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Summary The main interest of the topic of reference in science relates to the reference of theoretical terms.  This issue was of particular importance in the context of the response to the problem of semantic incommensurability which arises due to meaning or conceptual change.  Philosophers such as Israel Scheffler, Hilary Putnam and Michael Devitt argue that reference may be preserved throughout theoretical change thus ensuring the comparability of theories.  This response found a natural place within the causal theory of reference.  However, problems arose about the application of the causal theory of reference to unobservable entities, as well as with respect to the failure of reference of theoretical terms.  A number of responses have emerged including causal-descriptive theories of reference.
Key works For Scheffler's use of the sense/reference distinction in relation to meaning variance and the comparability of theories, see Scheffler 1982.  Hilary Putnam indicates how a causal theory of reference may be of use with respect to this issue in Putnam 1973.  Arthur Fine raises problems about change of reference which seem to be ruled out by the causal theory in Fine 1975.  Devitt provides general coverage of the topic, including some basis for a response to Fine in Devitt 1979. Kitcher also makes good suggestions about how to deal with the problem of reference change in Kitcher 1978.  The problem of reference failure for theoretical terms within the context of the causal theory and reasons to move to a causal descriptive account are dealt with in Enć 1976, Nola 1980 and Kroon 1985.  For an influential discussion of theoretical terms, see Lewis 1970.  A very influential critical discussion of reference in relation to scientific realism is to be found in Laudan 1981.
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  1. Barbara Abbott (1989). Nondescriptionality and Natural Kind Terms. Linguistics and Philosophy 12 (3):269 - 291.
    The phrase "natural kind term" has come into the linguistic and philosophical literature in connection with well-known work of Kripke (1972) and Pulrmm (1970, 1975a). I use that phrase here in the sense it has acquired from those and subseqnent works on related topics. This is not the transparent sense of the phrase. That is, if I am right in what follows there are words for kinds of things existing in nature which are not natural kind terms in the current (...)
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  2. Peter Achinstein (1965). The Problem of Theoretical Terms. American Philosophical Quarterly 2 (3):235-249.
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  3. Holger Andreas (forthcoming). Theoretical Terms in Science. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  4. Holger Andreas (2008). Another Solution to the Problem of Theoretical Terms. Erkenntnis 69 (3):315 - 333.
    In this paper, a solution to the problem of theoretical terms is developed that is based on Carnap’s doctrine of indirect interpretation of theoretical terms. This doctrine will be given a semantic, model-theoretic explanation that is not given by Carnap himself as he remains content with a syntactic explanation. From that semantic explanation, rules for the truth-value assignment to postulates, i.e. sentences that determine the meaning of theoretical terms, are derived. The logical status of postulates will be clarified thereby in (...)
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  5. W. Balzer & G. Zoubek (1987). On Electrons and Reference. Theoria 2 (2):365-388.
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  6. Wolfgang Balzer (1996). Theoretical Terms: Recent Developments. In Wolfgang Balzer & Carlos Ulises Moulines (eds.), Structuralist Theory of Science: Focal Issues, New Results. Walter de Gruyter.
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  7. Wolfgang Balzer (1986). Theoretical Terms: A New Perspective. Journal of Philosophy 83 (2):71-90.
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  8. Ann-Sophie Barwich (2013). A Pluralist Approach to Extension: The Role of Materiality in Scientific Practice for the Reference of Natural Kind Terms. Biological Theory 7 (2):100-108.
    This article argues for a different outlook on the concept of extension, especially for the reference of general terms in scientific practice. Scientific realist interpretations of the two predominant theories of meaning, namely Descriptivism and Causal Theory, contend that a stable cluster of descriptions or an initial baptism fixes the extension of a general term such as a natural kind term. This view in which the meaning of general terms is presented as monosemantic and the referents as stable, homogeneous, and (...)
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  9. Katherine Bedard (1993). Partial Denotations of Theoretical Terms. Noûs 27 (4):499-511.
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  10. Alexander Bird (2004). Kuhn on Reference and Essence. Philosophia Scientiae 8 (1):39-71.
