The book “Rigid Designation and Theoretical Identities” by Dr. Joseph LaPorte of the Hope College philosophy faculty has been published by Oxford University Press.

LaPorte’s primary research areas are in the philosophy of language, metaphysics, the philosophy of biology and the philosophy of science.  In the book, he considers how the words used for concepts or objects relate to those concepts or objects.

“My project is about what certain expressions for things commit us to as far as necessary properties of those things go,” said LaPorte, a professor of philosophy who has taught at Hope since 1998.  “The book asks about what’s necessary about things’ characteristics or things’ attributes or certain phenomena.”

For example, the term “Venus” refers to the same planet as “the brightest planet” (from the perspective of Earth).  But even if Venus were dimmer, “Venus” would refer to that planet; “the brightest planet” wouldn't.  So “Venus = Venus” is necessarily true; but “Venus = the brightest planet” is not.  The book discusses other terms about psychological and neuroscientific terms like “pain” as well as names.

In a review of the book published in the electronic journal “Notre Dame Philosophical Review” on June 19, Dr. Stephen P. Schwartz, an emeritus professor in the department of philosophy and religion at Ithaca College, noted, “La Porte’s book is the definitive work on the question of the rigidity of natural kind terms and other property designators and the role that such rigidity would play in theoretical identities.  Anyone who is interested in these topics, and generally in the topics of natural kinds, natural kind terms, property designation, or theoretical identities will find it a challenging, illuminating and indispensible resource.”

LaPorte first began exploring the topic while a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, from which he completed his Ph.D. the same year he joined the Hope faculty.  Support for the book project included a “2005-2006 Fellowship for College Teachers and Independent Scholars” from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

His earlier scholarship includes several articles published in professional journals as well as the 2004 book “Natural Kinds and Conceptual Change,” which he completed with support from an NEH fellowship that he had received for 2000-01.  The 2004 book was the subject of several reviews, and in October 2007 was the focus of a three-day international concert organized by the universities of Birmingham, Bristol and Nottingham. 

LaPorte’s teaching at Hope includes courses related to his research specialties as well as an interdisciplinary Cultural Heritage course that explores history, literature and philosophy from ancient Greece through the Renaissance.  In addition to his doctorate, he holds a master’s degree in philosophy from University College London, which he completed in 1993; and a bachelor’s degree from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, from which he graduated in 1991.