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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 2: Mill’s Theory of General Terms and Natural Kind Terms


2.1 Preliminary Remarks

Saul Kripke is one of the main proponents of the causal theory and one of the leading detractors of the descriptivist theory of natural kind terms. Kripke’s objections to this theory are put forward in the third lecture of (Kripke 1980). It is noteworthy that in his critique of that sort of theory Kripke assumes that the definite descriptions, and therefore the general terms composing those descriptions, to which an advocate of the descriptivist theory would resort, should only express general or purely qualitative properties,30 and Kripke attributes to that theory the thesis that such properties would constitute the meaning of natural kind terms and determine their reference.

One of the main objections by Kripke against the descriptivist theory of natural kind terms is found in a famous passage from the third lecture of (Kripke 1980) in which, although it is explicitly spoken of “general” terms, all examples given of such terms are natural kind terms. I draw from this passage the most relevant assertions for the critique of that sort of theory, although I will pay attention, at the beginning of chapter 3 and of section 7.1., to other assertions contained in this passage that I leave aside now:

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