The Metaphysics of Reference by Fodor

A) Introduction to The Metaphysics of Reference

In this post, I will summarise Fodor’s paper The Metaphysics of Reference and raise some questions. The central question is: can we construct a naturalised, causal theory of reference?

Only matter has causal powers; thought has causal powers; therefore only matter can think – the Physicalist Thesis (“PT”)

Some mental states are about things (they refer) – Intentionality (“I”)

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Motivation: Fodor wants to square PT and I in answering the Central Question. So how can atoms or their constructs be about something? – ‘make science out of content’

Plan: make Six Assumptions (A); set out Three Objections (B) to the possibility of the project; provide prima facie answers to the Three Objections; be satisfied that the project can be completed; do so by triangulation (C) using the Six Assumptions; posit in consequence (D) Eleven Articles which are, allegedly, explanatory and plausible.

Major Background Items: there is a Language of Thought (“LOT”) called mentalese. It shares some properties with public languages viz. productivity and systematicity but is not itself a public language. LOT is a species of the Representational Theory of Mind (“RTM”), which holds that tokens of mental states are tokens of relations between thinkers and their mental representations.

RTM is (at least a species of) Computational Theory of Mind (“CTM”). LOT is not (need not be) a natural language; it is though, productive and systematic. It may be like a programming language.

The Six Assumptions

1. Language meaning determined by thought meaning, when the language expresses the thought
2. Reference is compositional: the reference of wholes is composed of reference of the parts
3. Referentialism is true: reference alone determines content (of concepts, thoughts)
4. There are only two kinds of reference: to individuals and to properties
5. Causal Theory of Reference (“CTR”) is true: the later uses of a name refer to the original object so named via a causal chain from that original naming
6. A theory of perceptual representations will provide a theory of reference that squares PT + I

Assumption 3 represents Fodor’s opposition to Inferential Role Semantics (“IRS”). It also expresses Fodor’s atomism about concepts, and so is related to his nativism about concepts (I think). Assumption 5 is Kripke. A CTR formulation: ‘A’ means A iff. all and only A’s cause ‘A’s. All actual horses cause tokenings of the symbol `horse’; nothing else does.

B) The Three Objections To The Project Claim That The Central Question Cannot Be Answered

B1. Normativity Problem

Statement of problem: Content includes referential content and the latter unavoidably involves conventions and norms, etc.; this suggests that CTR can only be shown to be true if all intentionality is shown to be capable of naturalisation.

Correctness criteria for reference/content set by convention; reference/content cannot reduce to causation because causation is not right or wrong, it just is.

Response: position is committed to LOT thesis; this is a system of representations; it also does not have correctness criteria. You don’t use thoughts, you have them. So Fodor does not need norms.

Q1: Can’t representations be wrong? (Maybe not, if they are merely demonstrative.)

B2. Disjunction Problem

Statement of problem: CTR says that everything a thought refers to is something that caused that thought. If a thing X caused your thought, then a (thing X or thing Y) did.

Example: Under poor visual conditions, you think you see a cow when it is really a cat. To what do you refer when you think/speak about the animal? A cat? A cow? A cow-or-cat?

Response: if you didn’t have CAT but you did have COW, you could still have referred to the cat as a cow by using COW. Therefore you didn’t use COW-OR-CAT.

B3. Link Selection Problem

This is the most important objection, because Fodor’s response to it is in fact the Main Project.

Statement of problem: Under CTR, there is a causal chain of events ending in your referential thought. Which link do we select as the most significant one, the one doing the work? Which event is causing your thought? All events are caused by the big bang, in a sense – but we aren’t all thinking about that, all the time. Response:

C) The Main Project of The Metaphysics of Reference

The project will be conducted using triangulation, an idea due to Davidson.

Radical Interpretation

Preamble: Radical Interpretation (“RI”): someone starting from scratch and observing only behaviour and utterances could eventually translate fully a previously completely unknown language

P1: Languages can be learned

P2: Languages can be learned only if RI

Conclude: RI

How would RI work in practice​? A snake emerges. Adam – to be translated – says “gavagai!”. I say “snake!” Therefore I know that: “gavagai” means “snake”. (Incidental worry: snake or snake parts or animal or moving thing or sudden appearance of something…)


Triangulation is the fix to the ‘which link?’ problem. There are a large number of events between the snake and me and between the big bang and the snake. Which one are we talking about?

p. 209: “a causal chain that runs from the perceptual horizon to my utterance would intersect a causal chain that runs from the perceptual horizon to Adam’s utterance, and […] it would do so at the snake.”

