curious how much of the "cures for insanity" section in the Zusatze to ss408 is credible and how much is credulous. Incidentally, in Findlay's introduction to Miller's & Wallace's translation of that volume, he claims Hegel's openness to "E.S.P." phenomena as one of the good parts of Hegel. Findlay was a theosophical nutcase -- Magee is at least right in connecting his reading of Hegel to Findlay.
PS: Classes start in a matter of hours! :o
28 September 2008
But not straightforwardly spoken-of. It's a theology post :o
27 September 2008
Robert Brandom's faculty webpage has a whole lot of downloadable content that I hadn't noticed before. The "Untimely Review of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit" is pretty cute. The conclusions Brandom's Hegel ends up drawing strike me as pretty agreeable (and genuinely Hegelian). Brandom's idiosyncratic reading of "mediation" and "determinate negation" (as, respectively, material inferential relations and relations of incompatibility) continues to irk, but otherwise I like the little essay. It probably helps that it's only nine pages long. No room for detailed misreadings; sufficient room for high-altitude cleverness.
The class page for his Making It Explicit seminar features a pretty ridiculous number of papers responding to Brandom/papers where Brandom responds to his critics. If anyone out there is interested in Brandomism but lacks institutional access to journals: There you go.
Several of his scattered Hegel papers are apparently being reworked as chapters of a book titled "A Spirit of Trust", which he's teaching as a course. All of the papers are available via the class website; the ones I've read are certainly interesting. At least his book-title is good. "A Spirit of Trust". I like that.
Brandom's also put several extracts from the Miller translation of the Phenomenology online. I don't know why he did this, since the book's a cheap paperback, but if you want to have Sense-Certainty/Perception in .doc form, well, you can get them like that this way!
I have to admit that I'm impressed: Chapter eight of "A Spirit of Trust" is 236 pages long. Looks like Brandom's Hegel-book might rival MIE in sheer hugeness.
The full title of that chapter is "From Irony to Trust: Modernity and Beyond". Certainly a nice speculative-sounding title to stick on top of two hundred and thirty six pages of material. Oddly, Rorty's name doesn't appear in the chapter. Rameau's nephew doesn't show up, either. I'm curious how Brandom actually discusses "irony", now. Not going-to-read-236-pages-to-find-out curious (well, not right now), but curious nonetheless.
On an unrelated note, John MacFarlane's "What Does It Mean To Say That Logic Is Formal?" is pretty good so far. I've just started the Kant chapter. It's a quicker read than I was expecting.
22 September 2008
(The "Being and Time" class filled up in the first three hours of registration today. Hopefully somebody drops, or that I just end up being so gosh darn endearing he overrides the registration cap. Thus the conditional in the title.)
From "Truth and Finitude" part II, p.5 in the PDF. Haugeland is describing two "popular conceptions" of death, to which Heidegger opposes the existential sense of "death":
The first of these he calls perishing. This is the ubiquitous and all-too-familiar biological phenomenon that is the cessation of systematic biological function in an organism (and, typically, the onset of organic decay). All organisms eventually perish: plants, animals, fungi, and what have you, including all specimens of Homo sapiens. But Dasein never perishes -- not because it is immortal or everlasting, but because it is not a living organism in the biological sense at all.
The second popular conception of death Heidegger calls demise. Unlike perishing, demise is not a biological phenomenon, but pertains exclusively to Dasein. It is instead a social-cultural phenomenon. Roughly speaking, demise is that social event upon which you cease to be countable in the census, your spouse becomes a widow or widower [etc]. Although demise typically coincides with the perishing of an organism, these are not at all the same. The relationship between demise and perishing is loosely analogous to that between marriage and mating (which likewise are not at all the same).
Is the reason Dasein never "perishes" just because Dasein is a class noun -- i.e., does Dasein-in-each-case perish? If so, then why didn't Haugeland just say that? Or is Dasein-in-each-case supposed to be distinct from a specimen of Homo sapiens sapiens (which would be weird)? What are "specimens of Homo sapiens" if examples of Dasein-in-each-case are not? Pre-linguistic infants, I guess?
Since "all specimens of Homo sapiens" perish, I feel compelled to infer that the reason Dasein never perishes is because Dasein-in-each-case is the thing that perishes (as a specimen of Homo sapiens). But that doesn't seem to be what Haugeland meant. If it were, it'd be clearer to just note the Dasein/Dasein-in-each-case distinction, rather than just say that Dasein is "not immortal or everlasting". Hmm. Maybe I'm just reading too much into it.
