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theories of reference

Reference is important because it is how we relate our ideas of things to actual objects in the world. One example of this is the naming relation, for example hearing the words "George W. Bush" and relating them to the actual entity in our world, the President in this case. References are determined by certain descriptions. For example, the references "adult", "married", and "male" may form the reference for "bachelor". In mathematical terms, there are always multiple ways to represent the same number. "4 x 4", "8 x 2", and "12 + 4" all have 16 as the reference of the expression.

Holism is the idea that something can be more than the sum of its parts. It contends that one must understand reality as a whole, that one can not start be examining the parts of reality and end up with an accurate picture. This is more easily seen if we look at biological holism; for example, a duck is more than simply a collection of "duck parts", and thus we cannot break a duck down into "duck parts" and end up with an accurate picture of a duck. Quine argues for holism in his essay "Ontological Relativity." (see semantic holism).

The classic problem of reference that Frege uses is the morning star. Venus is the morning star, the evening star, and Venus. We know that the morning star is the morning star: this is a simple analytic identity. But it is unclear that the morning star is the same as the evening star, since this takes empirical investigation to uncover. Since we know that the morning star and the evening star are both Venus, we can say "the morning star = the evening star". The appearance of the morning star and evening star are not similar, and presentation plays a role in reference.

To address this, Frege introduces the idea of primary and secondary reference. Strictly speaking, the primary reference is based on an identity relation to the same object. The morning star and evening star have the same primary reference since they refer to the same thing. The secondary reference refers to sense. The senses involved in observing both the morning star and the evening star are different, so they have different secondary reference. Objects with the same primary reference can generally be interchanged without altering the meaning of a sentence, but objects with different secondary references cannot be interchanged in this manner.

--Patrick Flanagan

Frege, Gottlob. "On Sense and Reference" in Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege. Edited by P. Geach and M. Black. Philosophical Library, 1952.

Kevin C. Klement. "Gottlob Frege", Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Michael Devitt, "What are theories of reference?", Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science Vol. 3 (pdf file)