It's currently fashionable to take Putnamian model theoretic worries seriously for mathematics, but not for discussions of ordinary physical objects and the sciences. But I will argue that (under certain mild assumptions) merely securing determinate reference to physical possibility suffices to rule out nonstandard models of our talk of numbers. So anyone who accepts realist reference to physical possibility should not reject reference to the standard model of the natural numbers on Putnamian model theoretic grounds.
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. (shrink)
The paradox of rule-following that Saul Kripke finds in Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations purports to show that words and thoughts have no content—that there is no intentionality. This paper refutes the paradox with a dilemma. Intentional states are posited in rational explanations, which use propositional attitudes to explain actions and thoughts. Depending on which of the two plausible views of rational explanation is right, either: the paradox is mistaken about the a priori requirements for content; or, a fatal flaw in content (...) ascription alleged by the paradox is not a flaw at all, but a necessary component of the proper method of propositional-attitude ascription. On either lemma, rational explanation defuses the paradox. (shrink)
This paper provides an exposition of the structuralist approach to underdetermination, which aims to resolve the underdetermination of theories by identifying their common theoretical structure. Applications of the structuralist approach can be found in many areas of philosophy. I present a schema of the structuralist approach, which conceptually unifies such applications in different subject matters. It is argued that two classic arguments in the literature, Paul Benacerraf’s argument on natural numbers and W. V. O. Quine’s argument for the indeterminacy of (...) translation, can be analyzed as instances of the structuralist schema. These two applications illustrate different kinds of conclusions that can be drawn through the structuralist approach; Benacerraf’s argument shows that we can derive an ontological conclusion about the given subject matter, while Quine’s structuralist approach leads to a semantic conclusion about how to determine linguistic meanings given radical translation. Then, as a case study, I review a recent debate in metaphysics between Shamik Dasgupta, Jason Turner, and Catharine Diehl to consider the extent to which different instances of the structuralist schema are conceptually unified. Both sides of the debate can be interpreted as utilizing the structuralist approach; one side uses the structuralist approach for an ontological conclusion, while the other side relies on a semantic conclusion. I argue that this has a strong dialectical consequence, which sheds light on the conceptual unity of the structuralist approach. (shrink)
Formal semantic theories are generally thought to make contact with pre-theoretic semantic notions of aboutness and reference. The nature of that contact is, however, not always straightforward. This paper addresses two debates where that issue assumes a significant role. I begin with Simchen’s recent argument that Lewisian Interpretationism succumbs to referential indeterminacy. I develop a proposal about the relationship between the theoretical notion of a term’s semantic value and the pre-theoretic notion of reference, and argue that the indeterminacy Simchen identifies (...) does not constitute a form of referential indeterminacy. In the second part, I apply these resources to the debate between singularist and pluralist approaches to the semantics of plural terms, arguing that a certain form of singularism that emerges from the dialectic ends up agreeing with the pluralist at the level of reference, if not semantic value. The paper concludes with some remarks on what a properly referential style of singularism might look like. (shrink)
In this essay, we try to address a fundamental issue in the philosophy of science, namely the conflict between realism and antirealism in Quine's philosophy. There seems to be an inner tension in his views on the question of the reality of unobservable entities or reference of theoretical terms. In order to refute his seemingly inconsistent position, we first begin with the concept of ontological commitment, which he formulated in contrast to the position of his teacher, Carnap. In the following, (...) by expressing the thesis of "the inscrutability of reference" and "naturalized epistemology", we show that there seems to be a conflict between Quine's views. In the end, even with the acceptance of non-conflict, Quine's defense of realism is still not immune to criticism. (shrink)
The Indeterminacy of Translation and Radical Interpretation The indeterminacy of translation is the thesis that translation, meaning, and reference are all indeterminate: there are always alternative translations of a sentence and a term, and nothing objective in the world can decide which translation is the right one. This is a skeptical conclusion because what it … Continue reading The Indeterminacy of Translation and Radical Interpretation →.