The existential sense of "death" is the only one that's said to "individuate" Dasein. That much is clear. But it seems that non-individuated (fallen) Dasein can suffer "demise" but not "perish". But then what's the "specimens of Homo sapiens" doing there? (It also makes me wonder how far we're supposed to be able to take the analogy with mating and marriage. It strikes me as reasonable to say that human beings don't "mate" -- mating is a bestial behavior, to put it pointedly. So, by analogy, human beings wouldn't "perish" -- we don't die in the way that animals and fungi and plants die. But Haugeland explicitly says that "specimens of Homo sapiens" perish just like animals and plants and fungi.) Frown. I am puzzled.
Unrelated note that didn't deserve its own post: I read the introduction to Hegel's Philosophy of Nature the other day. It was a lot better than I expected. Hegel's goal in the Naturphilosophie is to reconcile the "practical approach" taken in everyday life with the "theoretical" point of view typical of the natural sciences. It seems clear in retrospect that his attempt did not work out. But, that's clearly a reasonable thing to want to try to do. It also explains a reference I once saw to McDowell as a Naturphilosopher.
21 September 2008
Truth and Predication is now available in paperback. The "Predication" part is okay. I'm not sure I quite get how Davidson thinks Tarski (unwittingly) solved the problem -- it wasn't clear to me if he meant to distinguish Tarski from Frege on any grounds other than the fact that Tarski doesn't posit entities to correspond to predicates (whereas Frege did). I may have rushed through that last part, though; the book was due back at the library.
The book is notable for a few things, though. Davidson discusses Sellars and Strawson at more considerable length than he does elsewhere, for one. He doesn't discuss Wittgenstein at length. An editorial footnote:
[Davidson added the following note about this chapter: "My decision not to talk about Wittgenstein's view needs a comment. The reason is simply that try as I may I cannot satisfy myself that I have a sufficiently justified opinion what his views on predication were. I lament my failure here (as no doubt elsewhere) to fill in an important piece of the picture. There were clearly portentous exchanges between Frege and Wittgenstein, and between Wittgenstein and Russell. I have touched on some of the consequences of these exchanges, though of course I do not know exactly what they contained."]I suspect Davidson had similar reasons for not discussing Wittgenstein much of anywhere else: He wasn't satisfied that he had justified opinions as to just what Wittgenstein thought.
The book's probably not worth reading unless you just like reading Davidson, or you haven't read "The Structure and Content of Truth" elsewhere. As posthumous works go, I guess it beats the Opus Postumum, but it's no Philosophical Investigations.
Also, as a trivial note, Davidson finally is satisfied by an account of non-referring terms:"[Parsons comments (in his notes on the original manuscript): "Davidson conditionalizes the whole truth definition with ('p' is true or 'p' is false) > ('p' is true IFF p)." Davidson remarks: "Wonderful! This also takes care of names that don't name."]" -- I remember Davidson admitting in a few essays (as an aside) that he didn't know what to do with non-referring singular terms. Seems he's happy to go paracomplete; I have no objections.
Next note: "Mr. Strawson on Logical Theory" was pretty good. I wish I'd read it a few months ago, when N.N. et al were discussing analyticity. I really need to read McFarlane's dissertation some day.
I confess that until recently I thought Strawson's "Introduction to Logical Theory" was just a logic textbook. An ordinary-language critique of modern symbolic logic sounds pretty interesting. (Though Geach notes in a brief review in "Mind" that Strawson is insufficiently critical about the fit between the traditional syllogistic logic and ordinary language -- I gather that the book is, in part, a defense of the virtues of the Old Logic. I found both of these essays about Strawson while trying to find "On Referring", which I have not read because, really, who does things that they set out intending to do? That is boring.)
Sudden transition: Finklestein's Wittgenstein seminar this term is limited to PhD students. I was leaning away from it anyway, since it conflicts with Haugeland's class. Apparently it's the first course at Chicago on the latter Wittgenstein in five or six years -- Conant's TLP class last term was the first time the early Wittgenstein was taught in about as long. Apparently this is something the PhD students at Chicago often complain about: you have to get your Wittgenstein subterraneanly/extracurricularly.
The Wittgstein Worksop is also limited to PhD students (or others with special permission), and I have a conflict with it this fall anyway. Hopefully I can manage to at least hear Price and Murray talk in February; I want to know how Murray's paper ends, and Price's paper is a lot of fun.
