UCSB Philosophy Blog

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Jason Stanley's comments about our upcoming conference

I'm sure a lot of you have come across the above comment that Jason Stanley made about our upcoming conference. I'd like to hear some of your thoughts about his comments.


  • At 11:35 PM, Blogger Jason Newman said…

    Not sure what his motivations were (perhaps to refute a conference announcment?), but what he said seems pretty much dead-on right, as far as I can tell. The most important contributions of, say, Davidson, Putnam, Lewis and Grice in the philosophy of language are more important than a thesis about proper names. Sure.

  • At 12:08 AM, Blogger Josh said…

    My thoughts:

    I don't know a great deal about the details of advancements in phil lang in the past 50 years, but this is clearly a matter of opinion. Importance can be taken in many ways. I think that's safe to say. I also think it's safe to say that it did seem a bit odd that direct reference was singled out on a flier that was for a conference about (presumably all) advancements in the theory of meaning. However, I also think it's safe to say that the idea of direct reference seems to be pretty open-ended. So, many things can be taken as relating to or influenced by direct refernce. Right?

    At the least, Stanley's blog comment shouldn't cause too much of a fuss. I hope it's taken as more of a dispute about what's been the most important contributions to phil lang in the past 50 years, rather than a snide remark about the conference.

    Although, I guess some of the claims Stanley made, such as the following, are bound to seem like fightin' words to the direct reference theorist:

    "...the theory [of direct reference] has had little or no impact in the semantics of natural language..."

    Oh snap!

  • At 5:28 PM, Blogger Luke Manning said…

    Just to add my one cent, whether or not direct reference is more important than (e.g.) Davidson's work, direct reference theory should not be confused with Millianism, as Stanley seems to. Nathan Salmon explained this nicely on the Guerrilla Radio Show last Tuesday (to be broadcast again today; tune in to FM 91.9 in listening range at 7pm Pacific time, or catch the webcast at www.kcsb.org, or listen to the archived show at www.guerrillaradioshow.com). Direct reference theory denies that proper names refer in virtue of any mediating descriptive content (e.g., a Fregean Sinn); but this denial is not exclusive to Millianism, and one can follow up one's denial of Fregeanism in various ways. It may still be up for debate whether DRT (construed as the denial of Fregeanism and the development of consequent theories) is more important than other developments in the theory of meaning, but we should be careful not to claim that anybody was asserting Millianism to be the most important advance in the theory of meaning in the past 50 years (this claim is less plausible).

  • At 6:29 PM, Blogger AngelP said…

    To follow up on Magma's comment above. I do think that DR is much more important than just a thesis about proper names. The signficance of DR is that it tells us what a semantic theory is about. On Frege's theory the fundamental semantic notion is that which holds between a word and its sense. The further sense-reference relation is not properly a semantic notion. It is a metaphysical notion. In contrast, if we apply DR to all words (not just names) we get that the fundamental semantical notion is that between a word and its referent.
    If you read higgibotham for example, he will say things like "reference is the fundamental semantical notion". Before DR however, people might have said things like "expressing a sense is the fundamental semantical notion".
    This a crucial foundational advance in the theory of meaning. And this is what philosophers do best. I think Jason missed the mark here.

  • At 11:31 PM, Blogger Anand Vaidya said…

    Who cares if DR is the most important result of the last 50 years. It's philosophy of language. It is undeniably a controversial thesis, and it has recieved a great deal of attention. My view "Grow Up" people. If some philosophers want to get together and discuss and celebrate DR what is the big deal. Philosophers get together and discuss all sorts of stuff. Everyone presenting and attending the conference is a serious philosopher. So let it be!


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