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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 4: Kripke’s Reference Theory of Natural Kind Terms


4.1 Kripke’s “Picture”

A passage from Kripke (1980), quoted at the beginning of chapter 3 ended as follows: “The present view, directly reversing Frege and Russell […] disputes his view of general terms” (Kripke 1980: 134). In this passage Kripke claims that in Frege’s and Russell’s theories general terms are conceived as connotative terms or as terms that express a Fregean sense, understanding by this notion of sense that of “defining properties” (1980: 127) or that “given by a particular conjunction of properties” (1980: 135). The sort of general terms Kripke must be mainly taking into account in this claim are natural kind terms, since that passage is the continuation of the second one from (Kripke 1980) quoted in section 2.1. where the examples of general terms mentioned by Kripke when he deals with Mill’s theory of general terms are natural kind terms.

Kripke is one of the main advocates of the causal theory of reference of natural kind terms as well as one of the leading critics of the descriptivist theory; although he uses the denomination of “description theory” I will continue using for the sake of uniformity the first label (see the Introduction). However, many of Kripke’s considerations on natural kind terms in (1980) are secondary with respect to those on proper names. Only after having dealt with proper names in the first two lectures of (Kripke 1980) and having presented his reference theory – or as he says his “picture” of the reference...

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