On a further not-good-note, Leiter Reports notes that Haugeland is retiring after this year. Well, I guess it's a good time to take a Heidegger course with him, then. :v
I'm halfway through "Truth and Finitude: Heidegger's Transcendental Existentialism". It's great so far. As a bit of idle speculation, I wonder if what Haugeland identifies as "ontological sofindingness" might be useful in formulating an argument against dialetheism. (See, ontological sofindingness is the rejection of impossibilities in Dasein's projecting-on of the possibilities of entities. Which works out to be a rejecting of inconsistent characterizations of entities. So at least on the surface, this looks like it might be a ground for denying that there can be true contradictions without relying on Explosion. If there's some "ontological" reason to reject inconsistent possibilities, then maybe that can be useful other places where Just Saying No To Contradictions crops up.)
An aside that probably could've just been a short e-mail to Duck: Isaac Levi can't really think that beliefs about set theory are incorrigible. For the first few beliefs of that sort that Frege & Russell had lead to inconsistency, hence they were revised in fact, hence they must have been corrigible in principle. So his exclusion of logic/set theory/mathetmatical beliefs from consideration in "The Enterprise of Knowledge" seems like it has to be (at least in part) for simplification.
A happy note about Chicago: There's a conference on (if memory serves) practical philosophy in the spring. McDowell will be there. So will several other people I know I was somewhat excited about when I heard about their attending, but whose names I now am forgetting. Hooray McDowell~
Another happy note: The guy on the faculty who studied Spinoza left last year. So, the Early Modern Philosophy Workshop suddenly had no one to run it. It has since been retooled into the "Modern Philosophy Workshop". Note that the page says it has been "expanded to cover the entire modern period". This is a bluff. All of the fall speakers are talking about Kant, except for Sally Sedgwick, who's talking about Kant and Hegel. Apparently the Early Modern Workshop generally had people talking about Spinoza and Leibniz. I am totally happy to make that trade.
Another happy note: I don't have to read any more Freud! Hooray!
A note on Chicago (not that one): I like the view from my apartment, and the weather's gotten a little better. Still not good weather, but not as bad as it had been. I still hate buses and think anyone who honestly likes the public transportation here must never have lived someplace where it was easy to get around by car, like Dallas. I miss Dallas. (Getting around by bus here is easier than trying to drive around and find a place to park, but I count that as a strike against the city generally. Getting anywhere takes forever here, no matter how you go about it. I suspect this will just get worse once it gets colder out and the nights come earlier.)
Only one more week until real classes start! The stupid theory class will keep going, but at least Freud will be done! Yeah for not-Freud!
13 September 2008
I've read some more of Hornsby's "Simple Mindedness" -- I'm up to the fifth essay. I'm not sure I see why she's so well-liked by other people who like the sorts of things I like. She's okay? I don't feel like I've gained much when I finish one of her essays; the depth of argument always feel a bit shallow. (Though the conclusions are generally agreeable.) I suppose I generally don't get excited about philosophy of mind/action stuff that much, but I'm not sure if that accounts for it. I think I might be missing something.
Anyway, I'm not sure I understand her account of action. Here's two quotes from essay five in the book.
The first quote: "We have an event which is both someone's trying to do something and her actually doing something."
The second quote: "In the philosophy of action, I have claimed that an action (when it has effects beyond the agent) is a cause of a bit of the agent's body moving, and that an action (very nearly always) is an event of the agent's trying to do something."
She uses the example of hammering: "Suppose that her hammering of the nail is her trying to fix it in the wall. Then we have (in my view) the identity of her hammering... with her trying to... [sic, elipses in original]".
So: when Jill hammers, there is an event which is her action, and which is her trying to hammer. I would be inclined to say that (if she is hammering successfully) that this event is also her hammering of the nail, her moving of her arm, her arm's being moved, her driving of the nail into the wall, the nail's being driven into the wall, etc. Which seems to be a way the first quote could be read. But it seems to me that Hornsby wants to say something different: When Jill hammers, ithere is an event which is her action, and which is her trying to hammer, and which is the cause of her hammering, her moving of her arm, etc. This seems to be what's clearly stated in the second quote.
So, to make the two consistent, the "actually doing something" of the first quote seems to just be "actually trying" -- which is not unreasonable in itself, since a trying is a doing-something. But in her example, she seemed to identify the "trying" and the "hammering", so the "actually doing something" seems like it has to be both the hammering and the cause of the bodily movement that is the hammering. Is the hammering/trying supposed to be causa sui? That would seem odd -- I'd think it right to say that they were caused not by themselves, but by the reasons Jill had for hammering. I don't know why Hornsby would want to say something else.
In general, I don't see why she wants to say that actions cause bodily movements, rather than (certain sorts of) actions just being (kinds of) bodily movements, these being two ways to describe the one event. I don't see why anyone would want to say "Actions are inside the body", as Hornsby did in 1980 (and only semi-retracts in "Simple Mindedness", p.232 n.1). What's the point of that sort of slogan, if one doesn't want to try to stick actions "inside", where "mental" things are -- and surely Hornsby is innocent of that urge?
