Friday, 13 Febuary 2009
Against Denoting---Why Rigid Designation and the Causal Theory of Reference Cannot Stand
Erik Curiel, University of Pittsburgh, Center for Philosophy of Science
12:05 pm, 817R Cathedral of Learning
I do not think the notion of rigidity in designation can be correct, at least not in any way that can serve to ground a semantics that purports both to be fundamental in a semiotical sense and to respect the best science of the day. A careful examination of both the content and the character of our best scientific knowledge not only cannot support anything like what the notion of rigidity requires, but actually shows the notion to be, at bottom, incoherent. In particular, the meaning of natural kind terms can be determined only within the context of a fixed scientific framework, not sub specie aeternitatis, which by itself suffices to show that the idea of rigidity cannot stand. Because the causal theory of meaning is tightly bound up with the idea of rigidity, a natural continuation of my arguments serves to discredit it as well. Along the way, I give strong grounds for the rejection of essentialist views of the ontology of natural kinds.