Crushing Puppies, Superman

His only weakness……….

Originally uploaded by Samsauce.

Picking up on my Kripkenite puzzle post, Richard Chappell nicely formulates it as an inconsistant triad:

(1) Kryptonite is (numerically identical to) the mineral “sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide” [according to the label shown in the film Superman Returns]

(2) Kryptonite is essentially fictional

(3) Sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide is actual (and so not essentially fictional)

Chappell argues for ditching (1), but my inclination is against (2). I figure that ficitonal entities don’t literally have any properties yet alone essential ones. As I argued in “Dear Watson” there might be an attenuated sense in which fictional entities have properties in virtue of authorial intent, but they will seldom have, in this sense, the property of being represented. For similar reasons, they won’t have the property of being fictional.

One worry I have about the specific example of Kryptonite is that there is too much divergence between the AP reported substance and the various properties attributed in the Superman stories. I hoped to get around this with a chemically pure (pun!) version of the puzzle: The Puppy Crusher. From the previous comments thread:

Suppose that in a James Bond novel, a character mixes a drink that no one has ever mixed before - say it’s three parts gin and one part maple syrup - and they call it “The Puppy Crusher”. Suppose at some later date an actual bar tender mixes up three parts gin and one part maple syrup. Is it necesarily true that that drink isn’t a Puppy Crusher?

26 Responses to “Crushing Puppies, Superman”

  1. Richard says:

    Interesting! I agree that the actual drink would also be a Puppy Crusher. This is because the fiction is describing a non-fictional substance, namely the mix of gin and maple syrup.

    It seems like Kryptonite is meant to be more deeply fictional than that. (Perhaps due to authorial intent?) They aren’t starting with a real substance and adding fictional attributes. Rather, it seems, they’re starting with a fictional substance and attributing to it a (chemical) property that happens to correspond to something real.

    I wonder how to draw this distinction in a principled way?

  2. AG says:


    Let’s say a bartender has a blog and puts up a post on a new drink his friend made that is three parts gin and one part maple, called the Puppy Crusher. During the night he dies and it’s forever undeterminable whether or not his friend actually ever made such a drink or even existed. At some later date, a reader conjurs up this mix.

    By the way, there is a drink called the Bannana Beef Brownie which made with beef bullion and Irish cream. Or is there? (has anyone really ever made one?)

  3. Pete,

    Do you say:

    I figure that ficitonal entities don’t literally have any properties yet alone essential ones.

    In response to:

    Kryptonite is essentially fictional.


    If you do, it sound weird. You seem to be accepting that Kryptonite is a fictional entity, and on that base negating that Kryptonite can have any property, including being fictional?
    Or maybe I misunderstood.

  4. Pete Mandik says:


    On my view, saying “Kryptonite is fictional” is no more an instance of predicating “being a ficition” of Kryptonite than saying “I’m thinking about unicorns” is predicating “being thought about” of unicorns. In both cases, I’m committed to certain kinds of representations - Kryptonite stories and unicorn thoughts. But I’m not committed to there existing any objects that the representations are related to by a representation relation. I’m not committed to the existence of Kryptonite for the stories to be related to or unicorns for the thoughts to be related to.

  5. Another Richard? What are the odds?

    We have to be careful here. We cannot just assume that because Pete used the words ‘gin’ and ‘maple syrup’ and etc that the story is about our gin and our maple syrup, they could, for instance, be about gin on Twin Earth, which being made with twater will not be chemically like our gin…(let’s say, I actually don’t know if water is used to make gin….at any rate you get the point)….Unless there is some reason to think that the story is specifically about our gin, there is no reason to think that the bar tender who later (I assume) imitates the novel and makes the drink is making a puppy crusher, even if he calls it one: for the puppy crusher in the fiction may be made of some competely different elements!

