Reference and Intentions to Refer: An Analysis of the Role of Intentions to Refer in a Theory of Reference

Dissertation, Loyola University of Chicago (1986)

Corliss G. Swain
St. Olaf College
This dissertation challenges the claim that reference is determined by intentions to refer by using a 'divide and conquer' strategy. The claim that reference is determined by intentions to refer is divided into two claims: one is a claim about how reference is disambiguated; the other is about how expressions in a language get their reference potential. By dividing the claims in this way, we can see in what contexts, and to what extent, reference is determined by intentions. ;The first claim, that reference is disambiguated by what a speaker intends to refer to, is the more plausible one. Part I of the dissertation clarifies and defends this claim. It rules out non-intentionalist accounts, which try to explain disambiguation in terms of non-intentional contextual factors alone, because the features of the context to which these accounts appeal are themselves ambiguous. Nonetheless, it argues that contextual features are important non-linguistic determinants of reference. Part I concludes that the speaker's intentions do play a role in determining reference, but it also concludes that when linguistic as well as non-linguistic determinants of reference are taken into account, the role that speakers' intentions play in determining reference turns out to be quite small. ;Part II of the dissertation refutes the claim that the set of possible referents for an expression in a language is determined by what some group of people intend to refer to with that expression. Part II argues that such accounts are either circular--they explain semantic reference in terms of speaker's reference, while basing speaker's reference on semantic reference, or they presuppose an untenable view of the way minds are related to the world
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