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Locating Semantic Reference


The dissertation studies a question of longstanding interest in the philosophy of language, which I call the "Reference Determination Question." The question is: what determines that a linguistic expression (such as a name, indexical, demonstrative, or description) refers to a particular thing? In one way or another, the question seeks a reduction of reference in terms of other features of speakers, words, and the things to which they refer. Until the work of Saul Kripke and Keith Donnellan in the 1960s and 1970s, such a reduction seemed available. According to what I call the "Condition View," the reference of a linguistic expression is whatever, if anything, uniquely satisfies the conditions that the user of the expression associates with it. I show how this view fits within a broader picture of language, which I call the "Capture Picture." The Capture Picture envisions linguistic reference as a speaker's reaching out from her interior experience to capture a particular thing in the world outside that experience. Kripke's and Donnellan's criticisms of the Condition View led to its widespread rejection, but not, I argue, to radical revision of the Capture Picture. I press the same form of argument that they employed against the Condition View against replacements for it that remain within the Capture Picture. I suggest that this expansion of the Kripke-Donnellan critique has not been pursued because of Kripke's influential distinction between "speaker's reference" and "semantic reference" and I explain why this distinction does not in fact track a substantive difference, and does not block my arguments. My criticism of alternative views within the Capture Picture reveals a parallel between linguistic reference and sensory perception: both are ways of experiencing things that are present in one's sensory or cognitive environment. I defend this parallel, and show how it makes available a replacement for the Capture Picture that I call "Referential Direct Realism." Referential Direct Realism is the counterpart, for referential experience, of the position usually called "Direct Realism" or "Naïve Realism" about perceptual experience. It holds that linguistic referring experience is direct cognitive contact with the objects to which one refers. On this view of linguistic referring experience, the Reference Determination Question does not arise. For there is no gulf to be bridged between what is inside the speaker's experience (the linguistic expression) and what is outside (the object). I argue for Referential Direct Realism and show how it points the philosophical study of linguistic reference, and language in general, in a different direction from those that traditionally have been followed.

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