    But let’s suppose that the gin and maple syrup talked about are our gin and maple syrup, does it then follow that the bar tender makes a puppy crucher? It depends on what we actually find out about the story and how it was made. Suppose that we find out that the author actually used to makes these drinks when he was in college and so when he writes them into the story he is inserting something that is actual into the fiction (so to speak, which is to say that the causal chain running from the token of ‘puppy crusher’ traces back to the baptisism of an actual object). If this is the case and the bar tender makes the same drink because he heard about it inthe story, then yes he makes a puppy crusher. IF the bar tender has never heard of the story and makes the drink up on his own and decides to call it a puppy crusher as well, we could debate about whether or not to describe the situation as one where he ‘discovers’ the same drink as the author did but it is clear that we now have two distinct causal chains and so whenever someone said ‘puppy crusher’ we would need to know which one of these chains was salient (in order to know what was being talked about, but some people (like Devitt) don’t really care if we know what we are talkingabout…)

    But now suppose that the above stroy about the way the author comes up with puppy crushers isn’t right. Suppose that the author simply ‘plucks it out of thin air’ one day sitting at his computer. “I know,” he thinks “This character I am working on will of course have a favorite drink, what could it be? hmm….let’s say it’s, I don’t know, gin and maple syrup. Ha, that’s good! I’ll call it a ‘puppy crusher’…” Something like this will be the baptisim where the term comes to designate the thing that it does. But in this case the name is ‘attached’, not to a thing, but to a description. It becomes ‘the favorite drink of this character’ or something like that. So the difference here is one between a use of a name whose causal chain ends in an act of bestowing on an actual object the property if bearing a certain name and a use of a name whose causal chain ends in an act of creativity.

    So Pete, you shouldn’t be worried that there is some fictional thing out there that has the property of necassarily being fictional; that would indeed be very odd (though I suppose if one was gung ho enough one could claim that those objects that were nec. fictional were objects that existed at some possible worlds, but necassarily, not at the actual world…but just typing that makes me feel dirty…). The claim that some object is nec. fictional is really just the claim that the causal chain connecting uses of the name to refer don’t ‘ground out’ in some actual thing. This means that if we take a sentence, as used and so as expressing a singular thought about some particular object, that has a token causally connected to no actual object and evaluate it in various modal contexts, none of them can be correctly characterized as containing the object in question, since there isn’t one.

  6. Pete Mandik says:

    One of the eight million things I don’t get about this Kripke stuff is how baptism is supposed to work, yet alone serve as a basic case upon which all further semantics is built.

    Suppose that by some miracle there was actually such a unique event as the first time someone pointed at water and uttered “I dub this ‘water’”. The success of the dubbing depends on, among other things, that “I” refers to that person, that “this” refers to the water, that “dub” refers to dubbing, and so on. Further, when subsequent language users not present at the dubbing ceremony pick up the word “water” and use it successfully to refer to water, they presumably need to rely on the testimony of others, which presupposes even more semantic facts.

  7. Mark says:

    If I met you at the bar to discuss this blog entry, but had forgotten the ingredients of the Puppy Crusher, and so proceeded to ask you, “What was the composition of the Puppy Crusher?” Would the answer be more like:

    a) 3 parts gin, 1 part maple syrup
    b) it has none, “being composed of” is a property and the Puppy Crusher isn’t permitted properties
    c) wispy bits of fiction stuff
    d) 3 parts fiction gin, 1 part fiction syrup
    e) there is no Puppy Crusher
    f) none of the above


  8. Pete Mandik says:


    Nice way of putting the problem. I’d, of course, pick (a).

  9. Pete,
    For what it is worth, this is my idea of how baptizing and further communication goes…
    In my thinking, a person doesn’t have to say “I dub this water” in order for the baptism to work. He can merely point to the water, and say “water”. What is needed is then:
    1.Baptizer is aware of the substance, and pointing to it.
    2.Baptizer intends to give a name to the substance
    3.People which are present to be (or become) aware of the substance
    4.Those people to become aware that baptizer is pointing to the substance
    5.Those people to accept that word will mean the substance.
    Those people can further use “water” to mean what they are (or became) aware of (namely water), and
    6.Teach people again by a process similar to the baptizing.
    Of course one doesn’t even have to be aware of water, in order to refer to water. That is, because one can mean by “water” - “Whatever you mean by ‘water’”. (For example, A:”There is water there.” B:”What is water?”)

    On side note, I don’t see causal relation as important there, but the intentionality (being aware of). Some people will say that “A being aware of X” is grounded in causal relation between X and A. I won’t.

