On semantic reference and discerning referential intentions

Bernard, David Lynn, 1979-
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In Speaker’s Reference and Semantic Reference, Saul Kripke posited two kinds of reference involved in every use of a designator—a semantic reference, to the object picked out by the meaning of the words used—and a speaker reference, to the object to which the speaker aimed to call attention by deploying the designator. Kripke tentatively defined the notion of the speaker’s referent as the object that (i) the speaker wishes to call attention to, on a given occasion, and (ii) that he believes fulfills the conditions for being the description’s semantic referent. Although offered as a definition, this account is best interpreted as a tentative statement of the normal success conditions of speaker reference. As such, it raises the question of how special a role semantic reference plays in successful speaker reference. This report addresses that question by evaluating Kripke’s tentative account in the light of an extended series of examples in which definite descriptions are used to speaker refer to objects other than the objects to which the descriptions uniquely semantically refer. The report concludes that words’ semantic characteristics are only one of several forms of evidence that audiences regularly rely on to discern what object a speaker intends to call attention to by a particular act of reference.