How Natural Kind Concepts (Seem to) Fix the Reference of Natural Kind Terms

Abstract: This paper investigates the relationship between natural kind concepts and the reference of natural kind terms. Rather than proposing a theory about the way in which concepts determine reference, I proceed as follows. I describe some of the intuitions about the nature of reference that have figured largely in recent philosophical discussion of the subject, and in particular, which have formed a part of the case for the causal-historical account of reference. I outline a theory of the nature of natural kind concepts motivated by empirical psychological data. I then use the theory of concepts to explain why we have the intuitions. The intuitions are thus regarded, not as insights into the nature of reference, but as psychological data themselves in need of explanation.

The results of my investigation are as follows. First, there is no reason to regard the intuitions about reference as evidence for the causal-historical account. They have nothing to do with the truth or otherwise of that account. Interestingly, an important part of the explanation of one of the intuitions attributes to humans a belief about reference that is inconsistent with the causal-historical account. Second, there is an alternative to the causal-historical account that seems, in the light of the explanation of the intuitions, far more attractive. But third, the explanation of the intuitions also gives us good reason to conclude that there is no such thing as reference. Our psychology creates the appearance of a reference relation where there is none.

The future of this paper is unclear, as parts of it have been incorporated into other work. But it may one day rise again.