I just sent out an email to two philosophers whose first name was "John" and the email's first line said "Dear John and John". After I sent the email, I wondered to myself: Is there a fact of the matter as to which token of "John" referred to whom?
Normally, if I write an email to two people, I think about the issue of which order to list their names in, and I typically proceed alphabetically. But in this case, I didn't think about the order of names I was writing down. It is possible that I thought about the one while typing the first "John" and then about the other while typing the second "John". Would that be enough to determine which token refers to whom? Maybe. But I don't know if I did anything like that, and we may suppose I didn't.
- John and John are philosophers.
Is the sentence ambiguous in its speaker meaning? If so, that's a hyperintensional ambiguity, because necessarily "x and y are Fs" and "y and x are Fs" have the same truth value. I am hesitant to say that (1) is ambiguous in its speaker meaning. (I will leave its lexical meaning alone, not to complicate things.)
Suppose that there is no ambiguity in speaker meaning, or at least none arising from the issue of which token refers to whom (maybe "philosopher" is ambiguous). Then this rather complicates compositional semantics on which the content of a whole arises from the content of the parts. For if either token of "John" in (1) has a content, the other token has the same content, since they are on par. But if the content is the same, we're not going to get out of this a sentence that means the same thing as (1) does. Suppose, for instance, the content of each token of "John" is the same as that of of "x or y", where "x" and "y" are unambiguous names for the two philosophers. Then we would have to say that (1) is equivalent to:
- (x or y) and (x or y) are philosophers,
Maybe the solution is this. Neither "John" in (1) refers. But "John and John" is the name of a plurality. I think not, though. Here's why. Suppose instead I said: "John and the most productive member of my Department and John are all philosophers." Well, "John and the most productive member of my Department and John" is not a name, as it does not refer rigidly.
I am just a dilettante on semantics, and it would not surprise me if this was exhaustively discussed in the literature.