About this topic
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 1967.  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.
Introductions Sankey 1994
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  1. Nondescriptionality and Natural Kind Terms.Barbara Abbott - 1989 - 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 Putnam (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 (...)
  2. The Problem of Theoretical Terms.Peter Achinstein - 1965 - American Philosophical Quarterly 2 (3):235-249.
  3. Theoretical Terms in Science.Holger Andreas - forthcoming - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  4. Knowledge and Reference in Empirical Science.Jody Azzouni - 2013 - Routledge.
    _Knowledge and Reference in Empirical Science_ is a fascinating study of the bounds between science and language: in what sense, and of what, does science provide knowledge? Is science an instrument only distantly related to what's real? Can the language of science be used to adequately describe the truth? In this book, Jody Azziouni investigates the technology of science - the actual forging and exploiting of causal links, between ourselves and what we endeavor to know and understand.
  5. Knowledge and Reference in Empirical Science.Jody Azzouni - 2004 - Routledge.
    _Knowledge and Reference in Empirical Science_ is a fascinating study of the bounds between science and language: in what sense, and of what, does science provide knowledge? Is science an instrument only distantly related to what's real? Can the language of science be used to adequately describe the truth? In this book, Jodi Azziouni investigates the technology of science - the actual forging and exploiting of causal links, between ourselves and what we endeavor to know and understand.
  6. On Electrons and Reference.W. Balzer & G. Zoubek - 1987 - Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 2 (2-3):365-388.
  7. On Electrons and Reference.W. Balzer & G. Zoubek - 1987 - Theoria 2 (2):365-388.
  8. Theoretical Terms: Recent Developments.Wolfgang Balzer - 1996 - In Wolfgang Balzer & Carlos Ulises Moulines (eds.), Structuralist Theory of Science: Focal Issues, New Results. Walter de Gruyter.
  9. Theoretical Terms: A New Perspective.Wolfgang Balzer - 1986 - Journal of Philosophy 83 (2):71-90.
  10. A Pluralist Approach to Extension: The Role of Materiality in Scientific Practice for the Reference of Natural Kind Terms.Ann-Sophie Barwich - 2013 - 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 (...)
  11. Partial Denotations of Theoretical Terms.Katherine Bedard - 1993 - Noûs 27 (4):499-511.
  12. A Theory of Reference Transmission and Reference Change.Alan Berger - 1989 - Midwest Studies in Philosophy 14 (1):180-198.
  13. Meta-Incommensurability Between Theories of Meaning: Chemical Evidence.Nicholas W. Best - 2015 - Perspectives on Science 23 (3):361-378.
    Attempting to compare scientific theories requires a philosophical model of meaning. Yet different scientific theories have at times—particularly in early chemistry—pre-supposed disparate theories of meaning. When two theories of meaning are incommensurable, we must say that the scientific theories that rely upon them are meta-incommensurable. Meta- incommensurability is a more profound sceptical threat to science since, unlike first-order incommensurability, it implies complete incomparability.
  14. Kuhn on Reference and Essence.Alexander Bird - 2004 - 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 (...)
  15. The Flight to Reference, or How Not to Make Progress in the Philosophy of Science.Michael A. Bishop & Stephen P. Stich - 1998 - 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 (...)
  16. Review: Peter Achinstein, Theoretical Terms and Partial Interpretation. [REVIEW]H. Bohnert - 1971 - Journal of Symbolic Logic 36 (2):321-322.
  17. Review: David Lewis, How to Define Theoretical Terms. [REVIEW]H. Bohnert - 1971 - Journal of Symbolic Logic 36 (2):321-321.
  18. Référence et dénotation des termes scientifiques.Éric Bourneuf - 1991 - 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. (...)
  19. The Subsumption of Reference.David Braddon-Mitchell - 2005 - 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 (...)
  20. Biological Kinds and the Causal Theory of Reference.Ingo Brigandt - 2004 - In J. C. Marek & M. E. Reicher (eds.), Experience and Analysis: Papers of the 27th International Wittgenstein Symposium. Kirchberg am Wechsel: Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society. pp. 58–60.
    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.
  21. Natural Kind Terms and Recognitional Capacities.J. Brown - 1998 - 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 (...)
  22. Tracking Referents in Electronic Health Records.Werner Ceusters & Barry Smith - 2005 - 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 (...)
  23. Functionalism and the Definition of Theoretical Terms.Austen Clark - 1983 - Journal of Mind and Behavior 4 (3):339-352.
  24. Realism and the Infinitely Faceted World: Intimations From the 1950s.Alberto Cordero - 2010 - Ontology Studies: Cuadernos de Ontología:7-19.
    Breaking away from logical-empiricism, in the early 1950s Stephen Toulmin presented empirical theories as maps, thereby opening a fertile line of reflection about background interests and their impact on abstraction in scientific theorizing. A few years later, pointing to the “qualitative infinity of nature,” David Bohm denounced what he regarded as counterproductive constraints on the scientific imagination. In realist circles, these two strands of suggestions would be variously supplemented over the following decades with further recognitions of the epistemic merits of (...)
