Intuitions and the theory of reference

Jennifer, Ellen NADO, Michael JOHNSON

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8 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper, we will examine the role that intuitions and responses to thought experiments play in confirming or disconfirming theories of reference, using insights from both debates as our starting point. Our view is that experimental evidence of the type elicited by MMNS does play a central role in the construction of theories of reference. This, however, is not because such theory construction is accurately characterized by "the method of cases." First, experimental philosophy does not directly collect data about intuitions, but rather about peoples responses to thought experiments, which may reflect their intuitions but may well not. Second, unusually in the case of the theory of reference, experimental prompts involve elicitation of the phenomenon under investigation—that is, referring—and it is the reference facts rather than the intuitions that a theory of reference should capture. Finally, "best fit" models like the method of cases are inconsistent with the actual practice of semantic theorists, who appeal to general principles of theory construction (e.g. beauty and simplicity) as well as considerations native to the theory of reference (such as Grices razor), often in the service of rejecting intuitions. Indeed, Kripke himself viewed several claims of his theory as unintuitive, but felt no pressure to alter them on that account. These facts, we'll argue, suggest that the relevance of experimental methods in the theory of reference cannot be straightforwardly extended to other fields: an experimental prompt containing Newtons two rocks tied together in empty space may elicit referring, and may also elicit intuitions, but it doesn't also elicit the phenomenon under investigation (rocks rotating in empty space). Furthermore, the considerations native to the theory of reference are not part of physics, which has its own distinct set of principles and considerations. This suggests that an evaluation of the centrality of intuitions/ responses to thought experiments in philosophical methodology must proceed in a piecemeal fashion. We conclude that the potential contributions of experimental philosophy will take different forms in different sub-fields of philosophical inquiry.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvances in experimental philosophy and philosophical methodology
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing Plc
Number of pages30
ISBN (Print)9781474223218
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2016


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