  10. Pete Mandik says:


    My concern was how such a thing could “serve as a basic case upon which all further semantics is built”. The semantics in question would also include psychosemantics. It’s left wide-open in your formulation how, for example, in step 1 a mental act of awareness can be an awareness of water, or in step 2 a mental act of intentding can be an intention to name water.

    Also, what makes that outstretched finger a pointing to water as opposed to a pointing to the space half-way between the water and the finger?

  11. Mark, you are missing an option. Why not ‘there is no such thing as a puppy crusher, but in the story they said it was made of gin and maple syrup.’ Compare: ‘what is the anatomy of a unicorn?’ ANS: ‘there anren’t any unicorns, but the myths say that they were horse-like, so maybe they have horse anatomy’

    Pete, re baptising. I think you are making way too much of the ‘basic case upon which all further semantics is built’. Kripke is in no way committed to the claim that there has to be a unique baptism. There can be lots of different causal chains taking all kinds of differing routes; as long as they all trace back to H20 they are all about the same stuff (this is not always the case. Some of our uses of ‘water’ trace back to this fictional stuff called XYZ).

    As for your other problem, you are right that there are two parts of the theory. The first is a theory of reference fixing, the second a theory of reference borrowing.

  12. Pete Mandik says:


    Suppose that there’s one causal chain that leads to a dubbing ceremony of some H20 in Slobovia and another causal chain that leads to a dubbing ceremony of some H20 in Fredonia. What is it that makes all subsequent uses of “water” refer to H20 as opposed to some uses refering to Slobovian H20 and others to Freedonian H20?

    The only plausible answers I can think of are going to be along the lines of “the intentions of the dubbers were to pick out a natural kind and being a substance from a country isn’t a natural kind”. But such an answer concedes a lot to the holist/descriptionist and downplays the contribution of the causal connection to the referent.

    Such an answer makes it look like the refernce of “water” is determined by an associated description like “a natural kind that was a causal antecedent of current uses of ‘water’”. It’s not the causal connection that’s doing the work. It’s a description that describes, among other things, a causal connection, that is doing the work.

    Holists win!

  13. Bro, you haven’t even come close to winning you have instead turned into Michael Devitt or Kim Sterelny :)

    Here is what they say in their Language and Reality

    Users of a natural kind term need not have true beliefs about the underlying nature of the relevant natural kind or even have any beliefs sufficient to identify its members. Is it necessary to have any true beliefs about the members at all? Is there any descriptie requirement on reference? The rejection of description theories and acceptance of a causal theory may seem to suggest not. Would such a suggestion go to far?….Consideration of groundings…encourages a descriptive requirement and the depature from the pure-causal theory. Not first that a descriptive element seems implicit in our account already: the belief that the sample is a member of a natural kind…There must be something about the grounding situation that makes it the case that it is a grounding of a natural kind term and not talk about, say, an artifact…It seems that the grounder must, in effect and at some level, “think of” the sample as a member of a natural kind, and intend to apply the term to the sample as such a member. (p. 93)

    This is what he calls the ‘qua’ problem and while he thinks that this does concede some ground to descriptive theories, it is nothing like defeat. Here is what he says later when he and Strerelny offer their solution to the qua problem.

    In saying that historical-causal theories of reference attempt explanations of how reference is “ultimately” fixed we have in mind that they will be combined with other theories explaining aspects of reference that rest on ultimate links. An ultimate link is a direct one between a [token of a] word [or a concept] and reality. We have suggested that there are also two sorts of indirect links. First, a person’s word may depend for its reference on other words that she associates with it: it is covered by a description theory (or a descriptive-causal theory) of reference fixing, not a pure-causal one. The link of such a word is indirect in that it is via the direct links of other words to the world. Second, we have argued that the words allegedly covered by historical-causal theories of reference fixing can be borrowed. So, typically, a person’s reference with such a word will depend on other people’s reference with it. If it does then its link to its referent is indirect in that it is via the links of other people tp the referent.(p157)

    (I added the stuff in brackets to make it something that Icould agree with). So, again, he does concede that there is some truth, for some kinds of concepts/uses of words, that the holist gets right. But even so, all of this is, in his terminology, ULTIMATELY explained by the direct link that the word water has to the stuff, “thought of” in some sense, as a natural kind. But you should not get too excited because he then goes on to borrow a page from Ruth Millikan and Co. to ultimately fix the problem.

