Wednesday, June 04, 2014

SPR 2014 Lecture Series (No.8): The semantics of scientific discourse involving hypothetical entities

Date & Time: Friday, 6 Jun., 2-4 p.m. 
Venue: Rm202, Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences Education, NYMU  

About the theme

     In the scientific realism debate, there has been a recent turn away from wholesale arguments that purport to tell us about the approximate truth of theories in general, and toward retail arguments that purport to tell us about the approximate truth of particular theories. While this shift has brought with it a renewed interest in case studies that has arguably enriched the debate, retail arguments alone fail to have any general implications for the debate. I aim to develop a position that captures what is satisfying about the turn to retail arguments, and yet has some more general implications. My starting point is that many of the case studies that have drawn the most attention involve hypothetical entities. I draw on some work in linguistics on discourse referents in order to defend a general view of the semantics of scientific discourse that involves hypothetical entities. I argue that when scientists introduce terms to name hypothetical entities, those terms have discourse referents, but lack empirical referents; reference to empirical entities is possible only once there is some consensus in the scientific community that an empirical entity has been discovered.