    Kuhn's incommensurability thesis seems to challenge scientific realism. One response to that challenge is to focus on the continuity of reference. The casual theory of reference in particular seems to offer the possibility of continuity of reference that woud provide a basis for the sort of comparability between theories that the realist requires. In "Dubbing and Redubbing: the vulnerability of rigid designation" Kuhn attacks the causal theory and the essentialism to which is is related. Kuhn's view is defended by Rupert (...)
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  11. Michael A. Bishop & Stephen P. Stich (1998). The Flight to Reference, or How Not to Make Progress in the Philosophy of Science. Philosophy of Science 65 (1):33-49.
    The flight to reference is a widely-used strategy for resolving philosophical issues. The three steps in a flight to reference argument are: (1) offer a substantive account of the reference relation, (2) argue that a particular expression refers (or does not refer), and (3) draw a philosophical conclusion about something other than reference, like truth or ontology. It is our contention that whenever the flight to reference strategy is invoked, there is a crucial step that is left undefended, and that (...)
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  12. H. Bohnert (1971). Review: David Lewis, How to Define Theoretical Terms. [REVIEW] Journal of Symbolic Logic 36 (2):321-321.
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  13. H. Bohnert (1971). Review: Peter Achinstein, Theoretical Terms and Partial Interpretation. [REVIEW] Journal of Symbolic Logic 36 (2):321-322.
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  14. Éric Bourneuf (1991). Référence et dénotation des termes scientifiques. Philosophiques 18 (2):27-62.
    Le point de départ de l'article est la théorie de la signification et de la référence des termes scientifiques présentée par Hilary Putnam dans son article « The Meaning of 'Meaning7 » et quelques autres essais de Mind, Language and Reality. Dans la partie critique du texte la thèse et les arguments de Putnam, ainsi que sa prétention d'éviter le problème de rincommensurabilité des théories rivales, sont évalués à la lumière de la distinction que nous introduisons entre référence et dénotation. (...)
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  15. David Braddon-Mitchell (2005). The Subsumption of Reference. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 56 (1):157-178.
    How can the reference of theoretical terms be stable over changes of theory? I defend an approach to this that does not depend on substantive metasemantic theories of reference. It relies on the idea that in contexts of use, terms may play a role in a theory that in turn points to a further (possibly unknown) theory. Empirical claims are claims about the nature of the further theories, and the falsification of these further theories is understood not as showing that (...)
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  16. Ingo Brigandt (2004). Biological Kinds and the Causal Theory of Reference. In J. C. Marek & M. E. Reicher (eds.), Experience and Analysis: Papers of the 27th International Wittgenstein Symposium. Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society.
    This paper uses an example from biology, the homology concept, to argue that current versions of the causal theory of reference give an incomplete account of reference determination. It is suggested that in addition to samples and stereotypical properties, the scientific use of concepts and the epistemic interests pursued with concepts are important factors in determining the reference of natural kind terms.
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  17. J. Brown (1998). Natural Kind Terms and Recognitional Capacities. Mind 107 (426):275-303.
    The main contribution of this paper is a new account of how a community may introduce a term for a natural kind in advance of knowing the correct scientific account of that kind. The account is motivated by the inadequacy of the currently dominant accounts of how a community may do this, namely those proposed by Kripke and by Putman. Their accounts fail to deal satisfactorily with the facts that (1) typically, an item that instantiates one natural kind instantiates several (...)
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  18. Werner Ceusters & Barry Smith (2005). Tracking Referents in Electronic Health Records. Studies in Health Technology and Informatics 116:71–76.
    Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are organized around two kinds of statements: those reporting observations made, and those reporting acts performed. In neither case does the record involve any direct reference to what such statements are actually about. They record not: what is happening on the side of the patient, but rather: what is said about what is happening. While the need for a unique patient identifier is generally recognized, we argue that we should now move to an EHR regime in (...)
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  19. Austen Clark (1983). Functionalism and the Definition of Theoretical Terms. Journal of Mind and Behavior 4 (3):339-352.
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  20. Pierre Cruse (2004). Scientific Realism, Ramsey Sentences and the Reference of Theoretical Terms. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 18 (2 & 3):133 – 149.
