Radical parochialism about reference

Noûs 57 (3):600-617 (2023)
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We can use radically different reference‐schemes to generate the same truth‐conditions for the sentences of a language. In this paper, we do three things. (1) Distinguish two arguments that deploy this observation to derive different conclusions. The first argues that reference is radically indeterminate: there is no fact of the matter what ordinary terms refer to. This threat is taken seriously and most contemporary metasemantic theories come with resources intended to rebut it. The second argues for radical parochialism about reference: it's a reflection of our parochial interests, rather than the nature of the subject matter, that our theorizing about language appeals to reference rather than another relation that generates the same truth‐conditions. Rebuttals of the first argument cut no ice against the second, because radical parochialism is compatible with reference being determinate. (2) Argue that radical parochialism, like radical indeterminacy, would be shocking if true. (3) Argue that the case for radical parochialism turns on the explanatory purposes of “reference”‐talk: on relatively “thin” conceptions, the argument goes through, and radical parochialism is (shockingly!) true; on richer conceptions, the argument can be blocked. We conclude that non‐revisionists must endorse, and justify, a relatively rich conception of the explanatory purposes of “reference”‐talk.

Author Profiles

Will Gamester
University of Leeds
Robert Williams
University of Leeds


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