Research Group
in Analytic Philosophy

The Determination of Reference

Duration: 2009 - 2011

Code: FFI2008-04263/FISO

Principal Investigator

Genoveva Martí

Other researchers

Jose Martínez Fernández

Mario Gómez Torrente

Laura Ortega 

Andi Pietz

Dan Zeman


What connects our words with the fragments of the world they are about? This is the fundamental question of the theory of reference. Traditionally, and inspired by Frege, the answer to this question has been: reference is determined by concepts epistemically accessible to the users of a language. Direct reference theories cast doubt on the traditional explanation and propose a conception of reference according to which the reference of a term is not determined by material epistemically accessible to speakers, bu rather by causal and social factors. Since the 70’s the debate about this issue has revolved around two poles: on the one hand, descriptivism and internalism and, on the other, externalism and the causal theory of reference. The terms of the debate are rather well set, and the possible objections to, and answers by, each of the alternatives are relatively well known. Our proposal is to move the discussion about the determination of reference out of the traditional debate by focusing on issues that cut it orthogonally. Our purpose is to focus on issues about the determination of the reference of general terms and the paradoxes of denotation in self-referential languages. The questions we wish to focus on are fundamental, but they have received comparatively less attention by semanticists than the traditional debate between descriptivism and the causal theory of reference.