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The Reference of Natural Kind Terms


Luis Fernández Moreno

This book deals with the main proponents of the causal and descriptivist reference theories on natural kind terms. The two main types of contemporary reference theories on natural kind terms are the causal and the descriptivist theories. The author analyzes the main versions of these two types of theories and claims that the differences between them are not as great as it is usually assumed. He alleges that the ostensive reference fixing and reference borrowing theories should be descriptive-causal, and he also adduces that the relation of kind-identity depends on the views on kind-identity and thus involves descriptive elements. This book is an important contribution to the debate on reference in contemporary philosophy of language and linguistics.

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The definition of natural kind and hence that of natural kind term is an open subject of discussion. In this book we have accepted a characterization of natural kind terms as those kind terms that are contained in laws; however, to allow for vernacular terms to be natural kind terms we have assumed that the vernacular kind terms that appear in low-level generalizations about observable properties are natural kind terms in a broad sense.

Even though there is a huge variety of terms that can be considered as natural kind terms, in the debate concerning the reference of that type of terms in contemporary Philosophy of Language, the ones that have been regarded as prototypical are the terms for biological kinds and the terms for kinds of material stuff and in particular for natural (chemical) substances, like “water” and “gold”. These two sorts of terms are precisely those mainly dealt with in the theories of S. Kripke and H. Putnam, which have been at the centre of the debate on the reference of natural kind terms. In this book we have focused on the second type of terms, also called substance terms, and especially on the term “water”. Nevertheless, since Kripke’s and Putnam’s theories on substance terms constitute a particular case, however central, of their theories concerning natural kind terms, we have frequently stood at this more general level, although assuming that their considerations on natural kind terms in general should paradigmatically apply to substance terms....

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