Why would this work? Because I am assuming that my reactions to events parallel Adam’s. (Principle of charity issues here…?) I have information about my reactions which is quite detailed. But empirically it seems that there is a lot of tricky to handle ambiguity here. (How often do we get the wrong end of the stick even between native speakers…? But to invert Wittgenstein, something can only be counted wrong if there is something that counts as it being right…)

In fact, Davidson’s position, and Fodor’s, is that this has to work because otherwise we can’t learn languages. (St Augustine says we can learn terms this way – ostensively – and Wittgenstein (the slabs, `bring me a red flower’, says we can’t.) So Fodor’s position has intuitive appeal since it just looks empirically convincing that I know what a duck is because once someone pointed at one and said “duck”. Or twice. I triangulated between separate occurrences and eliminated the possibilities that they meant green-blue (the colour of the duck) or `animal’.

Further Questions

Q2: Davidson vs. Wittgenstein. Which way?

Certainly, this makes language essentially social, but Fodor thinks he (“patently”) can’t have that because it is incompatible with CTM.

Q3: Why not? How bad is this for Fodor? Cf. Article 2.

Iteration is a key part of triangulation, with the significant power of repeated negative feedback for calibration.

Fodor differs from Davidson in that Fodor allows the interpreter to be counterfactual. We don’t need an actual interpreter to fix meanings. The referent of term X is considered by what someone saying X would be referring to under certain circumstances.

How To Construct The Triangulation Diagram for The Metaphysics of Reference

1) Draw a line representing the causal chain from the token of Adam’s representation through all the events in its causal chain to Adam’s perceptual horizon.

(One of the helpful uses of RTM is to substitute representation for utterance here – this eliminates the risk that utterance linkages with manifold beliefs entails holism.)

2) Assume a counterfactual Adam2 located three feet to the right with the appropriate parallax shift.

3) Draw another line to the token of Adam2’s representation which is what the causal chain would have been.

4) Solve for the referent of both tokens.

All of the counterfactual Adam’s must have been able to token the same representation and make the same utterance.

Fodor thinks that his modification of Davidson’s proposal allows him to contend that people think in a private language and this is a strength of his account because he thinks they do.

In sum, this triangulation of causal chains is the correct account of the metaphysics of reference for Fodor.

D) The Eleven Articles of The Metaphysics of Reference

1. Reference is ontologically prior to truth
2. Reference is not social
3. Allowing semantic properties to mental representations does not threaten a homuncular regress
4. The content of expressions in public languages is not metaphysically prior to the content of propositional attitudes
5. The content/reference of a mental representation is not related to its inferential role
6. The content of concepts is not determined by the possessor’s behavioural capacities
7. Cognitive development does not come in stages
8. What you can think about is not limited by your public language but by your mentalese
9. Demonstration does not presuppose conceptualisation
10. Picture is consistent with FINSTs, Pylyshyn’s Fingers of Instantiation
11. English may not have semantics, because the semantics may happen at the level of mentalese

Q3: Wasn’t (5) assumed? Isn’t it a restatement of the assumed falsity of IRS?

Q4: Isn’t (7) in conflict with a lot of empirical psychology? (Maxi and the false belief tests etc.)

Q5: On (8), do we think that (possibly apocryphal) tribes discovered by anthropologists with no numbers larger than three have the concept of `ten’? Specifically? Can they distinguish it from `11’ and from `many’? Do they have a different mentalese to us? (That way out is available to Fodor.)

See Also:

Millikan on Are There Mental Indexicals And Demonstratives: Summary

The Structure And Content Of Truth For Davidson

O’Shaughnessy on The Anatomy of Consciousness: Summary

‘Both A Black Raven And A Red Herring Confirm The Claim That All Ravens Are Black.’


Theories Of Reference: Evans On Russell

Introductory: Russell’s Criterion

The stated aim of the chapter [1, Ch. 2] is to examine Russell’s theory of reference. These views were only held by Russell at one particular point (around 1918). [2] Russell’s model is basically that of Frege, but again at only one point — before 1890. Evans’ basic theme will be the claim that Russell is often right for the wrong reasons.

