Semantic Reference not by Convention?

  • Jessica Pepp


The aim of this paper is to approach a basic question in semantics: what is semantic reference? Or, what is reference, insofar as the notion has a role in the semantics of natural language? I highlight two ways of conceiving of semantic reference, which offer different starting points for answering the question. One of these conceptions – what I call the conventional conception of semantic reference – is the standard conception. I propose an alternative to this conception: what I call the historical conception of semantic reference. The first section of the paper explains the two conceptions, highlighting their common ground and how they differ. The second section offers a preliminary argument that the two conceptions are really both ways of conceiving of semantic reference, and that the historical conception is more viable as a basis for the semantics of natural language than the conventional conception. Finally, in the third section, I comment on the status of the historical conception as a basic view about semantic reference that sets the stage for (but does not constitute) the development of a theory of semantic reference.