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The Reference of Natural Kind Terms

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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 3: Frege’s and Russell’s Theories

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In an extract from the passage by Kripke quoted in section 2.1., in which, taking Mill’s theory as a basis, Kripke criticizes the descriptivist theory of general terms, focusing on that sort of general terms that natural kind terms are, he asserted that “[t]he modern logical tradition, as represented by Frege and Russell, seems to hold that Mill was […] right about general names” (Kripke 1980: 127). It is appropriate now to quote the complete assertion which goes as follows: “The modern logical tradition, as represented by Frege and Russell, seems to hold that Mill was wrong about singular names, but right about general names” (ibid). A few pages later Kripke does not introduce the qualification “seems to hold”, and he asserts:

[…] the modern logical tradition, as represented by Frege and Russell, disputed Mill on the issue of singular names, but endorsed him on that of general names. Thus all terms, both singular and general, have a ‘connotation’ or Fregean sense […] The present view, directly reversing Frege and Russell […] disputes his view of general terms. (Kripke 1980: 134)

These passages are inserted in wider ones where Kripke rejects the descriptivist theory of general terms, especially of natural kind terms.50 Nonetheless, on the one hand, neither G. Frege nor B. Russell have explicitly put forward a semantic theory of natural kind terms, although the latter made some considerations on natural kinds in (Russell 1948), which involve a thesis on the semantics of that sort of...

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