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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 6: Locke and Putnam on the Reference of Natural Kind Terms


6.1 Preliminary Remarks

It is usually considered that Locke’s semantic theory on natural kind terms – in his terminology, of natural substance terms, in short, substance terms217 (see chapter 1)218 – has been refuted by the causal theory. My aim in this chapter is to argue that Locke’s theory can embody one of the main components of Putnam’s reference theory of natural kind terms – the contribution of the society to the determination of the reference – and that someone who in principle would sustain a theory like Locke’s could come to accept the other one – the contribution of the environment or of our world to such determination.219 However, before raising the corresponding questions it is advisable to make some previous remarks, in which I will summarize some of the components of the classic formulation of Putnam’s reference theory (see the two first paragraphs of chapter 5).

As already said, in the seventies of the last century, H. Putnam advanced his semantic theory of natural kind terms in the framework of his criticism to the traditional theory of meaning of such terms (see Putnam 1970a and 1975d).220 ← 183 | 184 → According to the characterization in (1970a)221 of the traditional theory of meaning, this theory claims that the meaning of a substance term is given by a conjunction of properties – and the term is defined by means of the terms which express these properties –, so that the conjunction of all those properties, which can be considered as...

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