    It is often thought that questions of reference are crucial in assessing scientific realism, construed as the view that successful theories are at least approximately true descriptions of the unobservable; realism is justified only if terms in empirically successful theories generally refer to genuinely existing entities or properties. In this paper this view is questioned. First, it is argued that there are good reasons to think that questions of realism are largely decided by convention and carry no epistemic significance. An (...)
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  21. D. Cummiskey (1992). Reference Failure and Scientific Realism: A Response to the Meta-Induction. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 43 (1):21-40.
    Pure causal theories of reference cannot account for cases of theoretical term reference failure and do not capture the scientific point of introducing new theoretical terminology. In order to account for paradigm cases of reference failure and the point of new theoretical terminology, a descriptive element must play a role in fixing the reference of theoretical terms. Richard Boyd's concept of theory constituitive metaphors provides the necessary descriptive element in reference fixing. In addition to providing a plausible account of reference (...)
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  22. Craig Dilworth (1984). On Theoretical Terms. Erkenntnis 21 (3):405 - 421.
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  23. Igor Douven (2000). Theoretical Terms and the Principle of the Benefit of Doubt. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 14 (2):135 – 146.
    The Principle of the Benefit of Doubt dictates that, whenever reasonably possible, we interpret earlier-day scientists as referring to entities posited by current science. Putnam has presented the principle as supplementary to his Causal Theory of Reference in order to make this theory generally applicable to theoretical terms. The present paper argues that the principle is of doubtful standing. In particular, it will be argued that the principle lacks a justification and, indeed, is unjustifiable as it stands.
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  24. Igor Douven & Jaap Van Brakel (1998). Can the World Help Us in Fixing the Reference of Natural Kind Terms? Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 29 (1):59 - 70.
    According to Putnam the reference of natural kind terms is fixed by the world, at least partly; whether two things belong to the same kind depends on whether they obey the same objective laws. We show that Putnam's criterion of substance identity only "works" if we read "objective laws" as "OBJECTIVE LAWS". Moreover, at least some of the laws of some of the special sciences have to be included. But what we consider to be good special sciences and what not (...)
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  25. Igor Douven & Jaap van Brakel (1998). Can the World Help Us in Fixing the Reference of Natural Kind Terms? Journal for General Philosophy of Science 29 (1):59-70.
    According to Putnam the reference of natural kind terms is fixed by the world, at least partly; whether two things belong to the same kind depends on whether they obey the same objective laws. We show that Putnam's criterion of substance identity only “works” if we read “objective laws” as “OBJECTIVE LAWS”. Moreover, at least some of the laws of some of the special sciences have to be included. But what we consider to be good special sciences and what not (...)
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  26. Jane Duran (2005). Realism, Positivism and Reference. Journal for General Philosophy of Science 36 (2):401 - 407.
    Depending on the realist or instrumentalist twist that is given to positivism, interesting arguments can be made for both causal and classical theories of reference with regard to the use of scientific terms in the language of theory. But my claim is that the rigid foundationalism that supports the theoretical terms via the correspondence rules of the Received View undercuts the notion that it is possible to argue coherently for a causal theory of reference as allied to a positivistic view.
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  27. Berent Enć (1976). Reference of Theoretical Terms. Noûs 10 (3):261-282.
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  28. Luis Fernández Moreno (2010). Locke y Putnam sobre la referencia (Locke and Putnam on Reference). Theoria 25 (1):21-36.
    RESUMEN: La teoría causal formulada por Kripke y Putnam es la teoría semántica dominante de los términos de género natural y, en especial, de los términos de sustancia. La teoría semántica de los términos de sustancia de Locke ha sido, supuestamente, refutada por aquélla. Según Putnam, la teoría de Locke ha pasado por alto dos importantes contribuciones a la semántica, y principalmente a la referencia, de los términos de sustancia, a saber, la contribución de la sociedad y la del entorno. (...)
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  29. Paul K. Feyerabend (1962). Explanation, Reduction and Empiricism. In H. Feigl and G. Maxwell (ed.), Crítica: Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía. 103-106.