  25. ¿Desarrollo progresivo de la ciencia sin continuidad referencial? Acerca del realismo de Psillos y la teoría del germoplasma de Weismann.Mariana Córdoba - 2010 - Principia: An International Journal of Epistemology 14 (3):335-348.
    In this paper I argue for the idea that, throughout the history of science, there are some cases of theory change that would show how science develops with no referential continuity. For this purpose, I analyze Psillos’ proposal of a theory of reference used to account for referential continuity in conceptual transitions. This kind of continuity is requested by Psillos —as by other philosophers— in his defense of scientific realism. By means of a historical case, the theory of germplasm of (...)
  26. Scientific Realism, Ramsey Sentences and the Reference of Theoretical Terms.Pierre Cruse - 2004 - 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 (...)
  27. Reference Failure and Scientific Realism: A Response to the Meta-Induction.D. Cummiskey - 1992 - 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 (...)
  28. On Theoretical Terms.Craig Dilworth - 1984 - Erkenntnis 21 (3):405 - 421.
  29. Can the World Help Us in Fixing the Reference of Natural Kind Terms?Douven Igor & Brakel Jaap Van - 1998 - 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 (...)
  30. Theoretical Terms and the Principle of the Benefit of Doubt.Igor Douven - 2000 - 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.
  31. Realism, Positivism and Reference.Jane Duran - 2005 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 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.
  32. Reference of Theoretical Terms.Berent Enć - 1976 - Noûs 10 (3):261-282.
  33. Explanation, Reduction and Empiricism.Paul K. Feyerabend - 1962 - In H. Feigl and G. Maxwell (ed.), Crítica: Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía. pp. 103-106.
  34. Theory Change and the Indeterminacy of Reference.Hartry Field - 1973 - Journal of Philosophy 70 (14):462-481.
  35. How to Compare Theories: Reference and Change.Arthur Fine - 1975 - Noûs 9 (1):17-32.
  36. Can the Pessimistic Induction Be Saved From Semantic Anti-Realism About Scientific Theory?Greg Frost-Arnold - 2014 - 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 (...)
  37. A Reason for Theoretical Terms.Haim Gaifman, Daniel N. Osherson & Scott Weinstein - 1990 - 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.
  38. Reference and Theory Change.Alex Joseph Goldstein - 1980 - Dissertation, University of Michigan
    In Chapter V my own position is presented. It is a modified version of Putnam's theory of reference, incorporating an extension of Field's notion of 'partial denotation' and another notion I introduce called 'partial truth'. The use of these notions is defended and illustrated by comparing the reference of Dalton's term 'element' with the reference of Soddy's terms 'element' and 'isotope', and comparing the truth of Prout's hypothesis that the atomic weight of every element is an integral multiple of the (...)
  39. Putnam's Theory of Natural Kinds and Their Names is Not the Same as Kripke's.Ian Hacking - 2007 - Principia: An International Journal of Epistemology 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 (...)
  40. In Defense of Convergent Realism.Clyde L. Hardin & Alexander Rosenberg - 1982 - 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 (...)
  41. Incommensurability and Related Matters.Paul Hoyningen-Huene & Howard Sankey (eds.) - 2001 - Kluwer Academic Publishers.
  42. How and How Not to Be Whiggish About 'Phlogiston'.Jonathon Hricko - unknown
    Understanding the semantics of theoretical terms from past science involves determining what, if anything, they referred to. Some ways of assigning referents to such terms are Whiggish, in the sense that they introduce anachronisms that distort the past, while others are not. My aim in this paper is to develop a non-Whiggish semantic theory, one that avoids Whiggish reference assignments. In order to do so, I make use of the example of 'phlogiston.' I argue that it would be Whiggish to (...)
  43. From the Reference of Terms and Statements to the Reference of Theories: The Novelty of Sneed's View.Juan Manuel Jaramillo U. - 2011 - Discusiones Filosóficas 12 (18):67-88.
  44. From the Reference of Terms and Statements to the Reference of Theories: The Novelty of Sneed's View.Juan Manuel Jaramillo - 2011 - Discusiones Filosóficas 12 (18):67 - 88.
  45. Theories, Theorists and Theoretical Change.Philip Kitcher - 1978 - Philosophical Review 87 (4):519-547.
  46. Theoretical Terms and the Causal View of Reference.Frederick W. Kroon - 1985 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 63 (2):143 – 166.
  47. Reference and Reduction.Frederick William Kroon - 1980 - 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, (...)
  48. Structural Realism Versus Standard Scientific Realism: The Case of Phlogiston and Dephlogisticated Air.James Ladyman - 2011 - 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 (...)
  49. Partial Reference, Scientific Realism and Possible Worlds.Anders Landig - 2014 - 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 (...)
  50. A Confutation of Convergent Realism.Larry Laudan - 1981 - 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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