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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 8: Perspectives on a Descriptivist Theory of Reference of Natural Kind Terms

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8.1 Reference Fixing and Descriptions

As previously mentioned, Kripke and Putnam consider that natural kind terms can be introduced ostensively or descriptively but since the ostension by itself is ambiguous it requires some sort of descriptive supplementation. As alleged in section 4.1., Kripke’s theory of the ostensive reference fixing of proper names and natural kind terms involves descriptive components and can be regarded as a descriptive-causal theory, and I also sustained in section 5.1. that the same holds in the case of Putnam’s ostensive reference fixing theory for natural kind terms.

There are other authors who have dealt more thoroughly with the sort of descriptive components involved in the ostensive reference fixing of natural kind terms. In this section I will focus on the proposal made by Devitt and Sterelny in (1999). These authors have alleged that the ostensive reference fixing of proper names and natural kind terms involves us in the qua problem (see note 209), whose solution requires the recourse to descriptive components; thus, they claim that the most adequate theory of ostensive reference fixing for both sorts of terms is a descriptive-causal theory, with more descriptive components required in the case of natural kind terms than in that of proper names. The main aim of this section is to examine and develop their view about the descriptive components required for the ostensive reference fixing of natural kind terms as well as to make some specific proposals about them.312

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