Sunday, January 15, 2012

Semantic reference and speaker's reference

Tristan Haze pointed me to this paper by Saul Kripke, which mentions the distinction between speakers reference and semantic reference. "I'd be interested to hear whether you think this answers your objection".

Having read Kripke's paper, which has a lot about another famous distinction, made by Keith Donnellan (I have discussed this somewhere here, some time ago), I don't think it does. My view is that all 'reference' whatsoever is semantic reference, so I don't make the distinction between different kinds of reference.

Furthermore, I don't think that what Kripke calls 'semantic reference' is the same as what I mean by it. I claim that all reference has the same semantic model as 'story relative reference'. Story relative reference is the mechanism that allows us to say which character is which, in a narrative that can be true (as with history) or false (as with fiction). This kind of reference cannot involve any semantic relation between language and the world, because it has the same semantic properties whether or not the information was caused by real people or events, or not. I argue this cogently against Tim Crane's view of reference here.

If I am right (i.e. reference is not a language-world relation) then my 'semantic reference' cannot be Kripke's semantic reference. For Kripke, a definite description signifies semantically by allowing us to identify a unique individual in the world that satisfies that description. Just by knowing the semantics of the terms 'queen', 'England' and '2012', we can determine which individual in reality is satisfied by 'Queen of England in 2012', and so can grasp the truth conditions of 'the Queen of England in 2012 lives in London'. By contrast, I reject entirely the view that the semantics of anything involves a word-world relation. This is true of definite descriptions as well as proper names.  So what I mean by 'semantic reference' is different from what is meant by Kripke, and by most other contemporary philosophers of language.

I will say some more about definite descriptions in the next post.

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