Reassessing referential indeterminacy

Erkenntnis 62 (1):1 - 28 (2005)
Quine and Davidson employ proxy functions to demonstrate that the use of language (behaviouristically conceived) is compatible with indefinitely many radically different reference relations. They also believe that the use of language (behaviouristically conceived) is all that determines reference. From this they infer that reference is indeterminate, i.e. that there are no facts of the matter as to what singular terms designate and what predicates apply to. Yet referential indeterminacy yields rather dire consequences. One thus does wonder whether one can hold on to a Quine--Davidson stance in semantics-cum-metaphysics and still avoid embracing referential indeterminacy. I argue that one can. Anyone adhering to the behaviouristic account pivotal to the Quine--Davidson stance is bound to acknowledge certain facts about verbal behaviour -- that some utterances are tied to situations, that some utterances are tied to segments in situations, that some predicates have non-contextualised conditions of application, and that use involves causal dependencies. The restrictions from these facts ensure that only reference relations generated by means of rather exceptional proxy functions are compatible with verbal behaviour. I conclude that this allows one to rebuff the Quine--Davidson argument for the indeterminacy of reference, as it were, from within. I moreover tentatively conclude that the line of thought laid out provides good reason for just about anyone to hold that there are facts about reference after all.
Keywords Philosophy   Philosophy   Epistemology   Ethics   Logic   Ontology
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References found in this work BETA
Jon Barwise & John Perry (1981). Situations and Attitudes. Journal of Philosophy 78 (11):668-691.
W. V. Quine (1992). Pursuit of Truth. Harvard University Press.

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