There are two families of influential and stubborn puzzles that many theories of aboutness (intentionality) face: underdetermination puzzles and puzzles concerning representations that appear to be about things that do not exist. I propose an approach that elegantly avoids both kinds of puzzle. The central idea is to explain aboutness (the relation supposed to stand between thoughts and terms and their objects) in terms of relations of co-aboutness (the relation of being about the same thing that stands between the thoughts (...) and terms themselves). (shrink)
My paper provides reasons in support of the view that vague identity claims originate from a conflict between rigidity and precision in designation. To put this stricly, let x be the referent of the referential terms P and Q. Then, that the proposition “that any x being both a P and a Q” is vague involves that the semantic intuitions at work in P and Q reveal a conflict between P and Q being simultaneously rigid and precise designators. After having (...) shortly commented on an example of vague identity claim, I make the case for my proposal, by discussing how reference by baptism conflicts with descriptive attitudes towards understanding conceptual contents. (shrink)
Confused terms appear to signify more than one entity. Carnap maintained that any putative name that is associated with more than one object in a relevant universe of discourse fails to be a genuine name. Although many philosophers have agreed with Carnap, they have not always agreed among themselves about the truth-values of atomic sentences containing such terms. Some hold that such atomic sentences are always false, and others claim they are always truth-valueless. Field maintained that confused terms can still (...) refer, albeit partially, and offered a supervaluational account of their semantic properties on which some atomic sentences with confused terms can be true. After outlining many of the most important theoretical considerations for and against various semantic theories for such terms, we report the results of a study designed to investigate which of these accounts best accords with the truth-value judgments of ordinary language users about sentences containing these terms. We found that naïve participants view confused names as capable of successfully referring to one or more objects. Thus, semantic theories that judge them to involve total reference failure do not comport well with patterns of ordinary usage. (shrink)
The notorious problem of the many makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that almost coincident with any ordinary object are a vast number of near-indiscernible objects. As Unger was aware in his presentation of the problem, this abundance raises a concern as to how—and even whether—we achieve singular thought about ordinary objects. This paper presents, clarifies, and defends a view which reconciles a plenitudinous conception of ordinary objects with our having singular thoughts about those objects. Indeed, this strategy has (...) independent application in the case of singular thoughts about other putatively ‘abundant’ phenomena, such as locations or lumps of matter. In essence, singular thought-vehicles need not express just one singular content. If there are many objects, one’s singular thought-vehicle may express as many thought-contents. (shrink)
Our main focus in this paper is Herman Cappelen’s claim, defended in Fixing Language, that reference is radically inscrutable. We argue that Cappelen’s inscrutability thesis should be rejected. We also highlight how rejecting inscrutability undermines Cappelen’s most radical conclusions about conceptual engineering. In addition, we raise a worry about his positive account of topic continuity through inquiry and debate.
Putnam’s model-theoretic arguments for the indeterminacy of reference have been taken to pose a special problem for mathematical languages. In this paper, I argue that if one accepts that there are theory-external constraints on the reference of at least some expressions of ordinary language, then Putnam’s model-theoretic arguments for mathematical languages don’t go through. In particular, I argue for a kind of descriptivism about mathematical expressions according to which their reference is “anchored” in the reference of expressions of ordinary language. (...) These anchors add enough to the content of mathematical expressions to forestall the radical kind of indeterminacy that model-theoretic arguments are purported to show, while still leaving room for a plausible, moderate kind of indeterminacy. (shrink)
How is it that words come to stand for the things they stand for? Is the thing that a word stands for - its reference - fully identified or described by conventions known to the users of the word? Or is there a more roundabout relation between the reference of a word and the conventions that determine or fix it? Do words like 'water', 'three', and 'red' refer to appropriate things, just as the word 'Aristotle' refers to Aristotle? If so, (...) which things are these, and how do they come to be referred to by those words? -/- In Roads to Reference, Mario Gómez-Torrente provides novel answers to these and other questions that have been of traditional interest in the theory of reference. The book introduces a number of cases of apparent indeterminacy of reference for proper names, demonstratives, and natural kind terms, which suggest that reference-fixing conventions for them adopt the form of lists of merely sufficient conditions for reference and reference failure. He then provides arguments for a new anti-descriptivist picture of those kinds of words, according to which the reference-fixing conventions for them do not describe their reference. This book also defends realist and objectivist accounts of the reference of ordinary natural kind nouns, numerals, and adjectives for sensible qualities. According to these accounts these words refer, respectively, to 'ordinary kinds', cardinality properties, and properties of membership in intervals of sensible dimensions, and these things are fixed in subtle ways by associated reference-fixing conventions. (shrink)