    Instead of taking biological functions to determine the contents of thoughts we take them to determine the contents of more basic representational states, perceptions, Percieving a rabbit is a matter of being in a state with the biological function of representing a rabbit. An interesting thing about this idea is that it does not replace the historical-causal theory of reference fixing, it supplements it. That theory, it will be remembered, suffered from teh qua-problem: In virtue of what is a particular grounding of ‘rabbit’ a groundings in rabbits rather than mammels or vertebrates or whatever? The present idea offers a teological answer: the grounding is in rabbits because it involves a perceptual state that has the function of representing rabbits. The teleological theory of perception becomes an essential part of the theory of groundings

    So, you see, your victory is rather hollow from Devitt’s view.

    Gee, I sure hope I got all that code right…***bites nails***…here goes

  14. Drats! Damn you italics!!!

  15. Pete Mandik says:

    I don’t see how the causal thing deserves the honorific of what “ULTIMATELY” explains reference. It still looks to me that it is ultimately not doing much at all.

  16. Pete,

    You say:

    Such an answer makes it look like the reference of “water” is determined by an associated description like “a natural kind that was a causal antecedent of current uses of ‘water’”. It’s not the causal connection that’s doing the work. It’s a description that describes, among other things, a causal connection, that is doing the work.

    I think that the problem can be solved by taking out ‘causal’ from the historical-causal account, and leaving the more general historical-intentional account. (Leaving aside the issue if intentionality is grounded in causality)
    In such case baptizer gives name to whatever he saw. So, both in Slobovia and Freedovia baptizers saw water. It is not part of their intention to baptize natural-kind, it is just that what they noticed (or became aware of), etc… IS natural kind. So, I think such move from causal story, so story framed in terms of intentionality takes care of part of your problem…

    As for some of the other issues you raised:


    It’s left wide-open in your formulation how, for example, in step 1 a mental act of awareness can be an awareness of water, or in step 2 a mental act of intending can be an intention to name water.

    Yes, it is true that I leave the intentionality unexplained. However I take it that the causal-intentional picture works as description of how things happen. How this phenomena can (if it can) be reduced to physicalist account, I take it to be separate issue.


    Also, what makes that outstretched finger a pointing to water as opposed to a pointing to the space half-way between the water and the finger?

    I see the pointing finger as a way to make something in the publically accessible space more salient for the other person. In some cases, I take it that the thing would be salient enough that pointing isn’t necessary. At other times, we will make something (e.g. property salient), by giving a series of slides which feature what we want to point to (figuratively).
    (The analysis of this might be also connected to the researches that show how people are good at tracking what other people are looking at.)

  17. Pete Mandik says:

    “In such case baptizer gives name to whatever he saw. So, both in Slobovia and Freedovia baptizers saw water.”

    The Slobovian saw Slobovian water and the Freedonian saw Freedonian water. So what is it in your theory that makes it the case that all subsequent tokenings of “water” refer simply to water and not some to Freedonian water and others to Slobovian water?

  18. Pete,

    I guess I’m missing something. Let me ask two things:

    1. I wonder if it is important that in both cases the word is “water”? I mean, in normal cases there would be two words “swater” and “fwater” that both would mean water. In this special case, it is purely incidental that the same word (e.g. “water”) means water. So, I think the issue wouldn’t loose anything, by saying that Slobovian baptizer saw water (in Slobovia) and baptize it “swater”, and Freedonian baptizer saw water (in Freedonia) and baptized it “fwater”.
    So, I guess the question in this case would be in virtue of which both “swater” and “fwater” both refer to water (and not to Slobovian water, and Freedonian water respectively).

    2. But, I don’t know what Slobovian water vs. Freedonian water would mean. Those both are merely water, right? So by becoming aware of Freedonian water, there is nothing more to become aware of than becoming aware of the water. Same for Slobovian water. Do you think that some other example would make more salient the issue you want to point to?

