Prozac, Sarafem, and Philosophy of Language

The article by Greenslit presents an interesting case to which considerations from philosophy of language, especially Saul Kripke’s theory of names and rigid designation, is applicable. According to the article, ‘Prozac’ and ‘Sarafem’ are both names for the same pharmaceutical substance, fluoxetine hydrochloride, but while fluoxetine hydrochloride is marketed under the name ‘Prozac’ as an antidepressant, it is marketed under the name ‘Sarafem’ as a treatment for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Thus, while Prozac and Sarafem are chemically identical pharmaceutical products, they are marketed as treating different medical conditions, with the result that many consumers of Prozac are unaware that they are also technically consuming Sarafem, and vice versa. Now, if ‘Prozac’ and ‘Sarafem’ are reasonably treated as distinct proper names denoting the pharmaceutical substance fluoxetine hydrochloride, then according to Kripke’s philosophy of language, the names ‘Prozac’ and ‘Sarafem’ will be rigid designators that denote the same entity, fluoxetine hydrochloride, in every possible world (in which fluoxetine hydrochloride exists). In this way, it will be necessarily true that Prozac is Sarafem. But in the actual world, while the name ‘Prozac’ is associated with the definite description ‘the drug that treats depression’ (or something comparable), the name ‘Sarafem’ is associated with the distinct definite description ‘the drug that treats PMDD’, which explains the phenomenon (in terms of philosophy of language) of how individuals in the actual world can consume the denotation of ‘Prozac’ without knowing that it is also the denotation of ‘Sarafem’, and vice versa. In this way, the fact that Prozac and Sarafem are chemically identical but commercially different pharmaceutical substances can be described by means of ideas from Kripke’s philosophy of language.

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