Mind and Language 16 (5):542–546 (2001)

David Hunter
Ryerson University
Some philosophical proposals seem to die hard. In a recent paper, Jason Stanley has worked to resurrect the description theory of reference, at least as it might apply to natural kind terms like ‘elm’ (Stanley, 1999). The theory’s founding idea is that to understand ‘elm’ one must know a uniquely identifying truth about elms. Famously, Hilary Putnam showed that ordinary users of ‘elm’ may understand it while lacking such knowledge, and may even be unable to distinguish elms from beeches (Putnam, 1975). In response, Stanley claims that linguistic understanding in the case of natural kind terms comes in levels, and that only those at the top level need have the knowledge in question. The description theory, in Stanley’s hands, applies only to those with top level understanding and it is their understanding that fixes the term’s reference. To use the term successfully, those with inferior understanding need only be defer- ential to those at the top. However, Stanley’s appeal to expert knowledge fails to revive the description theory.
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DOI 10.1111/1468-0017.00181
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References found in this work BETA

The Meaning of 'Meaning'.Hillary Putnam - 1975 - Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 7:131-193.
Intellectual Norms and Foundations of Mind.Tyler Burge - 1986 - Journal of Philosophy 83 (December):697-720.
On Knowledge and Convention.Tyler Burge - 1975 - Philosophical Review 84 (2):249-255.
Semantics and Semantic Competence.Scott Soames - 1989 - Philosophical Perspectives 3:575-596.

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Citations of this work BETA

The Epistemology of Cognitive Enhancement.J. Adam Carter & Duncan Pritchard - 2016 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy (2):220-242.
Is Thinking an Action?David Hunter - 2003 - Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 2 (2):133-148.

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