Naming and Reference: The Link of Word to Object

Naming and Reference: The Link of Word to Object

Naming and Reference: The Link of Word to Object

Naming and Reference: The Link of Word to Object


Nelson looks at how language relates to the world and more particularly at the referring power of names. The first half of the book details the history of the subject from Locke onwards and is followed by Nelson's own reference theory.


Of all things distinctively human the first is language, and the second is how and why this is so. Man studying himself is not new. Systematic thought about language and man goes back to Plato’s Cratylus or before and is a central theme in philosophy and cognitive science today.

Strangely, the connections of language with the world are not much better understood now than they were in Plato’s time. Significant advances have been made in linguistics, even in structural semantics, but they have not included much of importance about the relation of names to things named. Much is known about the syntactical structure of phrases and sentences, but not about the word-to-world hook-up of the component words.

This book is about that semantical connection, about reference of language to the world. In it I adopt what has come to be called a ‘causal’ or ‘direct’ theory of reference, which goes back to John Stuart Mill and has been recently advanced by Saul Kripke. Using various computer models, I explore meaning and reference of words to objects and the relation of these semantical phenomena to perception, belief and truth. In this work I use parallel, connectionist brain/mind models, and not the programming, sequential models of mid-century artificial intelligence research.

My theory suggests an alternative to Chomsky’s psychology of language. Gerald Edelman’s work on modern brain biology has produced convincing evidence that certain mental capabilities, notably visual perception, are best explained as evolutionary phenomena. On my view, reference is closely related to perception. It then follows that language, if the causal theory is right, is acquired in an evolving individual brain, ‘bottom up’, without any constraints imposed by a learner’s putative innate knowledge of . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.