Reference, Understanding, and Communication

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92 (1):55-70 (2013)
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Brian Loar [1976] observed that, even in the simplest of cases, such as an utterance of (1): ‘He is a stockbroker’, a speaker's audience might misunderstand her utterance even if they correctly identify the referent of the relevant singular term, and understand what is being predicated of it. Numerous theorists, including Bezuidenhout [1997], Heck [1995], Paul [1999], and Récanati [1993, 1995], have used Loar's observation to argue against direct reference accounts of assertoric content and communication, maintaining that, even in these simple cases, the propositional contribution of a referring expression must be more than just its referent. I argue here that, while Loar's observation is correct, the conclusion he and others have sought to draw from it simply does not follow. Rather, his observation helps to remind us of an important Gricean insight into the nature of communicative acts—including acts of speaker-reference—namely, that there is more to understanding a communicative act than merely entertaining what a speaker is intending to communicate thereby. Once we remember this insight, we see that the phenomenon to which Loar is calling our attention should actually be expected given the direct reference theorist's assumptions, together with independently plausible Gricean principles concerning how we make our referential intentions manifest in communication. More generally, the Gricean strategy for explaining the challenge posed by Loar cases suggests a novel way to account for certain crucial anti-direct reference intuitions—one requiring no modification of the original theory (e.g., no invocation of ‘descriptive enrichments’ as in Soames [2002]), thereby allowing for a direct reference account of what is asserted in utterances of ‘simple sentences’ such as (1).



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Ray Buchanan
University of Texas at Austin

References found in this work

The Varieties of Reference.Gareth Evans - 1982 - Oxford: Oxford University Press. Edited by John Henry McDowell.
The Varieties of Reference.Louise M. Antony - 1987 - Philosophical Review 96 (2):275.
Direct Reference: From Language to Thought.François Récanati - 1993 - Cambridge, Mass., USA: Blackwell.

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