Wikipedia lists a vivid designator as the following:

Vivid designator:

In modal logic and the philosophy of language, a vivid designator is a term which is believed to designate the same thing in all possible worlds and nothing else where such an object does not exist in a possible world. It is the analogue, in the sense of believing, of a rigid designator, which is (refers to) the same in all possible worlds, rather than is just believed to be so.

Willard Van Orman Quine Willard Van Orman Quine credits David Kaplan (who in turn Montgomery Furth) for the term "vivid designator" in his 1977 paper "Intensions Revisited". He examines the separation between de re and de dicto and does away with de re statements, because de re statements can only work for names that are used referentially. In fact, both rigid designators and vivid designators are similarly dependent on context and empty otherwise. The same is true of the whole quantified modal logic of necessity because it collapses if essence is withdrawn.

Can someone point me a good source where I may expand my knowledge on vivid designators? I'm quite interested in utilizing them to provide grounding for de re counterfactuals under a QML approach.

1 Answer 1


Vivid designator (originally "vivid name") is Kaplan's replacement for rigid designator in the logic of beliefs and other propositional attitudes introduced in Quantifying In. The point was to eliminate the metaphysical essentialism of de re modality by relativizing rigidity to context and background of belief reports. This was a descriptivist alternative to Kripke's modal metaphysics, implicit already in Russell's 1940 theory of noticing. Indeed, even Quine, the archenemy of de re modality, speaks of them approvingly in Intensions Revisited:

"Relative to a particular inquiry, some predicates may play a more basic role than others, or may apply more fixedly; and these may be treated as essential. The respective notions, then, of vivid designator and rigid designator, are similarly dependent on context and empty otherwise.

[...] Kaplan's judgment, which he credits to Montgomery Furth, is that the step is sound only in the case of what he calls a vivid designator, which is the analogue, in the logic of belief, of a rigid designator .... And what might this analogue be? We saw that in modal logic a term is a rigid designator if (∃x)□(x = a), where 'a' stands for the term, so the parallel condition for the logic of belief is that (∃x)Bt(x = a), if Tom is our man. Thus a term is a vivid designator, for Tom, when there is a specific thing that he believes it designates. Vivid designators, analogues of the rigid designators in modal logic, are the terms that can be freely used to instantiate quantifications in belief contexts, and that are subject to the substitutivity of identity - and, now, to exportation".

See also Kvart's Quine and Modalities de Re: A Way Out?, and recent surveys: Salmon's Three Perspectives on Quantifying In in New Essays on Singular Thought, and The 1968 Solution to the Paradoxes and Its Aftermath by Falk.

  • Thank you for the edifying response. I'll be occupied for a while then.
    – Wallows
    Jun 13, 2019 at 7:23

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