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Saturday, January 09, 2016

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>>You must not only hit something; you must hit the right thing.
I don’t know if this is the right post to address this whole very complex issue, but I am not impressed with your ‘target practice’ theory of reference. Reason: it seems wholly focused on the speaker side, not on the hearer side. The purpose of language is to communicate, and the role that reference plays is to communicate which individual thing the speaker is talking about. Or rather, when the speaker utters a sentence of subject-predicate form, with a referring term as subject, the purpose of reference is to communicate which individual the predicate is said to apply to.

Thus reference will not be successful if the speaker ‘hits the target’, if the hearer does not understand that the target has been hit. So how do you accommodate the hearer in this analogy? Is it e.g. that the hearer has to have the target in his or her sights in some way? We just watched American Sniper over the weekend. At the target practice, there was a supervisor with binoculars who would check whether the trainee had hit the target successfully. If that is the analogy, how would it apply to reference? It implies the hearer has some privileged relationship with the target. What if the hearer is an atheist, and does not see, or refuses to see, the target? That implies an atheist cannot understand a Christian’s reference to God. But surely he can. I am sure there are a few atheists or agnostics following this discussion. Are they unable to follow it without binoculars? Surely not.

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