Essay on Is There a Solution to Kripke’s Puzzle?

Published: 2021/11/15
Number of words: 2767

Saul Kripke’s puzzle, proposed in ‘A Puzzle about Belief’ tends to be problematic for most belief contexts. It entails various beliefs and commences from an intuitive premise identified as the disquotational principle (D). The principle notes that if an ordinary English speaker, upon reflection agrees to “q,”then she/he believes in that q.[1] In this case, the quotes are an indication that the statement p is considered as a sentence as opposed to a proposition. However, when applying this self-evident principle, in some circumstances, one may experience some inconsistencies in various individuals’ beliefs. Moreover, Kripke’s puzzle is also based on the principle of translation (T), which notes that incase a certain phrase written in a given language demonstrates truth in the same language, then any other translation to another language will equivalently express a truth. For a better understanding of the puzzle, it is critical to examine such inconsistencies based on other philosophers’ views. Therefore, I will contend in this essay that, even though Kripke’s puzzle inconsistencies cannot be wholly eliminated, limiting cases where contradictions occur and arguing that in such cases the contradictions are justified, will offer a solution.

Kripke’s puzzle involves the case of Pierre, a Frenchman who knows only a single language and has already heard good things about London, but calls it Londres.Reflecting on his stories about London, Pierre strongly agrees to the phraseLondresestjolie. By application of the (D) and (T),

  • Pierre clearly believes that London is attractive.

With time, Pierre relocates to London and later learns the English language. Pierre’s new environment is assumed to be not so good to the extent that he genuinely agrees to the phrase, “London is not pretty.” By applying (D) it is clear that

  • Pierre again believes that London is not attractive.

From the above situation, Pierre never implies that he has already withdrawn his assent from Londresestjolie, but instead notes that the unattractive city where he is currently living is different from the attractive one that he used to hear about while in his home country.[2]

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Under this case, Kripkeposes a puzzle that seeks to ascertain whether people can legitimately attribute any of the two beliefs to Pierre. Particularly, Kripke considers the available options, including denying that Pierre holds either (1), or (2), or denying that he holds both, but ends up dismissing all of them. However, an in-depth analysis of the case indicates that at a particular time, Pierre holds the belief that London is an attractive place, and he never altered his mind. Equally, his new belief cannot be assumed, irrespective of the French background. Suppose, Pierre erases his past memory and maintains the current one, he can support other English neighbours in assenting that London is not attractive. However, the fact that his memory is erased never offers him a new belief. Therefore, his French past will be irrelevant as to whether Pierre possesses a new belief or not. Denying him the two options only worsens the situation by combining the trouble, thereby not being correct either. Assuming that Pierre holds the two beliefs will imply that he possesses contradictory ones. Nevertheless, this option seemingly leads to insuperable challenges. It can also be assumed that Pierre is a leading logician with the ability to recognize and correct any contradictory beliefs. As such, the available options tend to exhaust the logically available ones, making it a difficult puzzle to solve.

Some scholars have been trying to find out that factors that contributed to the Kripke’s puzzle. For instance, Sosa asserts that the formation of the puzzle can be attributed to the “Hermeneutic principle.”[3] The principle states that if a name, in an ordinary language contains only one referent, there is a likelihood to correctly represent it logically using one constant. Notably, it is clear that Kripke assumes Londres to refer to London.[4] Therefore, integration of this principle with the other two, including disquotational and translation, leads to the development of the puzzle. In his quest to determine the assumption behind this principle that leads to the current difficulties, Sosa challenges the presupposition that ambiguity is an element of multiple references. If it were a requirement for a term to have more than one referent to be ambiguous, then it would presuppose Millianism.[5] Such a requirement will exclude Fregeantheory that a name with a sole referent is considered ambiguous because it makes more than one sense. As such, the referentialism principle seems not ideal in resolving Kripke’s puzzle.

Kripke proceeds to construct the Paderewski puzzle, which is mainly used to depict that the above challenge can also occur within a single language, particularly through using a single name. One evening, Peter, a competent and rational English speaker opts to attend a concert by a popular pianist by the name Paderewski. He enjoys the concert and at the end, Peter sincerely agrees to the sentence “Paderewski is musically talented”. Under this case, the disquotational principle can be applied to infer

  • Peter believes that Paderewski is musically talented.

Notably, when Peter gets back to the hotel where he was staying for the days in town, he accidentally meets the country’s Prime Minister Paderewski. However, Peter fails to realize that he is the same pianist. Due to the obvious belief that politicians never possess musical talent, Peter concludes that Paderewski has no musical talent either. As such, he also offers a genuine assent to the sentence. Equally, under this situation, (D) can be applied to infer

  • Peter believes that Paderewski is not musically talented.

