Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Is there really reference?

*Disclaimer: Apologies if this post is a bit ramble-ish or absolutely devoid of intelligent content.  I wasn't very focused when I wrote it and I'm not in the mood to reread it any time soon.  So if it's terrible, please ignore it and try to forgive me.*

I've been thinking about reference.  I've been wondering if there really is such a thing.  This all started with a conversation with Michael Bench-Capon after his claim that sentences are not true in virtue of the propositions they correspond to, but in virtue of what they express as being the case, being the case (for details see his post on the particulars wear the pants principle).  This seemed strange to me, not least of all because whilst what Mike said seemed very sensible, it also meant that that whilst the proposition wasn't wearing the truth wearing pants for the sentence, it was still wearing some truth pants of its own.  The proposition 'snow is white' is still true even if its truth isn't doing anything for the truth of the sentence.  This looks queer to me, primarily because it seems that the appeal of particulars wearing the pants seems to be that we no longer need pants for propositions (resisting urge to make nudity jokes).  So I had a little ponder.

It's also worth mentioning that I've also been working on antirealism quite a bit recently, so I guess I'm generally in the mood for getting rid of things.

Anyway, to my thought.  If we are still committed to propositions wearing truth pants (even if they aren't the sentences truth pants), maybe we can do away with truth for sentences altogether.  Maybe sentences are just utterances of sounds backed up with the intention to communicate certain thoughts. (which relates to a proposition that the speaker has in mind)  Once they are out there, vibrating in the air, whoever hears them can interpret them as they will, associating them with a proposition that they think it corresponds to.  Now, the relevant proposition can be either true or false, but what the speakers get from it will entirely depend on which proposition they associate it with.  The sentence doesn't refer to anything, this way when you say 'father Christmas never existed', meaning the rotund bearded chap from the coca cola adverts, and I think you mean Saint Nicholas, there is a perfectly legitimate failure of communication.  This failure has nothing to do with failure of reference, because there is no such thing (for the sentence at least).  We are simply thinking about different propositions.

So sentences don't refer, and they aren't the kinds of things that are true or false.  They are just attempts to latch onto propositions.  Maybe this would help with some problems of reference that crop up now and again.

Apologies again if this is nonsense, maybe I'll reread it some time when I feel like it and either re-write it or delete it.

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