Manuscrito explores the connection between language and reality

Filipe Martone, Associate editor of Manuscrito, graduate student, Department of Philosophy, University of Campinas, Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil.

Image: bertvthul.

Semantic theories often aim to explain how referring expressions – such as proper names and demonstratives – work by trying to find the descriptive rules that govern their use. These rules are supposed to have two characteristics: they should be representations of what speakers tacitly know, and they should specify the necessary and sufficient conditions for successful reference for each kind of referring expression. In an important contribution to the theory of reference, Mario Gómez-Torrente’s book “Roads to Reference: An Essay on Reference Fixing in Natural Language” argues that this semantic project is misguided. For him, the rules governing referring expressions specify only imprecise and roughly sufficient conditions for reference. In this symposium issue of Manuscrito (vol. 43, no. 4), several authors tackle Gómez-Torrente’s arguments, and in the course of doing so they explore the many facets of the relations between language and the features of world we talk about. Each critical piece is followed by a reply from Gómez-Torrente.

Three papers will be highlighted here to offer a glimpse of the range of the topics discussed in this issue.

In “Gómez-Torrente on reference to ordinary substances”, Martín Abreu Zavaleta (2020), discusses the expressions we use to talk about kinds in nature, the so-called natural kind terms. More precisely, he takes issue with Gómez-Torrente’s view that there is a uniquely privileged ordinary notion of substance underlying our uses of natural kind terms. In his book, Gómez-Torrente argues that there is no substance specifiable using only precise vocabulary from chemistry which the referent of the natural kind term “water” is identical to. Thus, according to Gómez-Torrente, if the term “water” refers at all, it can only refer to the substance water, a sui generis substance which cannot be fully characterized using only chemical vocabulary. Abreu Zavaleta, on the other hand, argues that there is no single ordinary notion of substance that can serve to fix the referent of “water”. Instead, there are many eligible notions of substance compatible with what ‘substance’ means in ordinary language. If any one of those notions is privileged over the rest for the purposes of determining reference, that won’t be due to the content of the ordinary notion of substance, but to independent reasons, metaphysical or otherwise.

In “Bifurcations on the road: conflicting intentions and demonstrative reference”, Matheus Valente (2020) discusses demonstratives, expressions like “he” and “that”. He questions Gómez-Torrente’s assumption that demonstrative thought based on perception is less likely to fall prey to indeterminacy than demonstrative thought based on memory and on descriptions. He argues that this aspect of Gómez-Torrente’s view invites unwelcome consequences regarding the transparency of thought. Valente then concludes that we need to distinguish between a subject’s referential intentions and a subject’s merely collateral beliefs about the target of his utterance.

Finally, in “Referential uses of Arabic numerals”, Melissa Vivanco (2020) debates Gómez-Torrente novel approach to the question about the nature and existence of numbers. For Gómez-Torrente, we should try to approach this question by thinking about what sort of intuitive ontology and epistemology about numbers can properly underwrite an account of how the reference of numerals gets fixed. Vivanco, however, argues that Gómez-Torrente’s theory is not fully successful; it fails because it does not capture the relevant association between how a number can be split up and the morphological property of Arabic numerals to be positional.

The quality and range of the contributions in this issue attest to the value of Gómez-Torrente’s book and the many debates it fosters.


GÓMEZ-TORRENTE, M. Roads to reference. An essay on reference fixing in natural language. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019.

To read the articles, acess

VALENTE, M. Bifurcations on the road: conflicting intentions and demonstrative reference. Manuscrito [online]. 2020, vol. 43, no. 4, pp. 116-129. ISSN: 2317-630X [viewed 2 December 2020]. Available from:

VIVANCO, M. Referential uses of Arabic numerals. Manuscrito [online]. 2020, vol. 43, no. 4, pp. 142-164. ISSN: 2317-630X [viewed 2 December 2020]. Available from:

ZAVALETA, M. A. Gómez-Torrente on reference to ordinary substances. Manuscrito [online]. 2020, vol. 43, no. 4, pp. 97-107. ISSN: 2317-630X [viewed 2 December 2020]. Available from:

External links

Manuscrito – MAN:


Como citar este post [ISO 690/2010]:

MARTONE, F. Manuscrito explores the connection between language and reality [online]. SciELO in Perspective: Humanities, 2021 [viewed ]. Available from:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post Navigation