Why the qua Problem has not Been Dissolved: Reply to Deutsch

Erkenntnis (forthcoming)
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In a recent paper, Max Deutsch argues that there is no “qua problem” for purely causal theories of reference, according to which the extensions of some expressions are grounded in causal relations to members of their extensions during dubbing acts. The qua problem is the difficulty in specifying the facts in virtue of which the reference of “elephant” is grounded by causal contact with something _qua_ elephant and not _qua_ its other properties. If no such specification can be given, reference remains unacceptably indeterminate. This has led many to abandon purely causal reference grounding. Deutsch’s argument for the dissolution of the problem goes as follows: we usually agree that an event can cause its effect _qua_ some of its properties and not _qua_ others. For example, a hot acidic solution causes a glass beaker to break due to its heat and not due to its acidity. Given this assumption, we can simply say that an event caused a dubbing act _qua_ the causally relevant property and not _qua_ the causally irrelevant properties, thus grounding the reference of the term; the qua problem has vanished. I will argue that causal mechanisms, and in particular the facts about causal relevance appealed to by Deutsch, are insufficient to dissolve the qua problem. It is not generally the case that a _unique_ property is causally relevant in purely physical cases of causation; but this is precisely what is required to avoid the referential indeterminacy highlighted by the qua problem. I will demonstrate that if we rely on causal relevance to dissolve the qua problem, there is no way to respect the uniqueness requirement: there are too many properties that are causally relevant to the occurrence of any single dubbing act, including the intentional states of the dubber.

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Sara Papic
Università degli Studi di Milano


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