The Qua-Problem for Names (Dismissed)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The primary focus of this paper is the so-called “qua-problem” for names, a problem which I argue is spurious and thus apt for dissolving rather than solving. This pseudo problem can be conceptualized (following Devitt and Sterelny’s Language and Reality) as involving a pair of questions which appear to put pressure on the causal theorist to introduce a descriptive element into her theory of reference. One question concerns how a name can be grounded in a whole object when only a (spatio-temporal) part of the object is perceived; the other question asks for an explanation of failed groundings in cases where the speaker is very wrong about the perceived object they have attempted to name. I deny that causal theorists need to make any concessions to descriptivism in order to adequately address these concerns. In response to the first question, I appeal to a default, psychologically motivated, practice of naming only whole objects; in response to the second question, I suggest, through a series of thought experiments, that reference does not in fact fail even in cases where the speaker is radically mistaken about the perceived object they are attempting to name. After responding to a trio of objections Devitt has made to the proposed dissolution of the qua-problem for names, I compare the case of names to the far more complex case of natural kind terms, where (I suggest) there may indeed be a genuine qua-problem, even if one not amenable to the particular solution proposed by Devitt and Sterelny.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPhilosophical Studies Series
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages18
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NamePhilosophical Studies Series
ISSN (Print)0921-8599
ISSN (Electronic)2542-8349


  • Causal theory
  • Descriptivism
  • Natural kind terms
  • Proper names
  • Qua-problem
  • Reference grounding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Language and Linguistics


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