Reference and resemblance

Many discussions between realists and non-realists have centered on the issue of reference, especially whether there is referential stability during theory change. In this paper, I shall summarize the debate, sketching the problems that remain within the two opposing positions, and show that both have ended on their own slippery slope, sliding away from their original position toward that of their opponents. In the search for a viable intermediate position, I shall then suggest an account of reference which, to a degree, follows the causal theory in explaining reference as carving the world at its joints. Contrary to the causal theory, however, I submit that this world is a phenomenal world whose variable joints exist only in a historical process in which they are transmitted gradually from one generation to the next. According to this account, the joints of the phenomenal world are constituted by family resemblance, where bundles of features that span bounded areas in perceptual space underlie the joints. Furthermore, the integrity of the cognitive process by which these joints are recognized depends on a transmission process by which new generations are presented with given joints and bundles by the preceding generation. Contrary to a traditional realist account, this heritage from the preceding generation may be transformed into new joints and bundles before transmission to new generations. This permits a continuous process of referential change in which the joints and bundles at different stages in the development of a theory can be connected by chains-of-reasoning
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DOI 10.1086/392897
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