Applying the Causal Theory of Reference to Intentional Concepts

John Michael, Miles MacLeod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
221 Downloads (Pure)


We argue that many recent philosophical discussions about the reference of everyday concepts of intentional states have implicitly been predicated on descriptive theories of reference. To rectify this, we attempt to demonstrate how a causal theory can be applied to intentional concepts. Specifically, we argue that some phenomena in early social development (e.g., mimicry, gaze following, and emotional contagion) can serve as reference fixers that enable children to track others’ intentional states and, thus, to refer to those states. This allows intentional concepts to be anchored to their referents, even if folk psychological descriptions turn out to be false.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-230
JournalPhilosophy of science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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