Theories of Reference: What Was the Question?

In Andrea Bianchi (ed.), Language and Reality From a Naturalistic Perspective: Themes From Michael Devitt. Springer. pp. 69–103 (2020)
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The new theory of reference has won popularity. However, a number of noted philosophers have also attempted to reply to the critical arguments of Kripke and others, and aimed to vindicate the description theory of reference. Such responses are often based on ingenious novel kinds of descriptions, such as rigidified descriptions, causal descriptions, and metalinguistic descriptions. This prolonged debate raises the doubt whether different parties really have any shared understanding of what the central question of the philosophical theory of reference is: what is the main question to which descriptivism and the causal-historical theory have presented competing answers. One aim of the paper is to clarify this issue. The most influential objections to the new theory of reference are critically reviewed. Special attention is also paid to certain important later advances in the new theory of reference, due to Devitt and others.

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Panu Raatikainen
Tampere University


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