  30. Hartry Field (1973). Theory Change and the Indeterminacy of Reference. Journal of Philosophy 70 (14):462-481.
  31. Arthur Fine (1975). How to Compare Theories: Reference and Change. Noûs 9 (1):17-32.
  32. Greg Frost-Arnold (2014). Can the Pessimistic Induction Be Saved From Semantic Anti-Realism About Scientific Theory? British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 65 (3):521-548.
    Scientific anti-realists who appeal to the pessimistic induction (PI) claim that the theoretical terms of past scientific theories often fail to refer to anything. But on standard views in philosophy of language, such reference failures prima facie lead to certain sentences being neither true nor false. Thus, if these standard views are correct, then the conclusion of the PI should be that significant chunks of current theories are truth-valueless. But that is semantic anti-realism about scientific discourse—a position most philosophers of (...)
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  33. Greg Frost-Arnold (2008). Too Much Reference: Semantics for Multiply Signifying Terms. Journal of Philosophical Logic 37 (3):239 - 257.
    The logic of singular terms that refer to nothing, such as ‘Santa Claus,’ has been studied extensively under the heading of free logic. The present essay examines expressions whose reference is defective in a different way: they signify more than one entity. The bulk of the effort aims to develop an acceptable formal semantics based upon an intuitive idea introduced informally by Hartry Field and discussed by Joseph Camp; the basic strategy is to use supervaluations. This idea, as it stands, (...)
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  34. Haim Gaifman, Daniel N. Osherson & Scott Weinstein (1990). A Reason for Theoretical Terms. Erkenntnis 32 (2):149 - 159.
    The presence of nonobservational vocabulary is shown to be necessary for wide application of a conservative principle of theory revision.
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  35. Ian Hacking (2010). Putnam's Theory of Natural Kinds and Their Names is Not the Same as Kripke's. Principia 11 (1):1-24.
    Philosophers have been referring to the “Kripke–Putnam” theory of naturalkind terms for over 30 years. Although there is one common starting point, the two philosophers began with different motivations and presuppositions, and developed in different ways. Putnam’s publications on the topic evolved over the decades, certainly clarifying and probably modifying his analysis, while Kripke published nothing after 1980. The result is two very different theories about natural kinds and their names. Both accept that the meaning of a naturalkind term is (...)
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  36. Clyde L. Hardin & Alexander Rosenberg (1982). In Defense of Convergent Realism. Philosophy of Science 49 (4):604-615.
    Many realists have maintained that the success of scientific theories can be explained only if they may be regarded as approximately true. Laurens Laudan has in turn contended that a necessary condition for a theory's being approximately true is that its central terms refer, and since many successful theories of the past have employed central terms which we now understand to be non-referential, realism cannot explain their success. The present paper argues that a realist can adopt a view of reference (...)
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  37. Paul Hoyningen-Huene & Howard Sankey (eds.) (2001). Incommensurability and Related Matters. Kluwer.
  38. Juan Manuel Jaramillo U. (2011). From the Reference of Terms and Statements to the Reference of Theories: The Novelty of Sneed's View. Discusiones Filosóficas 12 (18):67-88.
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  39. Juan Manuel Jaramillo (2011). From the Reference of Terms and Statements to the Reference of Theories: The Novelty of Sneed's View. Discusiones Filosóficas 12 (18):67 - 88.
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  40. Philip Kitcher (1978). Theories, Theorists and Theoretical Change. Philosophical Review 87 (4):519-547.
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  41. Jeff Kochan (2015). Putting a Spin on Circulating Reference, or How to Rediscover the Scientific Subject. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 49:103-107.
    Bruno Latour claims to have shown that a Kantian model of knowledge, which he describes as seeking to unite a disembodied transcendental subject with an inaccessible thing-in-itself, is dramatically falsified by empirical studies of science in action. Instead, Latour puts central emphasis on scientific practice, and replaces this Kantian model with a model of “circulating reference.” Unfortunately, Latour's alternative schematic leaves out the scientific subject. I repair this oversight through a simple mechanical procedure. By putting a slight spin on Latour's (...)
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  42. Frederick W. Kroon (1985). Theoretical Terms and the Causal View of Reference. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 63 (2):143 – 166.
