The relation between a term,
statement, symbol, gesture or
sign and whatever
it stands for. The latter is called the referent of the term, statement,
symbol, gesture or sign.
The main two points to notice is that one
needs some term to speak about whatever terms etc. stand for, and that
"reference" and "referent" are useful here, and that it is not claimed when saying that "a
refers to b" that whatever is meant by "b"
exists. In case
whatever is meant by "b" does exist "a" is said to
One reason the relation of reference - as defined - is useful is that it
happens quite often that one just does not know (yet) whether a term denotes.
Terminological note: What matters here is the idea defined and the contrast
between reference and denotation, but not
the actual names one uses - and indeed usage in this respect is conflicting.
I tend to use "reference" and "meaning"