Referring expressions have exactly one function — to identify an object in such a way that if the object satisfies the predicate, the sentence containing the expression is true; and if not, it is false. If the term does not refer, the sentence is not truth-evaluable. The person saying it has said nothing; it is `nonsense’ (Russell). [`Nonsense’ is a very interesting term of course; it specifically denies what Frege says can be there even for non-referring terms — Frege says this in order to account for our clear view that sentences containing non-referring terms can be significant.] Russell’s model did not follow Frege in Frege’s introduction of the distinction between sense and Meaning; [recall that Evans is using Meaning for what is normally translated from Bedeutung as reference].

Russell’s argument for the non-sensicality claim relies on the claim that name is a means only; it does not occur in the sentence. We as it were look through it to what it points to in the same way that we will rarely consider a signpost as such; we will be more interested in the location to which it directs us. And if the only significance of a signpost is what it points to, then we don’t care about the difference between signposts — so long as they point to the same thing.

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This leads directly to what Evans calls `Russell’s Criterion’ which states that if you can imagine that the subject of a proposition does not exist, and the proposition does not become meaningless, then the subject is not a proper name: it does not represent some object.

All definite descriptions like `the φ’ fail this test. Evans agrees with Russell on this point — cf. his `Julius’ argument. [Recall: Julius was the inventor of the zip.] So definite descriptions are not names. However, we can still understand (and truth-evaluate) `the φ is F’ irrespective of whether `the φ’ refers. Evans does not agree with Strawson [3, `On Referring’] that nothing has been said by a sentence containing an empty term.

Russell also holds that you cannot think about something unless you know which one it is. There are two ways of knowing that: by acquaintance or by description. Different persons will therefore be effectively using only approximately the same names because their way of knowing about objects will differ.

Radical Reference-Failure

A corollary of this last point is that there can only be private languages (of full precision). This is held to be absurd — it is constitutive of languages that they not be private.

If you are acquainted with an object, it must exist. Thus if you think of an object (successfully refer to it) you know by acquaintance, it must exist. [We must guard here against any kind of reification error { there is no suggestion that thinking makes it so. Just that if acquaintance was the route, then you must be acquainted with something.] Russell wants to rule out the possibility that you can be mistaken if you think you are thinking of an object. The infallibility relates only to the mental components of predicates.

Evans wishes to deflate the problem that Russell has: Evans thinks it is not incoherent for a subject to have a thought which phenomenologically is as of object x, but that there may be no physical object x, and then `he may fail to have a thought of the kind he supposes himself to have’. [Is this enough? Is a thought `of a different kind’ the same as `no thought’? A thought of a hallucinatory object does appear in one sense to be a thought about nothing, but isn’t Russell worried about it being a thought about nothing at the as it were — mental end of the thought? Bear in mind that Russell is a sense data theorist and so intentional objects are mental for him.]

Evans concedes that a full defense of his position would require an account of the nature of demonstrative identification of material objects.

Evans also considers Prior’s view that someone must be able to think `a is F’ because it is part of the compound thought `I am thinking that a is F’. But Evans denies that those who claim that someone can be mistaken that they are thinking `a is F’ are committed to them also thinking that they are thinking that thought.

Russellian Singular Terms And Descriptive Names

Define: Russellian Singular Terms are those whose sense depends on them having a referent. Evans wishes to improve Russell’s model in two primary ways.

The first is to revert to Frege in allowing sense to empty singular terms. The second is to avoid the private language problem; Evans aims to do this by abandoning the `Cartesian’ requirement that you cannot think about an object x unless x exists. But — retain Russell’s opposition between proper names that refer and definite descriptions.

All sentences have truth conditions. They can only be true if they do not contain empty terms. Sentences containing empty terms are useless rather than nonsensical. [But even this is too strong. The objections that can be brought against the claim of nonsensicality are as valid against the claim of uselessness. We can and do communicate using claims about lime trees that do not refer and such communication is neither nonsense nor useless. What Evans means by useless here is that if we have a name for something which turns out not to exist — like the 10th planet — we will stop talking about it. But not if the name is `doing duty’ for something that does exist. Further — Evans does not explicitly state here that all sentences which are not true are false; one position would be to hold that sentences containing empty terms fall into a truth-value gap.]

This section will deal only with `descriptive names’ like `Julius’; definite descriptions are postponed to the next section. [So Evans may be disagreeing with Russell: terms like `Julius’ can refer. Alternatively, we can say that `Julius’ is not a definite description and therefore Evans is not disagreeing with Russell.]

