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::: center home >> events >> lunchtime >> 2004-05 >> abstracts

Tuesday, 15 February 2005
Semantics, Cross-Cultural Style
Edouard Machery, U. of Pittsburgh (HPS)
12:05 pm, 817R, Cathedral of Learning 

Abstract:  Theories of reference have been central to analytic philosophy, and two views, the descriptivist view of reference and the causal-historical view of reference, have dominated the field.  In this research tradition, theories of reference are assessed by consulting one’s intuitions about the reference of terms in hypothetical situations.  However, recent work in cultural psychology (e.g., Nisbett et al. 2001) has shown systematic cognitive differences between East Asians and Westerners, and some work indicates that this extends to intuitions about philosophical cases (Weinberg et al. 2001).  In light of these findings on cultural differences, an experiment was conducted which explored intuitions about reference in Westerners and East Asians.  The experiment indicated that, for certain central cases, Westerners are more likely than East Asians to report intuitions that are consistent with the causal-historical view.  These results constitute prima facie evidence that semantic intuitions vary from culture to culture.  I argue that this fact casts doubts on the philosophical enterprise of developing a theory of reference as well as on several well-known metaphysical arguments. 

Revised 3/11/08 - Copyright 2006