Folk Intuitions about Reference Change and the Causal Theory of Reference

  • Steffen Koch (Institute for Philosophy, Bielefeld University)
  • Alex Wiegmann orcid logo (Institute for Philosophy II, Ruhr University Bochum)


In this paper, we present and discuss the findings of two experiments about reference change. Cases of reference change have sometimes been invoked to challenge traditional versions of semantic externalism, but the relevant cases have never been tested empirically. The experiments we have conducted use variants of the famous Twin Earth scenario to test folk intuitions about whether natural kind terms such as ‘water’ or ‘salt’ switch reference after being constantly (mis)applied to different kinds. Our results indicate that this is indeed so. We argue that this finding is evidence against Saul Kripke’s causal-historical view of reference, and at least provisional evidence in favor of the causal source view of reference as suggested by Gareth Evans and Michael Devitt.

Keywords: semantic intuitions, natural kind terms, reference change, Kripke, causal-historical view, causal source view

How to Cite:

Koch, S. & Wiegmann, A., (2022) “Folk Intuitions about Reference Change and the Causal Theory of Reference”, Ergo 8: 25. doi:

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Published on
29 Dec 2022
Peer Reviewed