Causal Theory of Reference - Guilherme Ghisoni

Different theories of reference will account differently for the way we can refer to particular objects or classes of objects. In the descriptivist theories (which can be traced back to the philosopher Gottlob Frege), each name must be relate to a meaning, which is a description (or set of descriptions) to be satisfied only by the referent (when this object exists). Thus, we can express the meaning of Aristotle, as "the disciple of Plato," "the father of logic," "the author of Metaphysics," etc.

A different approach is the direct referential theory, which holds that some terms directly name their referent without the mediation of a descriptive conceptual content. One version of a direct referential theory is the causal theory of reference, according to which what binds a name to its object is not a descriptive conceptual content, but the existence of a historical causal route. Someone baptized Aristotle with a name and the use of this name to refer to that entity passed throughout history from one linguistic community to another. There is a causal route that links our present use of the word "Aristotle" to a baptism in the past. It is for this reason that, according to the causal theory of reference, the name "Aristotle" has meaning.

This causal theory of reference (which can be found in the work of Saul Kripke) is dubbed by Gareth Evans, in 1982, as the "Photographic Model of Mental Representation." Just as what binds a photograph to the denoted object is the existence of a causal relation between the object and the photograph, names would have a similar semantics to photographs. Names would be united to the objects denoted by the existence of causal routes. Names and photographs would have the same semantics as a way of relating to the world.

This perspective is adopted by Kendall Walton as a theory of photography to support the thesis that through photographs we see the objects photographed themselves - since we are causally attached to the objects portrayed. This concept can be called the transparency thesis of the photographic representation.

In the works from Causal Theory of Reference, I replace (not without some irony) the maim elements of some photographs by their respective names. Since, according to the Photographic Model of Mental Representation, the semantical relation between words/object and photographs/object should be the same, the replacement of the elements of the photography by words should preserve the semantic status of the photography as a representation that is connected to the world through the existence of a causal route.

Although I have criticized Kendall Walton's theory of transparency at various points in my academic research, I must admit that replacing the elements of the image with words still preserves some transparency of the photographic representation. As we look at the works from Causal Theory of Reference, we can reconstruct the photographic images in our minds.


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