Referential Practice and the Lure of Augustinianism

Michael Ashcroft


This paper is an examination and defence of Wittgenstein's thesis that language itself promotes an Augustinian picture of its workings. Let us define Augustinianism as the thesis that the meaning of an expression is its referent, and distinguish a strong variant that restricts the referents of expressions to ostensively indicatable material objects. In this paper I will argue that if Wittgenstein is correct about reference talk, linguistic practice tempts us to (incorrectly) adopt both positions. I shall begin by describing a naïve notion of reference. Then I will examine the role of reference in contemporary meaning theories and draw parallels with Wittgenstein's own account in order to elucidate the latter. Finally I will explain why the resulting practices can lead us to accept both forms of Augustinianism, and why these positions are mistaken.


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; redundancy theory; reference; natural language; semantics; meaning

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