Spencerism and the causal theory of reference

Biology and Philosophy 21 (1):71-94 (2006)
Spencer’s heritage, while almost a forgotten chapter in the history of biology, lives on in psychology and the philosophy of mind. I particularly discuss externalist views of meaning, on which meaning crucially depends on a notion of reference, and ask whether reference should be thought of as cause or effect. Is the meaning of a word explained by what it refers to, or should we say that what we use a word to refer to is explained by what concept it expresses? I argue for the latter view, which I call ‘Darwinian’, and against the former, ‘Spencerian’ one, assuming conceptual structures in humans to be an instance of adaptive structures, and adaptive relations to an environment to be the effect rather than the cause of evolutionary novelties. I conclude with the deficiency – both empirically and methodologically – of a functionalist study of human concepts and the languages they are embedded in, as it would be undertaken in a paradigm that identifies meaning with reference or that gives reference an explanatory role to play for what concepts we have.
Keywords Concepts  Dretske  Fodor  Internalism  Teleosemantics
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s10539-005-0205-y
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 24,422
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
Daniel C. Dennett (1996). Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Behavior and Philosophy 24 (2):169-174.

View all 12 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
Wolfram Hinzen (2006). Internalism About Truth. Mind and Society 5 (2):139-166.
Wolfram Hinzen (2012). Human Nature and Grammar. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 70:53-82.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

35 ( #137,342 of 1,924,895 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

6 ( #140,727 of 1,924,895 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.