Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP)

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Talk: Sébastien Rivat (MCMP)

Location: Ludwigstr. 31, ground floor, room 021.

09.11.2022 16:00  – 18:00 


How Theoretical Terms Effectively Refer


Scientific realists with traditional semantic inclinations are often pressed to explain away the distinguished series of referential failures that seem to plague our best past science. A central difficulty made particularly vivid in recent debates is to find a reliable and principled way to assess referential success at the time a theory is still a live concern. In this talk, I argue that this is best done in the case of physics by examining whether the putative referent of a term is specifiable within the limited domain delineated by the range of parameters over which the theory at stake is empirically accurate. I first implement this selective principle into a new account of reference, using the framework of effective theories as a guide and building on Stathis Psillos's works. Then, I argue that this account offers a remarkably reliable basis to assess referential success before theory-change in the case of effective theories and briefly explore how it extends to problematic historical cases.