  19. Pete Mandik says:

    “But, I don’t know what Slobovian water vs. Freedonian water would mean. Those both are merely water, right? ”

    No, Slobovian water is water that is in Slobovia. Freedonian water is water that is in Freedonia.

    Here’s a way of putting one of my main problems with this dubbing stuff. When the Fredonian dubber enacts the dubbing ritual, there are lots of things true of the water he is near. It is true that it is water. It is true that it is non-solid. It is true that it is wet. It is true that it is water in Freedonia. Which of these things does “water” mean? Your answer is that intentionality solves the problem. I don’t see how it helps at all. Intentionality is the problem. What makes it the case that what the dubber had in mind was to make “water” mean water and not make “water” mean non-solid or Freedonian water? And more to the point in the discussion of whether anything is essentially fictional: Why couldn’t a dubber just call that stuff to mind without having even been in the presence of some water?

  20. Richard Brown says:


  21. Richard Brown says:

    Pete, I think T’s idea is that they both intend to name THAT STUFF and THAT STUFF happens to be H20 in both cases so both words refer to H20 whether they know it or not…

  22. Richard Brown says:

    I am totally baffeled as to why you say what you do…it’s sort of like Hume and his theory of ideas. You have complex ideas and simple ideas which ultimately trace back to some impression, so on the causal theory the reference of a concept ultimately traces back to a concept-world relationship…that is not honorific, and it is ultimate

  23. Pete Mandik says:

    Would it change anything if I had instead said “I don’t see how the causal thing deserves the honorific of what “ULTIMATELY” explains what reference is“?

    Causation itself is not semantic. And there’s this vast web of beliefs most of which do not causally interact with that which they are beliefs about. But somehow tying a little causal string to the edge of the big web gives rise to the miracle of reference?

    I don’t see how Hume is going to bail you out here, since for him, “traces back” is going to equal “analytically reduces to”.

    To put your eye back on the ball, I take it that what you need, for the purposes of this dicussion thread, is some way of blocking a Russellian analysis of Kryptonite and Puppy Crushers whereby they can be defined by a definite description that is only contingently false.

  24. The idea to remove the ‘causal’ and change it with more general intentional account, is that such move allows one not to talk about intentional relations which might be reduced to causal relations (seeing, hearing, etc… something), but also to include in the account the intentional relations of other types - i.e. imagining, assuming, and so on… In such way, one doesn’t say that the usage of word *doesn’t* trace back to a causal relation between the thing and the baptizer, but that it does trace back to an act of imagination, assumption, etc…

    Further the intentional account, can I think address the issue of what did the baptizer intend to name, because differently from causal account which, the intentional accounts contains possibility of *attending* specific thing. So, the baptizer can put attention to the stuff (water), can put attention to any of the properties that water has (liquidity), can put the attention to the body of water (e.g. lake). So, that’s how baptizer baptizes something specific from the situation.
    Of course the baptizing, and further usage of word are successful, if other people present figured out what he attends to. (i.e. any kind of misunderstanding of what is being named are possible)

  25. Pete Mandik says:


    You’ve so weakend the notion of dubbing so that the authors of the fictions wherein “Kryptionite” and “Puppy Crusher” first appear get to count as dubbers. Which is fine by me. But it’s not going to help the Kryptonite-haters (those who deny that Kryptonite has been or even can be discovered) any.

  26. Richard Brown says:

    No that wouldn’t have helped…

    No one has said that causation is semantic; only that it ultimately EXPLAINS semantic facts, like for instance why my thoughts about Aristotle are actually about ARISTOTLE and not about DEMOCRITUS.

    I agree about the Hume stuff, complex ideas analytically reduce to simple ones and simple ones are copies of impressions. I do not think, though, that it makes any sense to say that for Hume simple ideas analytically reduce to impressions…is that what you were suggesting? That is exceedingly odd! Simple ideas are analytically basic and get their content from the impression which they are copied…

    I am puzzled by what you think I need to produce, since I have already agreed that for fictional things the description is all that we need (the causal chain traces back to a creative act whereby someone fixes the referent of the term by ‘attaching’ it to a description…e.g. “James Bond’s favorite drink” or “mineral from Krypton”…the claim I have been making is that this is fundamentally different from what you find at the end of the causal chain for things that are not fictional…