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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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Chapter 1: Locke’s Theory of Natural Kind Terms


1.1 Preliminary Remarks

John Locke’s theory of natural kind terms was mainly put forward in (1690).11 This theory is part of a theory of substance terms, since Locke alludes to the former as terms for natural substances. These include terms for biological species – in Locke’s words, terms of “animals and vegetables” (1690: 3.11.19.) – and terms for material stuff or natural materials – in Locke’s words, terms of “inanimate bodies” (ibid). Locke assumes a nominalist ontology according to which only particular or singular entities exist and the character of his epistemology is representationalist since he claims that our knowledge concerns, in an immediate way, only a sort of mental entity called ideas by Locke. However, it is worthy of note that Locke does not put forward a very precise definition of idea. An idea is characterized as the object of the understanding when a man thinks (1690: 1.1.8.), where the understanding is conceived as the capacity of thinking or perceiving – these are mental acts Locke often puts on the same level. Another definition of idea is as the immediate object of perception, thought or understanding (1690: 2.8.8.). In (Locke 1687–1688: 368) he proposes the following definition: “whatsoever immediate object, whatsoever perception, be in the mind when it thinks, that I call idea”.

Locke asserts that words, which he denominates articulate sounds,12 mean ideas, but he makes the caveat that there is an exception to this general thesis. The most important type of linguistic...

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