Many of the terms of our language, such as “jar”, are open-textured in the sense that their applicability to novel objects is not entirely determined by their past usage. Many others, such as the verbs “use” and “have”, are schematic in the sense that they have only a very general meaning although on any particular occasion of use they denote some more particular relation. The phenomena of open texture and schematicity constitute a sharp challenge to referential semantics, which assumes that (...) every non-logical term has a definite extension. A different, non-referential approach to formal semantics defines truth as relative to a context and defines contexts as built up from exclusively linguistic entities. For any given utterance of a sentence, there will be one of these contexts that pertains to it. In this framework, open texture and schematicity can be understood as consequences of the complex nature of the pertaining relation between contexts and utterances. (shrink)
I consider two competing approaches to metasemantics: productivism, whereby endowment with semantic significance emerges directly from conditions surrounding the production or employment of the items semantically endowed; and interpretationism, whereby endowment with semantic significance emerges directly from conditions surrounding the interpretive consumption of such items. Focusing on the version of interpretationism developed by Lewis and his followers, I present a novel argument to the conclusion that such an approach cannot secure determinacy for singular reference. I then draw a larger moral (...) for metasemantics and its relation to truth-conditional semantics. (shrink)
This thesis is about the metaphysics of logic. I argue against a view I refer to as ‘logical realism’. This is the view that the logical constants represent a particular kind of metaphysical structure, which I dub ‘logico-metaphysical structure’. I argue instead for a more metaphysically lightweight view of logic which I dub ‘logical expressivism’. -/- In the first part of this thesis (Chapters I and II) I argue against a number of arguments that Theodore Sider has given for logical (...) realism. In Chapter I, I present an argument of his to the effect that logico-metaphysical structure provides the only good explanation of the semantic determinacy of the logical constants. I argue that other explanations are possible. In Chapter II, I present another argument of his to the effect that logico-metaphysical structure is something that comes along with ontological realism: the view that there is a non-language-relative fact of the matter about what exists. I argue that the connection between logical and ontological realism is not as close as Sider makes it out to be. -/- In the second part of this thesis (Chapters III – V) I set out a positive view of the logical constants that can explain both why their meanings are semantically determinate, and why they form part of our vocabulary. On that view, the primary bearers of logical structure are propositional attitudes, and the logical constants are in our language as vehicles for the expression of logically complex propositional attitudes. In Chapter III, I set out an expressivist theory of propositional logic. In Chapter IV, I use this theory to explain how the logical connectives end up having determinate meanings. In Chapter V, I extend the expressivist theory to predicate logic. (shrink)
This paper defends stage theory against the argument from diachronic counting. It argues that stage theorists can appeal to quantifier domain restriction in order to accommodate intuitions about diachronic counting sentences. Two approaches involving domain restriction are discussed. According to the first, domains of counting are usually restricted to stages at the time of utterance. This approach explains intuitions in many cases, but is theoretically costly and delivers wrong counts if diachronic counting is combined with fission or fusion. On the (...) second approach, domains of counting are usually restricted in an indeterminate way, so as to include at most one member of any maximal class of counterpart-interrelated stages (with respect to a certain utterance). This view can accommodate all the relevant intuitions about counting sentences, and it fits well with a new stage-theoretic view of reference that allows speakers to refer to both present and past stages. (shrink)
Donald Davidson aims to illuminate the concept of meaning by asking: What knowledge would suffice to put one in a position to understand the speech of another, and what evidence sufficiently distant from the concepts to be illuminated could in principle ground such knowledge? Davidson answers: knowledge of an appropriate truth-theory for the speaker’s language, grounded in what sentences the speaker holds true, or prefers true, in what circumstances. In support of this answer, he both outlines such a truth-theory for (...) a substantial fragment of a natural language and sketches a procedure—radical interpretation—that, drawing on such evidence, could confirm such a theory. Bracketing refinements (e.g., those introduced to.. (shrink)
Significant issues remain for understanding and evaluating the Quinean critique of the analytic/synthetic distinction. These issues are highlighted in a puzzling mismatch between the common philosophical attitude toward the critique and its broader intellectual legacy. A discussion of this mismatch sets the larger context for criticism of a recent tradition of interpretation of the critique. I argue that this tradition confuses the roles and relative importance of indeterminacy, a priority, and analyticity in the Quinean critique.
