Reference and Pronouns

Kent Bach

in Thought and Reference

Published in print February 1994 | ISBN: 9780198240778
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191680267 | DOI:

Series: Clarendon Paperbacks

Reference and Pronouns

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It may seem to be a semantic fact that descriptions and names are referring expressions, but their referring function can and should be explained in strictly pragmatic terms. In contrast, it is undeniable that the referring function of pronouns is inseparable from their semantics. They do not denote in the strict (context-independent) sense, of course, and sentences containing them do not have absolute truth conditions. Yet the fact that they are characteristically used to refer does seem to demand a semantic explanation. Indeed, it might even be suggested that even though the reference of a pronoun is fixed only relative to the context of utterance, still it is fixed semantically, hence that the meaning of a sentence containing a pronoun determines a truth condition relative to the context. One virtue of this suggestion is that it accounts for the fact that the meaning of a given pronoun remains constant even though it can be used literally to refer to various individuals. However, the suggestion also has a serious difficulty. This chapter argues that the speaker's intention always (except in the case of ‘I’) plays an essential role in determining reference and, further, that for semantic purposes this intention cannot count as an element of context. The referring function of indexicals is part and parcel of their semantics. The chapter explains in detail how pronouns and other indexicals can be distinguished semantically from one another in terms of their respective constraints on how they can be used literally to refer. Finally, it points out that they can be used to refer descriptively as well as objectually.

Keywords: reference; context; referring function; referring expressions; pronouns; semantics; indexicals

Chapter.  8435 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

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