Does Hornsby just want to say that actions (which are bodily movements) generally cause other bodily movements? I suppose that's true, but I don't see why it's worth drawing attention to. Actions cause all sorts of things.
So, I'm puzzled. Some help?
On a side-note: Chicago is cold and wet so far, except for when it's hot and wet. At least my allergies are doing better up here. Less then 24 hours until class-related things start: watching Romeo + Juliet sunday afternoon, then dinner.
06 September 2008
I've finally gotten around to looking at "Truth and Predication", which is Davidson's first and posthumous book. Up until now, the only place I've seen the book so much as mentioned was in its NDPR review from when it first came out; I've wondered why it seemed neglected.
It turns out that the first half of the book is a reprinting of Davidson's Dewey Lectures, previously published as "The Structure and Content of Truth". I had thought it was odd that these lectures hadn't been included in any of the Davidson essay collections; mystery solved. This also explains why the book hasn't been mentioned much: Half of it is old material.
Davidson mentions in the Introduction that he's left the lectures basically untouched, since they've already been widely cited & commented upon; he says that the few changes he's made have mostly been in footnotes. Apart from one marginal note at the end of the third lecture, I only found a single revision of possible substance.
Here's the footnote as it appears in chapter three of "Truth and Predication", p.51: "The step from observed assents to inferred attitude [sic] of holding true is not, I think, in Quine."
And here it is in "The Structure and Content of Truth" p. 318: "The step from observed assents to the inferred attitude of holding true is not, I think, explicit in Quine." (my emnphasis)
Now, given that the sentence has lost an article in the transition from article to book, it's possible that this is just a printing error. If so, it's an amusing one.
(Well, I was amused.)
The marginal note at the end of the third chapter (which equals the last of the Dewey Lectures) is obscure; Davidson was noting some things he wanted to incorporate "in chapter 2 or 3". But there is this rather nice bit in it: "I want to make clear that my 'solution' isn't a basic one. It is an alternative to deflationary, epistemic or correspondence theories not in proposing a better definition (or short summary) but in suggesting a different approach which relates the concept of truth to other concepts."
I haven't gotten around to reading the "Predication" parts of the book yet, though the introduction makes clear that Davidson thinks that something Tarskian will do the job (and nothing else has -- most of this part of the book is historical/critical).
The introduction also features Davidson excusing himself from addressing the semantic paradoxes. I'd wondered what he had to say about those; it did seem a little odd that he'd written so much about truth without addressing "this sentence is not true". I'll just reproduce the passage, because I am too tired to summarize and I have to get up early in the morning to move things into a truck:
I have been chided more than once for leaving out the semantic paradoxes. The honest reason is that I have nothing new to say; I like the proposals of Burge and Parsons. How can I say the concept of truth is so clear? Well, relatively clear. The paradoxes don't intrude in our ordinary talk. Why not? They arise when we try to assign truth values to sentences containing the concept of truth. But sentences are already a long way from most ordinary speech. We don't utter sentences, but rather tokens of sentences. Since communication depends on what we make of the tokens of others, and communication often succeeds, we can normally assume that others mean what we would mean if we uttered those sentences. This is something we can and do check up on, consciously or not, all the time. But it remains the case that we succeed only to a degree (there are many dimensions). Truth, whether of sentences or of utterances, is relative to a language, and we never know exactly what the language is.
It is not my view that therefore the concept of truth is ambiguous. No more, anyway, than in the case of any word. Our words are clear enough in the circumstances in which they have been used. When we test the limits, we are typically not asking "what does it mean?" but "how shall we use it now that these difficulties have come up?"
As for sentences without a truth value, and names without a reference: again, this is a topic on which I do not feel I have any serious and original thoughts. We know the semantic role of names that do refer; it's one of the first things we learned. But this is of no help in deciding whether sentences containing proper names have a truth value. Our intuitions, based on our knowledge of their role when they do refer, prompt one (me) to hold a sentence like 'Zeus does not exist' as true if there is no one who fulfills certain usually adequate properties, and false if someone does. But I intuitively treat the sentences in Homer that recount some of Zeus's sexual misbehaviour as neither true nor false. But of course the context is all. I do not mean it is pointless to consider seriously the semantic role of proper names. Just as this book illustrates two different routes into the simplest sentential structures, starting with reflections on the role of proper names might end up doing the same thing. "The Problem of Proper Names" might then have taken the place of "The Problem of Predication." [marginal note here: "Certainly, for Quine; maybe for Russell."]