2. The Name of Things

Names are very important, because they are compact representations of concepts. When I say “this is a car”, I am appointing an object with a number of properties — the properties expected of a car: a device that is able to move and transport me and a few other passengers from places to places; a device with certain requirements, certain properties, and certain features. When I get the most of the expected features from a certain device, and those features correspond to those of a car, I call it a car. Also, the car can be in different states (e.g. “broken car” refers to a car that has lost certain key features) etc.; let us not over-complicate the matter.

Therefore, a name is also a mental construct. If we are told “this is a car”, in our minds name and physical entity are expected to match.

But the association between name and physical entity may be false. I can say “democracy” and mean “oligarchy” (see Hobbes' fictitious institutions); I can say “car” and mean something else. As Descartes suggested in his Method, it can be useful to imagine of an “evil spirit” that plays with us and our perception of things; in this case, by using deceitful names. We should always ask ourselves: “What if what I'm told is a car, in fact it is not?” “Do I have an immediate proof that what stands in front of me is actually a car?” “If my choices depend on the nature of what stands in front of me, could anyone be trying to sell me for a car something that it is not?”

The term “pacco” (“the package”) is used in Italian to represent the well-know trick of selling someone a spam — a good that does not match what is expected. The Italian comedy movie “Pacco, doppio pacco e contropaccotto” is an interesting reflection on that trick.

That's what a name can be — a nice-looking package that might or might not correspond to its label. I think we should all ask ourselves “Am I being sold the wrong package here? What actually lies inside of it?”

And if someone finds it unnecessary or even stupid, I think we should ask ourselves why and be twice as wary.

It's all tied together, yessire, with a pretty bow!

Playbill for the movie “Pacco, doppio pacco e contropaccotto”. Instead of the expected goods, the package actually contains... a prick.