M. Agnese Casellato
- School: School of Philosophy
- Supervisor: Professor Maria Baghramian
Linguistic Reference: Descriptivism, Externalism and a Middle Course
Theories of reference investigate how language hooks with the world. The main current approaches are descriptivism, the view that reference is determined by what speakers descriptively know of the world, and causalism,the view that it is determined by causal facts obtaining in the environment. This separation of the epistemic from the metaphysical aspect of reference-fixing mechanisms was first introduced by Kripke, who held a causalist theory where descriptions merely function as contingent reference-determining procedures. The descriptivist approach was held by philosophers like Strawson (1959), Searle (1958) and Kripke’s David Lewis in Naming and Necessity (1980).
The two accounts may lead to forms of internalism and externalism, respectively affirming or denying a dependence relation to the epistemic dimension of cognition. Taken to their extremes, descriptivism may lead to anti-realism, or subjectivism; and causalism may issue in metaphysical realism, the view that the world is a ding an sich wholly independent of our cognitive mediations. I argue that an approach to be gleaned from W. V. Orman Quine, extremely influential in the 20th century but neglected in recent decades, avoids such drawbacks. Blurring the boundaries between facts and descriptions, Quine reconfigures the scope of the internalism-externalism divide, showing that it amounts to nothing more than a pragmatic difference of degree.
Irish Research Council Doctoral Student
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