Experimental Semantics

Abstract
In their delightfully provocative paper, “Semantics, Cross-Cultural Style,” Edouard Machery, Ron Mallon, Shaun Nichols, and Stephen Stich (2004),[1] make several striking claims about theories of reference. First, they claim: (I) Philosophical views about reference “are assessed by consulting one’s intuitions about the reference of terms in hypothetical situations” (p. B1). This claim is prompted by their observations of the role of intuitions in Saul Kripke’s refutation of the descriptivist view of proper names in favor of a causal-historical view (1980). The particular intuitions they attend to are those aired in discussing Kripke’s cases of Gödel and Jonah. This prompts the next claim: (II) Those particular cases are “central” to Kripke’s refutation (p. B1). Indeed, Machery et al describe these cases as “some of the most influential thought experiments in the philosophy of reference” (p. B8). Inspired by recent work in psychology (e.g., Nisbett et al 2001) that shows “systematic cognitive differences between East Asians and Westerners” (p. B1), Machery et al predicted that there would be cultural differences in referential intuitions. They conducted some ingenious experiments on Gödel and Jonah cases to test this predication. The results in the Gödel cases, although not in the Jonah cases, confirmed their prediction, leading them to conclude: “Westerners are more likely than East Asians to report intuitions that are consistent with the causal-historical view” (p. B1). And, implicitly, they claim: (III) These results raise serious doubts about Kripke’s refutation, which relies solely on the intuitions of Westerners. They are explicit about the following bolder claim: (IV) The fact of these cultural differences “raises questions about the nature of the philosophical enterprise of developing a theory of reference” (p. B1); it points to “significant philosophical conclusions” (p..
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References found in this work BETA
Michael Devitt (1981). Designation. Columbia University Press.
Michael Devitt (2006). Intuitions in Linguistics. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (3):481-513.

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