Scepticism about Meaning and Reference: Three Arguments by Quine, Putnam and Kripke

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Abstract

Twentieth-century philosophy of language saw a number of related but interestingly distinct arguments that independently challenge the objectivity and determinacy of traditional semantic notions like reference, denotation or extension. Collectively, they can be called ‘semantic scepticism’. This essay will examine three of these arguments due to Quine (1960, 1969), Putnam (1978, 1980, 1981, 1985) and Kripke (1982), noting the increasing pressure they bring to bear on our common sense conceptions of meaning and reference. I will begin by identifying that conception independently.

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