Reference determination and conceptual change

(2005)
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Abstract

The paper discusses reference determination from the point of view of conceptual change in science. The first part of the discussion uses the homology concept, a natural kind term from biology, as an example. It is argued that the causal theory of reference gives an incomplete account of reference determination even in the case of natural kind terms. Moreover, even if descriptions of the referent are taken into account, this does not yield a satisfactory account of reference in the case of the homology concept. I suggest that in addition to the factors that standard theories of reference invoke the scientific use of concepts and the epistemic interests pursued with concepts are important factors in determining the reference of scientific concepts. In the second part, I argue for a moderate holism about reference determination according to which the set of conditions that determine the reference of a concept is relatively open and different conditions may be reference fixing depending on the context in which this concept is used. It is also suggested that which features are reference determining in a particular case may depend on the philosophical interests that underlie reference ascription and the study of conceptual change.

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Ingo Brigandt
University of Alberta

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References found in this work

The meaning of 'meaning'.Hilary Putnam - 1975 - Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 7:131-193.
Individualism and the mental.Tyler Burge - 1979 - Midwest Studies in Philosophy 4 (1):73-122.
Putnam’s paradox.David Lewis - 1984 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 62 (3):221 – 236.

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