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  43. Frederick William Kroon (1980). Reference and Reduction. Dissertation, Princeton University
    Chapter V attempts to provide the elements of a solution to the problem of how terms in theoretical sciences acquire their reference. Its proposal is that a theory of reference-acquisition for theoretical terms should acknowledge the fact that what fixes the reference of a theoretical term is typically the embedding theory as a whole, not an austere causal description like 'the item causally responsible for event E.' It is argued that there are epistemic reasons for the existence of this phenomenon, (...)
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  44. James Ladyman (2011). Structural Realism Versus Standard Scientific Realism: The Case of Phlogiston and Dephlogisticated Air. Synthese 180 (2):87 - 101.
    The aim of this paper is to revisit the phlogiston theory to see what can be learned from it about the relationship between scientific realism, approximate truth and successful reference. It is argued that phlogiston theory did to some extent correctly describe the causal or nomological structure of the world, and that some of its central terms can be regarded as referring. However, it is concluded that the issue of whether or not theoretical terms successfully refer is not the key (...)
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  45. Anders Landig (2014). Partial Reference, Scientific Realism and Possible Worlds. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 47:1-9.
    Theories of partial reference have been developed in order to retrospectively interpret rather stubborn past scientific theories like Newtonian dynamics and the phlogiston theory in a realist way, i.e., as approximately true. This is done by allowing for a term to refer to more than one entity at the same time and by providing semantic structures that determine the truth values of sentences containing partially referring terms. Two versions of theories of partial reference will be presented, a conjunctive (by Hartry (...)
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  46. Larry Laudan (1981). A Confutation of Convergent Realism. Philosophy of Science 48 (1):19-49.
    This essay contains a partial exploration of some key concepts associated with the epistemology of realist philosophies of science. It shows that neither reference nor approximate truth will do the explanatory jobs that realists expect of them. Equally, several widely-held realist theses about the nature of inter-theoretic relations and scientific progress are scrutinized and found wanting. Finally, it is argued that the history of science, far from confirming scientific realism, decisively confutes several extant versions of avowedly 'naturalistic' forms of scientific (...)
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  47. David Lewis (1970). How to Define Theoretical Terms. Journal of Philosophy 67 (13):427-446.
  48. Mohan Matthen (1984). Ostension, Names and Natural Kind Terms. Dialogue 23 (01):44-58.
    It has been suggested that the theory of reference advanced by Kripke and Putnam implies, or presupposes, an aristotelian vision of natural kinds and essences. I argue that what is in fact established is that there are degrees of naturalness among kinds. A parallel argument shows that there are degrees of naturalness among individuals. A subsidiary theme of the paper is that the definition of "natural kind term" as "rigid designator of a natural kind" is mistaken. Names and natural kind (...)
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  49. Peter Menzies & Huw Price (2009). Is Semantics in the Plan? In David Braddon-Mitchell & Robert Nola (eds.), Conceptual Analysis and Philosophical Naturalism. Mit Press. 159--82.
    The so-called Canberra Plan is a grandchild of the Ramsey-Carnap treatment of theoretical terms. In its original form, the Ramsey-Carnap approach provided a method for analysing the meaning of scientific terms, such as “electron”, “gene” and “quark”—terms whose meanings could plausibly be delineated by their roles within scientific theories. But in the hands of David Lewis (1970, 1972), the original approach begat a more ambitious descendant, generalised and extended in two distinct ways: first, Lewis applied the technique to analyse the (...)
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  50. Don A. Merrell (2006). Theoretical Identity, Reference Fixing, and Boyd's Defense of Type Materialism. Philosophia 34 (2):169-172.
    In his Materialism without Reductionism: What Materialism Does not Entail, Richard Boyd answers Kripke’s challenge to materialists to come up with a way to explain away the apparent contingency of mind-brain identities . Boyd accuses Kripke of an imaginative myopia manifesting itself as a failure to realize that the more theoretical term in the identity is fixed by contingent descriptions – descriptions that might pick out otherworldly kinds of neural events where C-fibres are absent. If this is something we can (...)
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