Experimentally Testing the Intuitions about Semantic Reference

AbstractThe debate about semantic reference between Frege’s (1948) descriptivism and Kripke’s (1972) causal theory of reference has recently been approached through experimental psychology. However, no consensus has been reached on the direction of the results. While some studies face clear methodological charges, even those that are currently uncontested do not reach mutual conclusions. We propose a novel experimental paradigm with methodology designed to evade the problems of previous studies. Contrary to the past literature, we find a prevalence of descriptivists under lenient criteria for consistency across trials, while under strict criteria we find an equal amount of descriptivists and hybrids, with low numbers of referentialists (causal theory of reference) under both criteria. We suggest an interpretation of this result, and where future research might head.

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