In Defense of Historical Chain-Descriptivism

David DeMatteo
Reed College
This paper makes an intervention into the debate between descriptivist and causal theories of reference-fixing by arguing that the two aren’t necessarily exclusive. One can formulate a theory of reference-fixing which closely mimics Kripke’s causal theory but which frames the relation between speakers in terms of descriptions rather than intentions. When a speaker utters the name, they associate the following description with the name: “the object/name that is referred to by the person I heard/read/learned the name from when they utter/write ‘nn’”. The reference itself will only be successful if 1) one object, and one object only, is determined by this reference, and 2) the descriptions stretch back to an individual who is the original ‘dubber’ of the name, whose descriptive content associated with the name does not incorporate the notion of reference. The majority of this paper is dedicated to showing both the tenability and the beneficial upshots of such a theory of reference, which, I will argue, both qualifies as descriptivist by Kripke’s own standards and does not fall victim to Kripke’s famous arguments against descriptivism. I conclude by responding to some criticisms of historical chain-descriptivism, and considering its implications for the descriptivism-causal theory dispute.
Keywords Descriptivism  Causal Theory of Reference  Theory of Referrence  Kripke  Searle
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References found in this work BETA

Naming and Necessity.Saul A. Kripke - 1980 - Harvard University Press.
Intentionality, an Essay in the Philosophy of Mind.John Searle - 1983 - Philosophical Quarterly 36 (143):300-303.
Against Causal Descriptivism.Panu Raatikainen - 2006 - Mind and Society 5 (1):78-84.

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