Reference and Response

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 89 (1):19-36 (2011)
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Abstract

A standard view of reference holds that a speaker's use of a name refers to a certain thing in virtue of the speaker's associating a condition with that use that singles the referent out. This view has been criticized by Saul Kripke as empirically inadequate. Recently, however, it has been argued that a version of the standard view, a /response-based theory of reference/, survives the charge of empirical inadequacy by allowing that associated conditions may be largely or even entirely implicit. This paper argues that response-based theories of reference are prey to a variant of the empirical inadequacy objection, because they are ill-suited to accommodate the successful use of proper names by pre-school children. Further, I argue that there is reason to believe that normal adults are, by and large, no different from children with respect to how the referents of their names are determined. I conclude that speakers typically refer /positionally/: the referent of a use of a proper name is typically determined by aspects of the speaker's position, rather than by associated conditions present, however implicitly, in her psychology.

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Louis deRosset
University of Vermont

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