Understanding a descriptive name involves understanding what it will be for an object to fit the description. [By contrast, proper names just refer to whatever they have been introduced to refer to; you cannot fail to understand a proper name because even failing to know what it refers to does not constitute failing to understand it: there is nothing to understand.]

Even when most people know only one thing about a named individual –(Homer wrote the Odyssey) — that is just an piece of data about Homer rather than a signal that one intends to use the name to refer to whoever wrote the Odyssey. This is Kripke’s line. Examples of descriptive names include `Jack the Ripper’ (the person committing murders in the East End) and `Deep Throat’ (the person leaking in Watergate). And we can introduce new ones, like `Julius’, by stipulation.

Principle P connects reference with truth:

(P): If S is an atomic sentence in which the n-place concept-expression R is combined with n singular terms t1 . . . tn, then S is true iff < the referent of t1 . . . the referent of tn > satisfies R.

(P) defines both reference and satisfaction simultaneously in terms of truth. [Bold.] Any expression refers if its contribution to the truth-condition of sentences containing it is given by P.

Returning to `Julius’, Evans excludes non-referring uses, producing the axiom (2) below.

(2): (∀x) (The referent of `Julius’ = x iff x uniquely invented the zip.

Thus `Julius’ does not refer if no single person invented the zip.

This is held to be equivalent to (3) below.

(3): (∀x) (The referent of `Julius’ = x iff [Julius] x = Julius)

[The square brackets indicate the uniqueness condition; and `Julius’ is used — not mentioned — as being the inventor of zips if there is one. So we get (4) or equivalently (5) below.]

(4): `Julius is F’ is true iff the inventor of the zip is F

(5): `Julius is F’ is true iff [Julius] Julius is F

— which can be read as `Julius is F’ is true iff there is one unique Julius such that Julius is F. Again, nothing is said about occasions when either there is no unique Julius or there is one but Julius is not F other than `Julius is F’ is not true in both cases.

So if there is a unique inventor of the zip, `Julius’ refers to that person. The argument for the equivalence of (4) and (5) is that they are belief states and the evidence for (4) would be the same as the evidence for (5). It is admitted that the two sentences after `i’ in (4) and (5) embed differently in modal operators, and that this must be explained — such discussion is postponed to section 2.5. [By this, Evans means that `necessarily, the inventor of the zip invented the zip’ is true while `necessarily, Julius invented the zip’ is false.] But Evans denies that this is sufficient to make them separate thoughts.

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Definite Descriptions

[This is by far the largest section of this chapter at nine pages.]

Russell gives three arguments against admitting that definite descriptions refer.

1. George IV did not know that Scott = the author of Waverley but he did know that Scott = Scott.

2. The negation of `The φ is F’ is `The φ is not F’; the disjunct of the two must be true by the law of excluded middle; both disjuncts entail that the φ exists; this is absurd.

3. Finally, the argument we have been considering i.e. that if definite descriptions are treated as referring expressions then sentences containing empty terms will be meaningless.

On the first, Evans thinks Russell should have seen that Frege’s concept of sense allowed for the differing cognitive significance of co-referring terms. On the second, Evans observes that there is no difference between wide-scope and narrow-scope negation, because : (a is F) is meaningless for Russell if `a’ does not refer instead of being true. But in a Free Logic, there is a distinction between (7) and (8) below.

(7): ¬ [a] F(a)

(8): [a] ¬ F(a)

The difference is that between (7) `it is not the case that there is a unique a such that a is F’ and (8) `there is a unique a and it is not the case that a is F’ because (7) and (8) take different views on the existence of a. The truth of (7) allows but does not require that a may not exist while the truth of (8) requires a to exist.

Russell should have chosen wide-scope negation which means that the existence of the would not be entailed by the negated disjunct. [There is a fair amount in this chapter of `Russell should have seen x’ when in fairness, it is highly likely that Russell saw x and chose ¬ x for specific purposes.]

We come to (12) below, which is argued for by noting that taking the narrow-scope assumes that all singular terms are Russellian, which begs the question.

(12): ¬ (a is F)

— is intelligible and true if a does not exist.

A theory treating definite descriptions as referring expressions would enable the derivation of truth conditions for sentences containing a definite description, and would include (14) below.

(14): (∀φ)(∀x) (The referent of the φ) = x iff Satisfies (x, φ)

— i.e. `the φ’ refers to x if x uniquely satisfies the description. However, Russell was right that descriptions are quantifiers and Evans says he will show that (14) is not adequate for for all modal contexts.