How are permutation arguments for the inscrutability of reference to be formulated in the context of a Davidsonian truth-theoretic semantics? Davidson takes these arguments to establish that there are no grounds for favouring a reference scheme that assigns London to “Londres”, rather than one that assigns Sydney to that name. We shall see, however, that it is far from clear whether permutation arguments work when set out in the context of the kind of truth-theoretic semantics which Davidson favours. The principle (...) required to make the argument work allows us to resurrect Foster problems against the Davidsonian position. The Foster problems and the permutation inscrutability problems stand or fall together: they are one puzzle, not two. (shrink)
Quine (1960, "Word and object". Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, ch. 2) claims that there are a variety of equally good schemes for translating or interpreting ordinary talk. 'Rabbit' might be taken to divide its reference over rabbits, over temporal slices of rabbits, or undetached parts of rabbits, without significantly affecting which sentences get classified as true and which as false. This is the basis of his famous 'argument from below' to the conclusion that there can be no fact of the (...) matter as to how reference is to be divided. Putative counterexamples to Quine's claim have been put forward in the past (see especially Evans (1975, "Journal of Philosophy", LXXII(13), 343-362. Reprinted in McDowell (Ed.), "Gareth Evans: Collected papers." Oxford: Clarendon Press.), Fodor (1993, "The elm and the expert: Mentalese and its semantics." Cambridge, MA: Bradford)), and various patches have been suggested (e. g. Wright (1997, The indeterminacy of translation. In C. Wright & B. Hale (Eds.), "A companion to the philosophy of language" (pp. 397-426). Oxford: Blackwell)). One lacuna in this literature is that one does not find any detailed presentation of what exactly these interpretations are supposed to be. Drawing on contemporary literature on persistence, the present paper sets out detailed semantic treatments for fragments of English, whereby predicates such as 'rabbit' divide their reference over four-dimensional continuants (Quine's rabbits), instantaneous temporal slices of those continuants (Quine's rabbitslices) and the simple elements which compose those slices (undetached rabbit parts) respectively. Once we have the systematic interpretations on the table, we can get to work evaluating them. (shrink)
This paper explores the possibility of resisting meaning scepticism – the thesis that there are many alternative incompatible assignments of reference to each of our terms - by appealing to the idea that the nature of reference is to maximize knowledge. If the reference relation is a knowledge maximizing-relation, then some candidate referents are privileged among the others - i.e., those referents we are in a position to know about – and a positive reason against meaning scepticism is thus individuated. (...) A knowledge-maximizing principle on the nature of reference was proposed by Williamson in a recent paper (Williamson 2005). According to Williamson, such a principle would count as a defeasible reason for thinking that most of our beliefs tend to be true. My paper reverses Williamson’s dialectic, and argues that reference is knowledge-maximizing from the premise that most of our beliefs tend to be true. (shrink)
Inscrutability arguments threaten to reduce interpretationist metasemantic theories to absurdity. Can we find some way to block the arguments? A highly influential proposal in this regard is David Lewis’ ‘ eligibility ’ response: some theories are better than others, not because they fit the data better, but because they are framed in terms of more natural properties. The purposes of this paper are to outline the nature of the eligibility proposal, making the case that it is not ad hoc, but (...) instead flows naturally from three independently motivated elements; and to show that severe limitations afflict the proposal. In conclusion, I pick out the element of the eligibility response that is responsible for the limitations: future work in this area should therefore concentrate on amending this aspect of the overall theory. (shrink)
I argue that a concept is applied correctly when it is applied to the kind of things it is the concept of. Correctness as successful kind-tracking is fulfilling an externally and naturalistically individuated standard. And the normative aspect of concept-application so characterized depends on the relational (non-individualistic) feature of conceptual content. I defend this view against two objections. The first is that norms should provide justifications for action, and the second involves a version of the thesis of indeterminacy of reference.