This gives rise to a direct contradiction with (3). By application of a true principle to Peter’s epistemic behavior, it is clear that there is inconsistency in his beliefs. Undoubtedly, the contradiction never only concern Peter and Paderewski, but rather affects the beliefs of all competent speakers. Leaving the puzzle as it is, individuals will be propelled to consider their belief-system to be inconsistent. However, it is ideal to analyse the case with the aim of finding a solution.

An in-depth study of the puzzle indicates that one has to either reject the disquotational principle or the conclusion to progress towards solving it. Notably, the alternative of rejecting the conclusion seems not very plausible, as there is a minimal doubt that both Peter’s beliefs on the situation cannot be true at the same time. Going by the second option and maintaining that the disquotational principle is wrong, it can work. However, irrespective of its potential, this option also seems implausible,as it is unclear how such an intuitive principle can be rejected. Reflecting on people’s daily experiences, they tend to express what they think. People talk about their beliefs and it seems natural for individuals to think that such words offer a description of their minds’ content. Notably, individuals can easily identify, as well as talk about other people’s beliefs. This might not be an easy process, but in many contexts, people are required to apply the disquotational principle to identify various beliefs.[6]By rejecting the principle, it would not be sensible to say that Peter believes that a bee has six legs, despite him saying so. Therefore, rejection of the principle will not be a solution at all.

Even though the available two options fail to offer a solution to Kripke’s puzzle, there are other possibilities. For instance, justifying contradictory beliefs arising from belief contexts such as the Kripke puzzle and ensuring the contradictions arises in a just way offers great insights towards solving the puzzle. Indeed, such an option offers room for one to argue that the only cases where a competent speaker can hold inconsistent belief, are those cases that they are justified to do so. This implies that such inconsistencies would never be reached. Bertrand Russell’s arguments are significant in the justification of contradictory beliefs. People’s beliefs are not always transparent to them. This implies that often, people are unable to deeply studytheir beliefs. It is ideal for individuals to check the content of their beliefs,compare it to the current events, and make change to the beliefs. Notably, this argument seems plausible and can be precisely applied in cases relating to that of Peter. Since Peter fails to find the contradiction, there are two possibilities. First, Peter may be experiencing issues with his reasoning skills. On the other hand, his beliefs’ box content may not be fully transparent to him. Nevertheless, the initial supposition, which clearly notes that he is a competent and rational speaker, eliminates the first option.

As per the remaining option, Peter’s beliefs may not be fully transparent to him. Therefore, even though one may be rational, he/she can still hold various inconsistent beliefs and not realise them. This is to say if a competent and rational speaker holds many false beliefs, and these beliefs raise a contradiction, then such a contradiction is justified.[7] However, this argument is also characterized by various challenges. First, it is never clear the extent to which people’s beliefs content is not transparent. For instance, in the case of Peter, he considered the various situations of Paderewski and believed that he was musically talented and at the same time not musically talented. At the moment, it is not yet clear whether the contradiction surrounding Paderewski is justified or not, as one cannot reveal whether the content of Peter’s beliefs is transparent or not. However, the contradiction can be justified if they are true.[8] Second, the option may create a loophole by allowing cases, whereby one holds inconsistent beliefs to be justified even if false. Equivalently, for the option to work, opacity should be the necessary element for justification.Consequently, Kripke holds a belief that names are rigid designators. If one assents to this belief, then all statements of identity that involve names are definitely true. Therefore, models such as “it is possible that” and “it is necessary that” also induces opacity. Resultantly, they bring about a de re/de dicto distinction, which depicts a same element as different things to different people, thereby further complicating the puzzle.

Notably, the solution for the puzzle can be obtained from Nathan Salmon’s work on the topic. While trying to solve a slightly different issue in ‘Frege’s puzzle’, Salmon offers a proposal that can be highly helpful in solving Kripke’s puzzle. Salmon’s argument is that people’s common behavior of considering beliefs as binary connections between a proposition and a speaker is incomplete.[9]In the quest to complete the analysis, Salmonintroduces a third element, which is a manner of presenting the proposition. The idea is that people should not blindly believe propositions, but instead believe them from a particular perspective. Considering this argument, it is critical to analyse Peter’s case viewpoint (3) and (4) not as believes, but rather as different aspects. An in-depth analysis of the case indicates that Peter believes in both a proposition and its immediate opposite, but generally under varying guises. The most vital point that contributes to contradiction in the case is when Peter fails to notice Paderewski in a restaurant. This is actually a point where he confuses the same person, to be a different one due to change of guise.

