2.64 Sense and Reference

Category: Philosophy of Language

Keywords: quotation, referential, referent, kaplan, referring, tokens, token, demonstrative, verb, verbs, descriptions, noun, indexical, singular, semantically

Number of Articles: 368
Percentage of Total: 1.1%
Rank: 40th

Weighted Number of Articles: 340.3
Percentage of Total: 1.1%
Rank: 37th

Mean Publication Year: 1986.4
Weighted Mean Publication Year: 1982.8
Median Publication Year: 1987
Modal Publication Year: 1998

Topic with Most Overlap: Ordinary Language (0.047)
Topic this Overlaps Most With: Belief Ascriptions (0.0543)
Topic with Least Overlap: Social Contract Theory (0.00032)
Topic this Overlaps Least With: Life and Value (0.00037)

A scatterplot showing which proportion of articles each year are in the sense and referencetopic. The x-axis shows the year, the y-axis measures the proportion of articles each year in this topic. There is one dot per year. The highest value is in 1998 when 2.6% of articles were in this topic. The lowest value is in 1899 when 0.0% of articles were in this topic. The full table that provides the data for this graph is available in Table A.64 in Appendix A.

Figure 2.148: Sense and reference.

A set of twelve scatterplots showing the proportion of articles in each journal in each year that are in the Sense and Referencetopic. There is one scatterplot for each of the twelve journals that are the focus of this book. In each scatterplot, the x-axis is the year, and the y-axis is the proportion of articles in that year in that journal in this topic. Here are the average values for each of the twelve scatterplots - these tell you on average how much of the journal is dedicated to this topic. Mind - 1.0%. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society - 0.8%. Ethics - 0.1%. Philosophical Review - 1.3%. Analysis - 2.3%. Philosophy and Public Affairs - 0.1%. Journal of Philosophy - 1.3%. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research - 0.9%. Philosophy of Science - 0.4%. Noûs - 2.5%. The Philosophical Quarterly - 1.4%. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science - 0.3%. The topic reaches its zenith in year 1999 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 2.3% of the articles. And it hits a minimum in year 1899 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 0.0% of the articles.

Figure 2.149: Sense and reference articles in each journal.

Table 2.157: Characteristic articles of the sense and reference topic.
Table 2.158: Highly cited articles in the sense and reference topic.


The model is carving things up a little more finely than may be ideal here, so let’s put some stuff back together. This topic obviously has a lot to do with denoting and with belief ascriptions. And it’s useful to see all three of these on a single graph.

The graphs for three topics—denoting, sense and reference, and belief ascriptions—on one chart. The shape of the graph is described in the text below.

Figure 2.150: Relative frequency of denoting, sense and reference, and belief ascriptions

There is a tiny amount of discussion of these three, mostly focussed on descriptions, up until World War II. Then they all start to take off. But descriptions as such starts to fade quite early, with its peak being the late 1970s. Some of that is just substitution—there is a lot of discussion of how descriptions work in articles on sense and reference, and articles on belief ascriptions. But the sum seems to be headed a little downwards as we move into the twenty-first century, and I’d expect that gentle trend continues through 2020.

Even at their peak, these topics don’t take up as much space in the journals as they take up in philosophers’ self-representation. At most these topics are coming to about 3–4 ercent of the discussion over any sustained period of time. But during that time they were routinely taking up more than 3—4 percent of space in graduate education. (For instance, it was not unusual to have compulsory first-year seminars largely about these topics.) My feeling is that the journals got this right and the departments got this wrong, and 3–4 percent was a sensible proportion of space to devote to these topics. That said, it was surprising to me that this never went much higher than that; it certainly felt at times like more than 3–4 percent of the discussion was devoted to denotation, sense, reference and opaque contexts.