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The Reference of Theoretical Terms

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The Reference of Theoretical Terms

ABSTRACT: A popular explanation of the success of theories of science is that of scientific realism. It maintains, besides that the theories of a mature science are typically approximately true, that observational terms and theoretical terms refer to or denote entities. Therefore it is part of the realistic claim that "reference" explains "success." But if the realist is not able to clarify "reference" and a fortiori the reference on theoretical objects, the realist comes to a vicious circle, for there is no further criterion as the success of the theory to show that the term is referential. So it is necessary to clarify the notion "reference." Needless to say, "reference" is a relational term; but it easily becomes a problem that we are not only habituated to imagine the elation but we are convinced that a relation is just a relation between entities in a strict (viz., Quinian) sense. There are different kinds of references. For example, one is usually called "intentionality." If we, considering the traditional separation between reference and meaning, analyze meaning, we will find at least one referential component (intentional object). Such a referential process is not a meaningless aspect of linguistic reference, but now and then is the subject of the kind of relation called "denotation." The notion of meaning and the concept of reference are nonsubstantial constructions of interpretation. Nevertheless, I argue for a reference-theoretical approach.

A popular explanation for the success of scientific theories is made by presupposing scientific realism. The realist's thesis maintains that typically the theories of "mature" science are approximately true and that observational terms and theoretical terms do actually refer, i.e. they denote entities.

Therefore, it is part and parcel of the realistic claim that it is "reference" which explains theory "success". But if we or the realist are not able to clarify what "reference" is and a fortiori cannot specify the reference to theoretical "objects", we, and especially the realist, become entangled in a vicious circle, without any further independent criterion — apart from the success of the theory — which shows that the term is indeed a referring term.

It is therefore clearly necessary to clarify the notion of reference.

Needless to say, "reference" is a relational term; but immediately a problem arises here namely, that we not only habitually imagine the relata, but we are also convinced that a relation can only be a relation between entities in a strict (Quinean) sense.
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