Reference without Referents

Reference without Referents

Reference without Referents

Reference without Referents

Synopsis

Reference is a central topic in philosophy of language, and has been the main focus of discussion about how language relates to the world. R. M. Sainsbury sets out a new approach to the concept, which promises to bring to an end some long-standing debates in semantic theory. Lucid and accessible, and written with a minimum of technicality, Sainsbury's book also includes a useful historical survey. It will be of interest to those working in logic, mind, and metaphysics as well as essential reading for philosophers of language.

Excerpt

There is a single category of referring expressions, all of which deserve essentially the same kind of semantic treatment. Included in this category are both singular and plural referring expressions ('Aristotle', 'The Pleiades'), complex and non-complex referring expressions ('The President of the USA in 1970', 'Nixon'), and empty and non-empty referring expressions ('Vulcan', 'Neptune'). Referring expressions are to be described semantically by a reference condition, rather than by being associated with a referent.

These are the main theses of this book. Special emphasis is placed on the unity among empty and non-empty referring expressions, summarized by the title Reference without Referents (RWR). The first chapter is intended for readers with little background in philosophy of language. Its final section (1.6) summarizes the main claims to be made in the book; for many readers, this will be the best place to start reading. The second chapter describes the framework within which the rest of the discussion takes place. In particular, it sketches the logic that is taken for granted (negative free logic, or NFL). The next three chapters consider specific kinds of referring expression: proper names (Chapter 3), pronouns (Chapter 4), and complex referring expressions (Chapter 5). RWR gives very straightforward answers to the more tractable issues about existence and fiction, and these are set out in Chapter 6 , along with some less tractable ones, which are problematic for all theories. The final chapter considers mental reference, suggesting that this, too, is appropriately treated in the RWR way. Accepting this would lend strength to the theses of RWR about linguistic reference; but these theses could consistently be accepted even by someone who rejected the admittedly more speculative theses about thought.

My principal institutional debt is to the Leverhulme Trust, which awarded me a Senior Research Fellowship in 2000-2, during which most of the work for the book was completed. In the current state of Humanities Departments in the United Kingdom, with enormously

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

Oops!

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.