London Ed asks:
Exactly what does ‘refer’ mean? And when we talk about ‘direct reference’ and ‘indirect reference’, are we really talking about exactly the same relation, or only the same in name?
The second question got me thinking.
The paradigms of direct reference are the indexicals and the demonstratives. The English letter 'I' is not the English word 'I,' and the word 'I' -- the first-person singular pronoun -- has non-indexical uses. But let's consider a standard indexical use of this pronoun. Tom says to Tina, "I'm hungry." Tom refers to himself directly using 'I.' That means: Tom refers to himself, but not via a description that he uniquely satisfies. The reference is not routed through a reference-mediating sense. If you think it is so routed, tell me what the reference-mediating sense of your indexical uses of the first person singular pronoun is. I wish you the best of luck.
As I understand it, to say of a singular term that it is directly referential is not to say that it lacks sense, but that it lacks a reference-determining sense. If a term has a reference-determining sense, then the reference of that term is 'routed though' or 'focused by' the sense: the term picks out whatever satisfies the sense, if anything satisfies it. The indexical 'now' does have a sense in that whatever it picks out must be a time, indeed, a time that is present. But this very general sense does not make a use of 'now' refer to the precise time to which it refers. So 'now' is directly referential despite its having a sense.
Consider the demonstrative 'this.' Pointing to a poker, I say 'This is hot.' You agree and say 'This is hot!' We point to the same thing and we say the same thing. The same thing we say is the proposition. The proposition is true. Neither the poker nor its degree of heat are true. The reference of 'this' is direct. It seems to follow that the poker itself is a constituent of the proposition that is before both of our minds and that we agree is true. The poker itself is a constituent of the proposition, not an abstract and immaterial surrogate or representative of the material poker. But then propositions are Russellian as opposed to Fregean. The poker itself, not an abstract surrogate such as a Fregean sense, is a constituent of the proposition.
How can this be? I grasp (understand) the proposition. So I grasp its constituents. (Assumption: I cannot understand a proposition unless I understand its logical parts. Compositionality of meaning.) One of the constituents is the poker itself. But how is it possible for my poor little finite mind to grasp the hot poker in all its infinitely-propertied reality? How can I get that massive chunk of external reality with all its properties before my puny little intellectus ectypus? Here is an aporetic triad for your delectation:
The proposition is in or before my mind.
The hot poker is a constituent of the proposition.
The hot poker is not in or before my mind.
How will you solve this bad boy? The first limb is well-nigh datanic. Since I understand the proposition expressed by 'This is hot' asserted while pointing to a hot poker, the proposition is before my mind. So we must either deny the second or the third limb.
My tendency is to deny the second limb and affirm that all propositions are Fregean. If all propositions are Fregean, then no proposition has as a constituent an infinitely-propertied material object such as a red-hot poker.
But if I say this, then it seems that I cannot say that the reference of 'this' is direct. But if not direct, then mediated by sense. What then is the sense of 'this'? What is the meaning of 'this'?
Or we could say the following: there is direct reference all right, but not to an infinitely-propertied chunk of physical reality, but to an incomplete object, something like what Hector-Neri Castaneda calls an "ontological guise." It is a Meinongian sort of item and involves us in the difficulties of Meinongianism.
London Ed will not like this answer one bit.
To say that a singular term t indirectly refers to object o is to say two things. (i) It is to say that there is a description D(t) that gives the sense of t, a description which is such that anything that satisfies it uniquely satisfies it. (ii) And it is to say that o uniquely satisfies D(t).
Note that for the indirect reference relation to hold there needn't be any real-world connection such as a causal connection between one's use of t and o. It is just a matter of whether or not o uniquely satisfies the description encapsulated by t. Satisfaction is a 'logical' relation. It is like the 'falling-under' relation. Ed falls under the concept Londoner. The relation of falling-under is not 'real': it is not causal or spatial or temporal or a physical part-whole relation. It is a 'logical' relation.
Indirect reference is just unique satisfaction by an item of a description encapsulated in a term. If 'Socrates' refers indirectly, then it refers to whatever satisfies some such definite description as 'the teacher of Plato.' (Or perhaps a Searlean disjunction of definite descriptions.) Direct reference, on the other hand, has nothing to do with satisfaction of a description.
So I think London Ed is on to something. When we talk about ‘direct reference’ and ‘indirect reference’, we are not talking about exactly the same relation. The two phrases have only a word in common, 'reference.' If all reference is indirect, then direct reference is not reference. And if all reference is direct, then indirect reference is not reference. There are not two kinds of reference. Only the word is in common.
The reason, again, is that indirect reference is just unique satisfaction of a description whereas direct reference has nothing to do with satisfaction of a description. This is even more obvious if the direct reference theorist brings causation into the picture.