A Pragmatic View of Proper Name Reference

Dissertation, King's College London (2016)
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Abstract
I argue, in this thesis, that proper name reference is a wholly pragmatic phenomenon. The reference of a proper name is neither constitutive of, nor determined by, the semantic content of that name, but is determined, on an occasion of use, by pragmatic factors. The majority of views in the literature on proper name reference claim that reference is in some way determined by the semantics of the name, either because their reference simply constitutes their semantics (which generally requires a very fine-grained individuation of names), or because names have an indexical-like semantics that returns a referent given certain specific contextual parameters. I discuss and criticize these views in detail, arguing, essentially, in both cases, that there can be no determinate criteria for reference determination—a claim required by both types of semantic view. I also consider a less common view on proper name reference: that it is determined wholly by speakers’ intentions. I argue that the most plausible version of this view—a strong neo-Gricean position whereby all utterance content is determined by the communicative intentions of the speaker—is implausible in light of psychological data. In the positive part of my thesis, I develop a pragmatic view of proper name reference that is influenced primarily by the work of Charles Travis. I argue that the reference of proper names can only be satisfactorily accounted for by claiming that reference occurs not at the level of word meaning, but at the pragmatic level, on an occasion of utterance. I claim that the contextual mechanisms that determine the reference of a name on an occasion are the same kinds of thing that determine the truth-values of utterances according to Travis. Thus, names are, effectively, occasion sensitive in the way that Travis claims predicates and sentences (amongst other expressions) are. Finally, I discuss how further research might address how my pragmatic view of reference affects traditional issues in the literature on names, and the consequences of the view for the semantics of names.
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Relevance, Communication and Cognition.Sperber, Dan & Wilson, Deirdre

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