Saul Kripke, Philosopher Who Found Truths In Semantics, Dies At 81
Saul Kripke, a math prodigy and pioneering logician whose revolutionary theories on language qualified him as one of the 20th century’s greatest philosophers, died on Sept. 15 in Plainsboro, N.J. He was 81. The New York Times reports: His death, at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center, was caused by pancreatic cancer, according to Romina Padro, director of the Saul Kripke Center at the City University of New York, where Professor Kripke had been a distinguished professor of philosophy and computer science since 2003 and had capped a career exploring how people communicate. Professor Kripke’s classic work, “Naming and Necessity,” first published in 1972 and drawn from three lectures he delivered at Princeton University in 1970 before he was 30, was considered one of the century’s most evocative philosophical books.

“Kripke challenged the notion that anyone who uses terms, especially proper names, must be able to correctly identify what the terms refer to,” said Michael Devitt, a distinguished professor of philosophy who recruited Professor Kripke to the City University Graduate Center in Manhattan. “Rather, people can use terms like ‘Einstein,’ ‘springbok,’ perhaps even ‘computer,’ despite being too ignorant or wrong to provide identifying descriptions of their referents,” Professor Devitt said. “We can use terms successfully not because we know much about the referent but because we’re linked to the referent by a great social chain of communication.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Taylor Branch, writing in The New York Times Magazine in 1977, said Professor Kripke had “introduced ways to distinguish kinds of true statements — between statements that are ‘possibly’ true and those that are ‘necessarily’ true.” “In Professor Kripke’s analysis,” he continued, “a statement is possibly true if and only if it is true in some possible world — for example, ‘The sky is blue’ is a possible truth, because there is some world in which the sky could be red. A statement is necessarily true if it is true in all possible worlds, as in ‘The bachelor is an unmarried man.'”

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