Evans replaces modal operators with quantification over possible worlds and revises P to P’ in a possible worlds version employing truew i.e. true at world w, and satisfiesw. But there is a problem combining (14) and P’ if definite descriptions are treated as referring. This is that only one reading of certain modal sentences is captured. An example is `the first man in space might have been American’. This may mean either i). Gagarin could have been American or ii). someone else who was American might have been the first man in space.

Only the first reading is accommodated but the second does appear in some possible worlds.

(14) is now relativized to (15) by allowing for reference in a possible world w, and P’ becomes P” which is now relativized both to truew and referentw to allow for both readings. This has been done [4] but comes at the price of relativizing reference in all cases. This seems expensive just to handle definite descriptions [so perhaps Russell was right to be wary of it.] And names get this relativized reference as well, even though they never use it. [This is an anticipation of the Kripkean points of the next and final section.]

Similar ambiguities occur temporally and in relation to binding by higher quantifiers, so we end up replacing `refers to (t, x)’ with `refers tow,t,π (t, x)’ — and this seems complex and suggests that definite descriptions do not belong with referring expressions as a natural kind.

So Evans considers alternative approaches, one of which is to notice the similarity of `the’ in definite descriptions to a quantifier, since all of the following share a form: (∀φ) (φ is ψ); (∃φ) (φ is ψ); ¬(∃φ) (φ is ψ) and The (φ is ψ). This has the merit of simplicity; especially so when compared with Russell’s version (16) of `The φ is F’ below.

(16): (∃x) (φx & ∀y (φy → x=y) & Fx)

— which is a format Russell allegedly required for the Principia.

Another proposal would be to regard natural language quantifiers as binary rather than Russell’s unary ones. These quantifiers would be pairs of functions from objects to truth values — to truth values. This would represent `The φ is F’ as Ix [φ(x); F(x) ] i.e. there is exactly one x which is φ and that x is F.

Chomsky suggests treating `the’ as a universal quantifier with existential import. There is an implication of uniqueness in singular forms; whether the `the’ is being used in singular or plural forms is given by the associated concept. For example, the `the’ in `the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo’ is singular while that in `the men who robbed your wife’ is plural. Evans himself does not consider plural reference.

`Rigid Designations’ And Fregean Sense

Evans relies on the claim that it is just a feature of how we use language that in truth-evaluation of sentences, we are solely interested in whether the object referred to satisfies the predicate and not in whether the singular term refers. He says we would not accept sentences like (20) below.

(20): `If Haldeman had released the information to the reporters, he would have been Deep Throat’.

[This seems open to question however. Deep Throat was the name the reporters Woodward and Bernstein used for their secret informant to avoid disclosing his identity. Speculation was rife for many years until finally Deep Throat was unmasked as being Mark W Felt. Before that unmasking, speculation considered a number of candidates, and Haldeman was among them. The general public knew only that Deep Throat was the source for Woodward and Bernstein. If they had eventually announced that Haldeman was their source, and that was true, then we would in fact accept (20). What Evans is relying on here is that Woodward and Bernstein knew that Deep Throat was Felt and that was their name for him and not for anyone else. But could they not have dubbed Haldeman with the same name if he had been the source?]

[Evans is on much stronger ground with (21) which seems to attempt to ascribe causal power from leaking to seniority — when the other direction seems more likely; or at least, a senior position would have enabled the leaking if not caused it.]

Evans also says we would not agree with (22) below.

(22): if you had invented the zip, you would have been Julius.

[But again — clearly there can be no claim that your given name would have been different if you had invented the zip. But if we have agreed that `Julius’ is our term for whoever did invent the zip, and that turns out to be you, doesn’t that make that another name for you?]

Evans wishes to avoid Kripke’s term `rigid designators’ because if it is useful, there must also be non-rigid designators. And that re-introduces the relativization of reference to possible worlds which Evans thinks is unnecessarily complex.

See Also:

Quine And Fine on Reference and Modality

The Structure And Content Of Truth For Davidson

Why Kids Are Robots

Why Does Epicurus Think That His Radical Views Will Be Persuasive To The Average Person?


[1] G. Evans and J. McDowell, The varieties of reference. Clarendon Paperbacks Series, Clarendon Press, 1982.

[2] B. Russell and D. Pears, The philosophy of logical atomism. Classics Series, Open Court, 1985.

[3] P. Strawson, Logico-linguistic papers. Ashgate, 2004.