If someone seeks to create another puzzle that relates to Kripke’s he/she must offer a description of a situation that is characterized by a change in guise. This is based on the fact that a rational speaker, cannot hold a belief about a given object, identify it as the same element of belief, and then proceed to create a belief about it, which is inconsistent with the earlier one. For that to take place, the speaker must have failed to correctly identify the element.[10] Consequently, the aspect that has been identified as opacity is similar to the guise’s changes. Notably, Peter is aware of his own beliefs. He has the capability of identifying his beliefs under different perceptions. If asked whether he truly believes that Paderewski is musically talented, he would quickly answer without any hesitation. Moreover, he could behave the same way when asked the opposite. Perhaps, what Peter is unable to recognize is the fact that the proposition affirmed in (3) and denied in (4) is exactly the same. Arguably, the element that stops him from realizing this is guise. Consequently, opacity is defined as an element that insinuates itself between positions, and in the case of Peter, it contributes to the inability of the rational speaker recognizing the same proposition under varying guises. In such a case, it is indisputable that opacity contributed to the contradiction.

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Disputably, it is now clear that contradictions in beliefs, as it is the case for Kripke’s puzzle, can only occur in cases whereby a rational speaker grasps a proposition under varying guises and opacity is a key element for such cases. As such, if a rational speaker is on hold of many contradictory beliefs, then it is indisputable that the propositions under such beliefs are not transparent to him/her. This is to say, a rational speaker cannot believe both a proposition and its immediate negation if they are transparent.[11] Equally, if a rational and competent speaker holds many beliefs composed of propositions that are not transparent to him/her, then, once they create a contradiction, it is justifiable. In that regard, one can argue that contradictory beliefs in situations such as in Kripke’s puzzle are justified and that the occurrence of such contradictions never arises in varying contexts.

Overall, the method of justification offers a solution to Kripke’s puzzle. By showing that people’s belief system is not totally inconsistent and contradictions can be justifiably created in various situations is a satisfactory answer to the puzzle. Perhaps, there may be no other way to eliminate these contradictions completely, unless the available theories are amended to at least create a chance. It would be worth trying, but as per this report, Kripke’s puzzle can be solved through the justification of the contradictions.


Frances, Bryan. “Contradictory belief and epistemic closure principles.” Mind & language 14, no. 2 (1999): 203-226.

Liebesman, David. “Some puzzles about some puzzles about belief.” Analysis 72, no. 3 (2012): 608-618.

McMichael, Alan. “Kripke’s Puzzle and Belief ‘Under ‘a Name.” Canadian journal of philosophy 17, no. 1 (1987): 105-125.

Richard, Mark. “Kripke’s puzzle about belief.” Saul Kripke(2011): 211-234.

Salmon, Nathan. “A note on Kripke’s puzzle about belief.” Saul Kripke (2011): 235-252.

Schwartz, Stephen P. “Mill and Kripke on proper names and natural kind terms.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 21, no. 5 (2013): 925-945.

Sosa, David. “The Import of the Puzzle About Belief.” The Philosophical Review (1996) 105(3): 373- 402.

[1]Nathan, Salmon. “A note on Kripke’s puzzle about belief.” Saul Kripke (2011): 235-252.

[2]Mark, Richard. “Kripke’s puzzle about belief.” Saul Kripke (2011): 211-234.

[3]David, Sosa. “The Import of the Puzzle About Belief.” The Philosophical Review (1996) 105(3): 373- 402.

[4]Alan, McMichael. “Kripke’s Puzzle and Belief ‘Under ‘a Name.” Canadian journal of philosophy 17, no. 1 (1987): 105-125.

[5]Stephen, Schwartz, P. “Mill and Kripke on proper names and natural kind terms.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 21, no. 5 (2013): 925-945.

[6] David, Liebesman. “Some puzzles about some puzzles about belief.” Analysis 72, no. 3 (2012): 608-618.

[7]Bryan, Frances. “Contradictory belief and epistemic closure principles.” Mind & language 14, no. 2 (1999): 203-226.

[8]Richard, Mark. “Kripke’s puzzle about belief.” Saul Kripke(2011): 211-234.

[9]Nathan, Salmon. “A note on Kripke’s puzzle about belief.” Saul Kripke (2011): 235-252.

[10]Nathan, Salmon. “A note on Kripke’s puzzle about belief.” Saul Kripke (2011): 235-252.

[11]David, Liebesman. “Some puzzles about some puzzles about belief.” Analysis 72, no. 3 (2012): 608-618.

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