On Problems with Descriptivism: Psychological Assumptions and Empirical Evidence


  • The authors would like to thank anonymous reviewers of an earlier version for their comments. The first author was supported by a research grant from the Mexican Council for Science and Technology (CONACyT).

Eduardo García-Ramírez, Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Cto. Mario de la Cueva S/N, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacan, C.P. 04510, México D.F., México.


We offer an empirical assessment of description theories of proper names. We examine empirical evidence on lexical and cognitive development, memory, and aphasia, to see whether it supports Descriptivism. We show that description theories demand much more, in terms of psychological assumptions, than what the data suggest; hence, they lack empirical support. We argue that this problem undermines their success as philosophical theories for proper names in natural languages. We conclude by presenting and defending a preliminary alternative account of reference from a developmental perspective.