On p. 53, Kripke turns to criticisms of the description theory. First, however, he introduces his distinction between using a description to "give the meaning" of a name and using it only to "fix the reference". Kripke never really explains this distinction very clearly, simply illustrating it with examples. But what he seems to have in mind is that, if one uses a description to "give the meaning", then the name is synonymous with the description and functions largely as an abbreviation for that description (see the top of p. 32). If, by contrast, one uses the description just to "fix the reference", then the name is not an abbreviation for the description.
Kripke explores this distinction (on pp. 54-7) using the example of the standard meter stick, but there are real-life examples that can be used instead. One, noted by Sir Michael Dummett, is the name "St Anne", which was stipulatively introduced as a name for the mother of the Virgin Mary. But certainly we do not use "St Anne" as an abbreviation for "the mother of Mary". If we did, then "St Anne had a child" would be equivalent to "The mother of Mary had a child" and so would be a necessary truth. But St Anne, like anyone, might have died in infancy, succumbing to a childhood illness, and then she wouldn't have had a child. So "St Anne had a child" is no necessary truth, and the description is only being used to fix the reference, not to give the meaning. Note, on the other hand, that "St Anne had a child" is arguably a priori: Anyone who understands the name "St Anne" knows that she had a child (assuming that Mary was a real person, etc). So this is an example of the sort of statement that Kripke claims is contingent even though a priori.
Note here again that Kripke's point is that when we use the name "St Anne" to describe a possible situation, we always use the name to refer to (our) St Anne. He is not saying that, in other worlds, people could not use the name "St Anne" to refer to a different woman, and if they fixed its reference the same way we do, then they might. (This particular example is complicated by some claims Kripke wants to make about essence, but those claims are irrelevant to the example.)
Kripke does not deny, then, that there are at least some cases in which a description is used to fix the referent of a name. But he does deny that a description ever gives the meaning of a name. The argument is just a generalization of the one just given. What description might we associate with the name "Otto von Bismark"? Perhaps "the first chancellor of the 19th century German Empire". But, obviously, "Bismark was a politician" is no necessary truth, whereas "The first chancellor of the 19th century German Empire" was a politician looks to be. And, Kripke suggests, the same sort of thing will happen with any description one might choose, unless one just happened to choose one that expressed an essential property of the object. (Indeed, it is not obvious that objects have enough essential properites that there will always be a description, given entirely in terms of essential properties, that picks it out uniquely.)
Kripke takes these considerations, then, to refute the "ordinary" description theory, construed as a theory of the meanings of names (and not just as a theory of what fixes reference). He then turns, on p. 60, to the cluster theory and argues that it succumbs to similar objections.
Kripke takes the cluster theory to consist of six theses:
- The "cluster" that a speaker S associates with a name 'N' is the family of properties φ such that S believes 'φ(N)'.
- One of the properties, or some conjointly, are believed by S to pick out some individual uniquely.
- If most, or a weighted most, of the φ's are satisfied by one unique object y, then y is the referent of 'N'.
- If the vote yields no unique object, 'N' does not refer.
- The statement, 'If N exists, then N has most of the φs' is known a priori by the speaker.
- The statement, 'If N exists, then N has most of the φs' expresses a necessary truth (in S's language).
Note, as Kripke says, that (6) will be part of the theory only if one thinks that the cluster "gives the meaning" of the name. There is also an additional condition, (C), that specifies that the account must not be circular.
Formulate Kripke's argument against the cluster theory in your own terms.
There is a response to this argument that is nowadays fairly common: Instead of 'ordinary' descriptions like "the φ", we can use so-called 'actualized' or 'rigidified' descriptions of the form "the actual φ". So, in the case of "St Anne", the associated description would be "the actual mother of Mary" or, perhaps, "the woman who was Mary's mother in the actual world".
If "St Anne" abbreviates "the actual mother of Mary", then "St Anne had a child" abbreviates "The actual mother of Mary had a child". The former, as we saw, is contingent. Is the latter contingent or necessary? It may help to consider "The woman who was the mother of Mary in the actual world might have died in infancy". (Be careful about necessity vs a priority!!)
My own view is that the real purpose of Lecture I, overall, is to introduce the distinction between necessity and a priority and, with it in place, to eliminate the "strong" form of the description theory that takes descriptions to "give the meaning" of names. The real action is hten in Lecture II, to which we turn next.
I am inclined to think that no one ever held the strong form of the description theory, except possibly for Russell. Have a close look at the passage from Searle that Kripke quotes on p. 61 (and the surrounding remarks). If we assume that Searle (like everyone else at that time) is conflating necessity and a priority, then we need to ask what exactly Searle means here: We need to disambiguate his use of "necessary". What do you think he means?