The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 32, 1998

Philosophy of Language

Renate Duerr
Pages 31-34

The Reference of Theoretical Terms

A popular explanation of the success of theories of science is that of scientific realism. It maintains, besides that the theories of a mature science are typically approximately true, that observational terms and theoretical terms refer to or denote entities. Therefore it is part of the realistic claim that "reference" explains "success." But if the realist is not able to clarify "reference" and a fortiori the reference on theoretical objects, the realist comes to a vicious circle, for there is no further criterion as the success of the theory to show that the term is referential. So it is necessary to clarify the notion "reference." Needless to say, "reference" is a relational term; but it easily becomes a problem that we are not only habituated to imagine the elation but we are convinced that a relation is just a relation between entities in a strict (viz., Quinian) sense. There are different kinds of references. For example, one is usually called "intentionality." If we, considering the traditional separation between reference and meaning, analyze meaning, we will find at least one referential component (intentional object). Such a referential process is not a meaningless aspect of linguistic reference, but now and then is the subject of the kind of relation called "denotation." The notion of meaning and the concept of reference are nonsubstantial constructions of interpretation. Nevertheless, I argue for a reference-theoretical approach.