[4] R. H. Thomason and R. C. Stalnaker, “Modality and reference,” Nous, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. pp. 359{372, 1968.


Reference And Modality


Reference and modality means how we refer to items and in what way they exist. Names of non-existent items cause problems here. I will discuss the views of Quine and Fine and raise some questions.

Reference And Modality: Pegasus

Quine argues in “Reference And Modality” that there is no inference from `There is no such thing as Pegasus’ to `(∃ x) (There is no such thing as x)’, which is true. And yet, there is such a generalization from `There is no reference for the term Pegasus’ to `(∃ x) (There is no reference for the term x)’. Since `Pegasus’ does not refer, use of the term can only refer to the name itself. The name can have properties even though the referent of the name, being non-existent, can not.

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One can question another claim of Quine’s that one exception to existential generalisation is given by noting that it is not possible to generalise from `Giorgione was so-called because of his size’ to `(∃ x) (x was so-called because of its size)’. This seems to rely too much on the precise usage of “so-called.” That does indeed, as Quine points out, lack a defining antecedent in the generalisation given.

Yet we can make a perfectly good generalisation to `(∃ x) (x was called x because of its size)”. And that captures the meaning well, suggesting that Quine has been over-reliant on the properties of “so-called” here.

These two substitutions may be innocuous in a Wittgensteinian sense such that meaning is use. Then their inter-substitution should not change the results that Quine seeks.

The Number Of Planets

Why is `the number of the planets’ a name of the number 9? (Or eight in post-Pluto days.)

Quine’s point is that the number nine has certain properties necessarily. However, the number of planets is contingent, as indeed demonstrated by the demotion of Pluto from planetary status. Presumably Quine responds here that he does not need a name to be linked necessarily to its referent. But that merely plays on the unhelpful trope that “9” could refer to a different number. So that “9” could be less than 8. That would happen if the symbol “9” referred to the number we currently refer to with “2.”

Reference And Modality: Failure Of Substitutivity

Fine in “The Problem Of De Re Modality” disagrees (p. 218) with Quine’s claim that failure of substitutivity of two terms suffices to show that they are not co-referential. One of his arguments for this is that it is not possible to substitute a co-referring substitute for “nine” into “canine” within the laws of grammar.

This is true, but the failure of substitutivity is of a different type to the one Quine considers. Quite simply, `can[X]’ is not a word in English for almost all values of X. It is this which prevents the substitution. We cannot break words up and make arbitrary replacements of some letters while retaining the original reference or indeed any reference at all. So Fine is wrong to say that this type of failure of substitutivity is a counter-example to Quine’s rule that failure of substitutivity entails failure of co-reference.

Impoverished Languages

Fine’s second complaint here is that a language may be “impoverished.” Perhaps no term co-refers with “nine.” We could then not use it to check for failure of substitutivity. We could not see whether failure of substitutivity invariably entails failure of co-referentiality.

Yet this absence is purely contingent. If we define the neologism “morbag” to be co-referential with “nine,” we may ask the question whether substitution changes truth value. This seems to be the case because ” ‘Nine’ has four letters” is true while ” ‘Morbag’ has four letters” is false. Yet Quine will surely respond that these quotational contexts are referentially opaque and thus not open for substitution.

Fine addresses this response. He allows his opponents to require that the new sentence after substitution is in fact a sentence according to the language. He allows that this solves the first difficulty but not the second. His preferred solution is to restrict his analysis to languages which do not prevent such substitutions. But then we are no longer talking about natural languages.

Reference And Modality: Disjunctions With Logical Truths

Fine’s further complaint is that we cannot examine substitutivity in sentences which are disjuncts with a logical truth. For example, we cannot substitute “Giorgione” in the sentence ” ‘Giorgione’ was so called because of his size or 2 + 2 = 4″ to check for changes in truth value because the disjunction is always true.

In fact, this is the case whatever we substitute for “Giorgione.” And yet, is this not because in fact we do not consider — or need to consider, at least — the first clause at all? What would we say if the first clause became meaningless, or contained non-referring terms? We would probably conclude that the sentence as a whole remains true, thus showing that in fact the structure has merely removed the first clause from considerations altogether. That is why it fails as a substitutivity test: the relevant element is no longer under consideration.

See Also:

Shame vs Embarrassment: The Distinction In The Literature

O’Keefe On Action And Responsibility In Epicurus

Buchanan On The Content Of A Human Right To Health Care

Theories Of Reference: Evans On Russell