David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 11 (3):259 – 272 (1997)
In his (1978) and parts of (1993), Philip Kitcher advances a new context-sensitive theory of reference which he applies to abandoned theoretical expression-types, such as Joseph Priestley’s ‘dephlogisticated air’, in order to show that, although qua types they fail to refer uniformly, they nonetheless have referential tokens. This piece offers a critical examination of Kitcher’s theory. After a general investigation into the overall adequacy of Kitcher’s theory as a general account of reference, I focus on the case of abandoned theoretical terms. Kitcher’s theory is meant to be able to evaluate and solve disputes about referential continuity and progress in scientific theorychange. To this end, Kitcher employs the principle of humanity and a notion of the “correct historical explanation” of the production of each expression-token. I argue that the application of the principle of humanity does not offer a principled way to show that the historical actors were involved in different modes of reference when they produced different tokens of an expressiontype. I also suggest that the principle of humanity, coupled with Kitcher’s view that tokens of expression-types may systematically refer to different things, makes conceptual progress too easy and thus uninteresting.
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