Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

James Kreines


Nothing seems more obvious than that our words have meaning. When people speak to each other, they exchange information through the use of a particular set of words. The words they say to each other, moreover, are about something. Yet this relation of “aboutness,” known as “reference,” is not quite as simple as it appears. In this thesis I will present two opposing arguments about the nature of our words and how they relate to the things around us. First, I will present Hilary Putnam’s argument, in which he examines the indeterminacy of reference, forcing us to conclude that we must abandon metaphysical realism. While Putnam considers his argument to be a refutation of non-epistemicism, David Lewis takes it to be a reductio, claiming Putnam’s conclusion is incredible. I will present Lewis’s response to Putnam, in which he accepts the challenge of demonstrating how Putnam’s argument fails and rescuing us from the abandonment of realism. In order to explain the determinacy of reference, Lewis introduces the concept of “natural properties.” In the final chapter of this thesis, I will propose another use for Lewisian properties. Namely, that of helping to minimize the gap between natural language processing and human communication.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.