In the causal theories of reference, ultimately the reference of some term is grounded in the act of baptizing, an act where there is some direct causal relation between the referent and the baptizer. However those theories face the so called “qua problem”:
Consider my natural-kind concept ‘horse’. This is grounded in a few horses. But those objects are not only horses, they are mammals, vertebrates, and so on; they are members of very many natural kinds. In virtue of what is my concept grounded in the objects qua horses rather than qua any of the other natural kinds of which they are members? So in virtue of what does it refer to all and only horses? Why does the concept formed by those groundings not “project onto” the members of these other natural kinds? The problem is worse. What restricts the kinds in question to natural kinds? The objects in which ‘horse’ are grounded may be pets, investments, brown, and so on, and they are horses or cows, horses or cows or kangaroos, and so on. In virtue of what are the groundings not in them qua members of those kinds? (Devitt, Naturalistic Representation) (HT:Richard Brown)
In previous posts I wrote few notes about the baptizing, that I thought (and still think) are quite unproblematic…
Someone somewhere decides to give a name to something. And in order to to that, that something has to appear as intentional content of his intentional acts. So to say, a person’s thoughts has to be directed to something, so that there is any sense in the act of baptizing. We name something – something which we think about, or something that we see, hear, imagine, understand, assume, and so on…
In the case of proper names, like ‘Aristotle’ and ‘G.W.Bush’, I think that this general formulation of the baptizing avoids the qua problem. The name Aristotle isn’t grounded in a time-slice of Aristotle’s body, or in certain undetached part of his body, simply because the Aristotle and not any time-slice or detached part is intentional content which the baptizer decides to give name to.
However, if you accept that always in case of baptizing there is some intentional content which gets named, the question appears of what this content is in the case of common nouns (the names we use for natural kinds, artifacts, nominal kinds, and so on…). Say… in the case of ‘horse’? What is that that we become aware of, and that we name, after seeing several horses?
I think that the answer is that the intentional content in those cases is a multiplicity of things which share certain similarity. We see a horse, and then after some time we see another horse which reminds us of the first one (“oh, another such thing” – we think). And now, being aware that there is multiplicity of those things we can give name to them – ‘horses’.
In this case the similarity is gestalt visual similarity – the second horse reminds us of the first one. We are aware of the first one, of the second one, and we are aware that they are similar. We don’t even have to know what this similarity consist of (children can learn what ‘horses’ refer to, without actually being able to draw a horse, or to tell some characteristic of horses. I’m sure I can’t draw a horse for that matter). However I use ‘similarity’ in very general sense here. For example similarity might be that the multitude reacts in same way to some test, or the multitude may share some property and be similar in that, or a multitude can share a common ground. Those would all fall under ‘similarities’ as used here.
Because the common noun now refers to those things which show certain similarity, the common noun refers not just to the horses that we actually met, but to all horses. So, this solves the question – in virtue of what the common nouns refer not just to the things that we got acquainted to, but also to other things. Why ‘horses’ refer to all horses, and not just the ones that baptizer saw. And this brings me to another way to address this question, which Richard pointed to in the comments of one previous post. I will try to describe the view, I hope that I will get explanation right on base of what Richard said.
The solution is that the baptizer intends to name the type of things to which the instance (with which we get acquainted) belongs. So, the baptizer thinks “I will call the type to which this thing belongs – horse, and I will call all of the things which belong to this type – horses”. Because the baptizer intends to name the type to which this thing belongs, and because so it happens that the type of thing is the natural kind – horse, the ‘horse’ ends up referring to the natural kind – horse. Let’s mark this view as INK (intending to name the kind).
I want to point to three things here comparing INK, with the view that the common nouns baptizing is based on similarity of multitude (SIM):
- INK is not incompatible with SIM. INK is special case of SIM where the similarity is an assumed common ground – an essence which is present in all the objects of this type.
- INK suffers from the qua problem. If one intends merely to name the type to which the thing belongs, we don’t know why ‘horses’ would refer to horses, and not to mammals, vertebrates, or any other types/kinds to which this thing belongs. The problem doesn’t appear for SIM, because it is the specific similarity that is the ground for thinking of the multitude as multitude, and not some other similarity (which would correspond to mammals, vertebrates, etc…).
- We don’t actually see the essence of the natural kind. So the question is… INK needs to explain why we don’t assume that there is specific type for every thing that we see. That is, INK needs to introduce a separate explanation how we come to think that this horse and that horse both belong to the same type. And that reason can’t be the essence itself, as we don’t see it. So, INK has to acknowledge that baptizer can think of a multitude in first place based on some other characteristics, *in order* to assume that those belong to the same kind.