The Reference of Proper Names, Semantic Intuitions, and Experimental Philosophy


This paper is a contribution to the debate concerning the kind of philosophical conclusions that can (or cannot) be derived from systematic empirical studies of intuitions about the reference of proper names. The focus of the paper is the famous study by Machery et al. (2004) in which intercultural differences in semantic intuitions between American and Chinese participants were observed. Machery et al. used the obtained results to question the usefulness of intuitions in philosophical discussions concerning the reference of proper names.

In this paper, I present the results of my own philosophical-experimental studies aimed at analyzing methods used in research dedicated to the problem of reference rather than semantic intuitions as such. These results indicate a significant instability of responses regarding the reference of proper names and their susceptibility to the impact of philosophically insignificant factors. Based on the collected data, I argue that methods used in experimental studies concerning the reference of proper names conducted to date do not guarantee the assessment of intuitions of the desired kind.

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