Confused Terms in Ordinary Language

Journal of Logic, Language and Information 29 (2):197-219 (2020)
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Confused terms appear to signify more than one entity. Carnap maintained that any putative name that is associated with more than one object in a relevant universe of discourse fails to be a genuine name. Although many philosophers have agreed with Carnap, they have not always agreed among themselves about the truth-values of atomic sentences containing such terms. Some hold that such atomic sentences are always false, and others claim they are always truth-valueless. Field maintained that confused terms can still refer, albeit partially, and offered a supervaluational account of their semantic properties on which some atomic sentences with confused terms can be true. After outlining many of the most important theoretical considerations for and against various semantic theories for such terms, we report the results of a study designed to investigate which of these accounts best accords with the truth-value judgments of ordinary language users about sentences containing these terms. We found that naïve participants view confused names as capable of successfully referring to one or more objects. Thus, semantic theories that judge them to involve total reference failure do not comport well with patterns of ordinary usage.

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Author Profiles

James R. Beebe
State University of New York, Buffalo
Greg Frost-Arnold
Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Citations of this work

Coordination, Content, and Conflation.Kyle Landrum - forthcoming - Australasian Journal of Philosophy.

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