Reference and Response by Louis deRosset. Australian Journal of Philosophy, March 2011, Vol. 89, No.1.
Before you skip this entry, realize that this article may shine light on why Linked Data works at all and quite possibly how to improve subject identification for Linked Data and topic maps as well.
A standard view of reference holds that a speaker’s use of a name refers to a certain thing in virtue of the speaker’s associating a condition with that use that singles the referent out. This view has been criticized by Saul Kripke as empirically inadequate. Recently, however, it has been argued that a version of the standard view, a response-based theory of reference, survives the charge of empirical inadequacy by allowing that associated conditions may be largely or even entirely implicit. This paper argues that response-based theories of reference are prey to a variant of the empirical inadequacy objection, because they are ill-suited to accommodate the successful use of proper names by pre-school children. Further, I argue that there is reason to believe that normal adults are, by and large, no different from children with respect to how the referents of their names are determined. I conclude that speakers typically refer positionally: the referent of a use of a proper name is typically determined by aspects of the speaker’s position, rather than by associated conditions present, however implicitly, in her psychology.
With apologies to the author but I would sum up his position (sorry) on referents to be that we use proper nouns to identify particular people because we have learned those references from others, that is our position in a community of users of that referent.
That is to say that all the characteristics that we can recite when called upon to say why we have identified a particular person are much like logic that justifies, after the fact, mathematical theorems and insights. Mathematical theorems and insights being “seen” first and then “proved” as justification for others.
Interesting. Another reason why computers do so poorly at subject identification. Computers are asked to act as we imagine ourselves identifying subjects and not how we identify them in fact.
How does that help with Linked Data and topic maps?
First, I would extend the author’s argument to all referents.
Second, it reveals that the URI/L versus properties to identify a subject is really a canard.
What is important, in terms of subject identification, is the origin of the identification.
For example, if “positionally” I am using .lg as used in Unix in a Nutshell, page 12-7, that is all you need to know to distinguish its reference from all the trash that a web search engine returns.
Adding up properties of “Ligature mode” of Nroff/Troff isn’t going to get you any closer to the referent of .lg. Because that isn’t how anyone used .lg in the same sense I did.
The hot question is how to capture our positional identification of subjects.
Which would include when two or more references are for the same subject.
PS: I rather like deRosset’s conclusion:
Someone, long ago, was well-placed to refer to Cicero. Now, because of our de facto historical position, we are well-placed to refer to Cicero, even though we (or those of us without classical education) wouldn’t know Cicero from Seneca. We don’t need to be able to point to him, or apprehend some condition which singles him out (other, perhaps, than being Cicero). Possessing an appropriately-derived use of ‘Cicero’ suffices. According to the theory of evolution by natural selection, so long as we are appropriately situated (i.e., so long as our local environment is relevantly similar to our ancestors’), we benefit from our biological ancestors’ reproductive successes. Similarly, when we refer positionally, so long as we are appropriately situated, we benefit from our linguistic ancestors’ referential successes. In neither case do the conditions by which we benefit have to be present, even implicitly, in our psychology.25