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72. Theoretical Terms: Meaning and Reference


Subject Philosophy

Key-Topics meaning, reference , science

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631230205.2001.00075.x


It is one thing for a scientist to speak a language in which he can conduct and communicate his investigations, another for him to possess a reflective understanding enabling him to explain the nature and workings of that language. Many who have sought such an understanding have held that the concepts of “meaning,” “reference,” and “theoretical term” play a crucial role in developing it. But others — instrumentalist skeptics about reference, Quinean skeptics about meaning, and skeptics about the theory/observation distinction — have denied this. ‘Reference” has been variously construed. The three most important ways of understanding it hold that to state the reference of an expression is to state either (i) the contribution the expression makes to the truth-values of the sentences in which it occurs (the expression's semantic role ), or (ii) the entity to which the expression bears that one—one relation — designating — which holds between, for example, the particular utterance of “that” and the object demonstrated when an agent utters the words “That is my pen” with an accompanying demonstrative gesture (the expression's designation ), or (iii) the entities to which the expression bears the one— many relation — denotation — which holds between, for example, the word “goose” and each goose. Some hold that general (theoretical) terms like “electron” have references in each ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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