That reference is inscrutable is demonstrated, it is argued, not only by W. V. Quine's arguments but by Peter Unger's "Problem of the Many." Applied to our own language, this is a paradoxical result, since nothing could be more obvious to speakers of English than that, when they use the word "rabbit," they are talking about rabbits. The solution to this paradox is to take a disquotational view of reference for one's own language, so that "When I use 'rabbit,' I (...) refer to rabbits" is made true by the meaning of the word "refer." The reference relation is extended to other languages by translation. The explanation for this peculiarly egocentric conception of semantics-questions of others' meanings are settled by asking what I mean by words of my language-is to be found in our practice of predicting and explaining other people's behavior by empathetic identification. I understand other people's behavior by asking what I would do in their place. (shrink)
La position résolument extensionaliste de Quine a été appuyée par des arguments de nature différente, dans ses multiples articles destinés à rejeter le projet de logique modale. On peut classer ces arguments en trois catégories : un argument naturaliste, où l’auteur tente de baser le langage scientifique sur une notation tâchée de décrire la “structure ultime de la réalité” ; un argument esthétique, où Quine fait allusion à des raisons de clarté et d’efficacité démonstrative pour privilégier la théorie des fonctions (...) de vérité ; un argument pratique, dans la mesure où Quine défend la logique classique sur la base du “principe de mutilation minimum”. A travers une étude de ses écrits relatifs aux attitudes propositionnelles, nous montrerons que la philosophie de la logique de Quine a prolongé la partie épistémologique de son oeuvre, optant finalement pour une stratégie de réduction naturaliste des intensions, à l’image du mouvement engagé par Word and Object et prolongé par From Stimulus to Science. Ce projet se soldera par un échec relatif, et Quine résumera cette désillusion par un fossé entre les structures du langage et du monde : la thèse du “monisme anomal” de Davidson sera le dernier mot, amer, du défenseur acharné de la logique classique. (shrink)
Quine has famously put forward the indispensability argument to force belief in the existence of mathematical objects (such as classes) due to their indispensability to our best theories of the world (Quine 1960). Quine has also advocated the indeterminacy of reference argument, according to which reference is dramatically indeterminate: given a language, there’s no unique reference relation for that language (see Quine 1969a). In this paper, I argue that these two arguments are in conflict with each other. Whereas the indispensability (...) argument supports realism about mathematics, the indeterminacy of reference argument, when applied to mathematics, provides a powerful strategy in support of mathematical anti-realism. I conclude the paper by indicating why the indeterminacy of reference phenomenon should be preferred over the considerations regarding indispensability. In the end, even the Quinean shouldn’t be a realist (platonist) about mathematics. (shrink)
McCarthy develops a theory of radical interpretation--the project of characterizing from scratch the language and attitudes of an agent or population--and applies it to the problems of indeterminacy of interpretation first described by Quine. The major theme in McCarthy's study is that a relatively modest set of interpretive principles, properly applied, can serve to resolve the major indeterminacies of interpretation.
This is a two tiered investigation. On the one hand, the author presents a systematic account of the philosophy of Hilary Putnam. Being the first comprehensive account to be published in the German-speaking world, the author traces the development of Putnam's realism and philosophy of language and their connections from the early 1950's to 2000. Contrary to the popular view of the discontinuity of Putnam's philosophy, he demonstrates that Putnam maintains certain semantic, pragmatic and epistemological foundations for the rational confirmability, (...) fallibility and self-corrigibility of theoretical knowledge in the empirical sciences as a constant around which many other philosophical assumptions are allowed to vary under critical examination. The resulting view of Putnam's philosophical "position" is decidedly "anti-metaphysical" (contrary to the common association of his philosophy of language with e.g. Kripke's understanding of realism), but not fully "deflationary" (contrary to the reclamation of his criticism of realist metaphysics as Quinean or Rortyan skepticism). On the other hand, the author generalizes, in the second and third parts of the book, Putnam's now famous theory of meaning and reference to develop a framework for the pragmatics of semantic continuity and discontinuity, as well as conceptual change within general terms in empirical settings, like natural kind terms, theoretical terms in natural sciences and commonsense classifications. The third part presents, develops and defends the basic normative premisses as a pragmatic alternative to both, metaphysical (Kripke, Devitt) and sceptical approaches (Quine, Kuhn). The main result here is that many (if not all) preconditions for the semantic bahvior of 'rigid' general terms are not, as usually assumed, ontological in nature, but can be usefully framed as part of the pragmatics of general terms in epistemic practices counting with rational revisability. (shrink)
Two of Quine's most familiar doctrines are: that there is a distinction between underdetermination and indeterminacy; and that there is no distinction between analytic and synthetic truths. An argument is given that these two doctrines are incompatible. In terms wholly acceptable to Quine and based on the underdetermination/indeterminacy distinction, an exhaustive and exclusive distinction is drawn between two kinds of true sentences, which, it is argued, corresponds to the traditional analytic/synthetic distinction. An appendix is used to develop one aspect of (...) the underdetermination/indeterminacy distinction, as construed here, and to discuss, in passing, some of Quine’s more general views on truth. (shrink)
According to Quine, terms of divided reference like 'rabbit' have two sorts of problems: problems of direct and deferred ostension. Hence the reference of these terms is inscrutable. This article holds that the problems of deferred ostension can be handled by Goodman's theory of projection, and that the problems of direct ostension turn out to be pedestrian problems of signs.