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Hardcover | $36.00 Short | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780262026604 | 296 pp. | 6 x 9 in | September 2008

Pragmatism and Reference


Despite a recent revival of interest in pragmatist philosophy, most work in the analytic philosophy of language ignores insights offered by classical pragmatists and contemporary neopragmatists. In Pragmatism and Reference, David Boersema argues that a pragmatist perspective on reference presents a distinct alternative—and corrective—to the prevailing analytic views on the topic. Boersema finds that the pragmatist approach to reference, with alternative understandings of the nature of language, the nature of conceptualization and categorization, and the nature of inquiry, is suggested in the work of Wittgenstein and more thoroughly developed in the works of such classical and contemporary pragmatists as C.S. Peirce and Hilary Putnam.

Boersema first discusses the descriptivist and causal theories of reference—the received views on the topic in analytic philosophy. Then, after considering Wittgenstein's approach to reference, Boersema details the pragmatist approach to reference by nine philosophers: the "Big Three" of classical pragmatism, Peirce, William James, and John Dewey; three contemporary American philosophers, Putnam, Catherine Elgin, and Richard Rorty; and three important continental philosophers, Umberto Eco, Karl-Otto Apel, and Jürgen Habermas. Finally, Boersema shows explicitly how pragmatism offers a genuinely alternative account of reference, presenting several case studies on the nature and function of names. Here, he focuses on conceptions of individuation, similarity, essences, and sociality of language. Pragmatism and Reference will serve as a bridge between analytic and pragmatist approaches to such topics of shared concern as the nature and function of language.

About the Author

David Boersema is Professor of Philosophy and Douglas C. Strain Chair of Natural Philosophy at Pacific University, Oregon. He is the author of Philosophy of Science.


"Boersema shows that pragmatism provides the resources for a valuablecritique of and a viable alternative to currently dominant theories ofreference. Drawing on the work of the classical pragmatists and theirAmerican and European heirs, such as Putnam, Rorty, Habermas, and Apel, heargues that reference is social rather than individual, and forward lookingrather than backward looking. His scholarship is fair-minded andastonishingly comprehensive. He seems to have read and synthesized theentire corpus of each of the philosophers he discusses."
Catherine Z. Elgin, Harvard University

"In this groundbreaking book, Boersema draws upon classical pragmatism in developing a novel theory of reference. More important, he shows how his pragmatist theory measures up to alternative accounts. The result is a pragmatist theory of reference that can stand alongside its competitors and hold its own in the current debate. This book is a major contribution."
Robert B. Talisse, Vanderbilt University

"Boersema's Pragmatism and Reference is a most intelligent compendium on the analysis of reference ranging over a remarkably varied 20th-century literature, bent on assessing with clarity and precision the effective superiority of pragmatist accounts over the better-known analytic theories. Boersema makes a compelling case. I'm not aware of a better overview. Readers will revisit its very sensible argument and appreciate the abundance and convenience of the texts Boersema has collected."
Joseph Margolis, Department of Philosophy, Temple University