Ambiguous Reference

Shaun B Nichols, N. Ángel Pinillos, Ron Mallon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

13 Scopus citations


One of the central debates in the philosophy of language is that between defenders of the causal-historical and descriptivist theories of reference. Most philosophers involved in the debate support one or the other of the theories (or perhaps some combination of them). Building on recent experimental work in semantics, we argue that there is a sense in which both theories are correct. In particular, we defend the view that natural kind terms can sometimes take on a causal-historical reading and at other times take on a descriptivist reading. The meaning will shift depending on the conversational setting. The theoretical view has roots in work by Kitcher. We present some original experiments that support the thesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-175
Number of pages31
Issue number497
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2016


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy

Cite this

Nichols, S. B., Pinillos, N. Á., & Mallon, R. (2016). Ambiguous Reference. Mind, 125(497), 145-175.