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Summary Descriptions are standardly divided into two types: definite descriptions (`the F') and indefinite descriptions (`a G').  Interest in these expressions dates back at least to Russell and Frege, who were interested both in what they mean and what role they play in thought and cognition.  Subsequent debates on descriptions have centered on their truth-conditions and what they presuppose, whether they can properly be said to refer, whether other expressions (e.g. names) can be treated on the model of descriptions, how to extend accounts of definite descriptions to plurals and mass terms, and whether there really is a difference in what definite and indefinite descriptions mean, as opposed to what they otherwise communicate.
Key works Contemporary debates on descriptions begin with Frege 1892 and Russell 1905Strawson 1950 offers a classic response to Russell and stands as the other main precursor to the popular `Frege-Strawson' analysis of definite descriptions, on which definiteness is merely presupposed.  Donnellan 1966 argues that definite descriptions are ambiguous between referring and non-referring uses, and Kripke 1977 responds with a defense of univocal Russellianism.  In the course of extensive discussion of anaphora, Heim 1982 considers the possibility that there may be no semantic difference between definite and indefinite descriptions.  Finally, Sharvy 1980 explores how to extend semantic accounts of descriptions to deal with plurals and mass terms.
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  1. J. Acero (2005). Descripciones definidas, composicionalidad y forma lógica. Teorema 24 (3).
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  2. Maria Aloni & Floris Roelofsen (2014). Indefinites in Comparatives. Natural Language Semantics 22 (2):145-167.
    The goal of this paper is to explain the meaning and distribution of indefinites in comparatives, focusing on English some and any and German irgend-indefinites. We consider three competing theories of comparatives in combination with an alternative semantics of some and any, and a novel account of stressed irgend-indefinites. One of the resulting accounts, based on Heim’s analysis of comparatives, predicts all the relevant differences in quantificational force, and explains why free choice indefinites are licensed in comparatives.
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  3. Robin Attfield (1983). Miller, Kripke, Bach and the Meaning of Proper Names. Southern Journal of Philosophy 21 (2):153-158.
    Examples are presented which raise problems for theories of proper names which deny their equivalence either with descriptions (miller, Kripke) or with non-Trivial descriptions (bach). These examples of names equivalent to the same descriptions for all the possible worlds in which their bearers exist require the theories to be abandoned or at least modified as to their scope.
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  4. Abbott Barbara (2003). A Reply to Szabo's``Descriptions and Uniqueness''. Philosophical Studies 113 (3).
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  5. A. Barber, Co-Extensive Theories and Unembedded Definite Descriptions.
    Russell argued, famously, that definite descriptions are not logical constituents of the sentences in which they appear. In neither of the following should we suppose that the definite description picks anything out: The King of France is bald The Prince of Wales is bald Since France is a republic, nothing could be picked out by the first; and if the semantic structures of each are the same, it cannot be the function of the second to pick anything out either. On (...)
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  6. Gabriele Bonetti (1986). Nomi propri e descrizioni definite: resoconto di un lungo dibattito. Verifiche: Rivista Trimestrale di Scienze Umane 15 (1):123-146.
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  7. Emma Borg (1999). Gary Ostertag, Ed., Definite Descriptions: A Reader Reviewed By. Philosophy in Review 19 (4):272-274.
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  8. Emma Borg (1999). Gary Ostertag, Ed., Definite Descriptions: A Reader. [REVIEW] Philosophy in Review 19:272-274.
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  9. H. P. Boukema (2005). Towards a Re-Evaluation of On Denoting. Teorema 24 (3):133-149.
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  10. W. Stephen Croddy (1984). Using Descriptions Referentially. Philosophical Inquiry 6 (2):111-118.
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  11. W. Stephen Croddy (1984). Using Descriptions Referentially. Philosophical Inquiry 6 (2):111-118.
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  12. W. Stephen Croddy (1979). Do descriptions have meaning. Logique Et Analyse 22 (85):23.
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  13. Arnulf Deppermann (2011). Notionalization: The Transformation of Descriptions Into Categorizations. [REVIEW] Human Studies 34 (2):155-181.
    This paper analyses one specific conversational practice of formulation called ‘notionalization’. It consists in the transformation of a description by a prior speaker into a categorization by the next speaker. Sequences of this kind are a “natural laboratory” for studying the differences between descriptions and categorizations regarding their semantic, interactional, and rhetorical properties: Descriptive/narrative versions are often vague and tentative, multi unit turns, which are temporalized and episodic, offering a lot of contingent, situational, and indexical detail. Notionalizations turn them into (...)
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  14. Vernon Dolphin (1958). Mr. Hochberg, Mr. Quine, and the Theory of Description. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 19 (2):246-247.
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  15. Keith S. Donnellan (1970). Proper Names and Identifying Descriptions. Synthese 21 (3-4):335 - 358.
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  16. Marie Duží (2009). Strawsonian Vs. Russellian Definite Descriptions. Organon F 16 (4):587-614.
    In 1905 Bertrand Russell took on the problem of definite descriptions, and his analysis became the standard up until 1950 when Peter Strawson criticised Russell’s solution as inadequate. Since then many opponents as well as proponents of the Russellian solution have been involved in a long-term debate on definite descriptions. In this paper I show that both sides of the contention are partly right and partly wrong, because sentences of the form “The F is a G” are ambiguous. However, the (...)
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  17. Paul Elbourne (2013). Definite Descriptions. Oup Oxford.
    Paul Elbourne defends the Fregean view that definite descriptions ('the table', 'the King of France') refer to individuals, and offers a new and radical account of the semantics of pronouns. He draws on a wide range of work, from Frege, Peano, and Russell to the latest findings in linguistics, philosophy of language, and psycholinguistics.
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  18. Paul Elbourne (2010). The Existence Entailments of Definite Descriptions. Linguistics and Philosophy 33 (1):1-10.
    Contrary to a claim made by Kaplan (Mind 114:933–1003, 2005) and Neale (Mind 114:809–871, 2005), the readings available to sentences containing definite descriptions embedded under propositional attitude verbs and conditionals do pose a significant problem for the Russellian theory of definite descriptions. The Fregean theory of descriptions, on the other hand, deals easily with the relevant data.
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  19. P. Ene (2013). Descriptions as Distinctions. George Spencer Brown's Calculus of Indications as a Basis for Mitterer's Non-Dualistic Descriptions. Constructivist Foundations 8 (2):202-208.
    Context: Non-dualistic thinking is an alternative to realism and constructivism. Problem: In the absence of a distinct definition of the term “description,” the question comes up of what exactly can be included in non-dualistic descriptions, and in how far the definition of this term affects the relation between theory and empirical practice. Furthermore, this paper is concerned with the question of whether non-dualism and dualism differ in their implications. Method: I provide a wider semantic framework for the term “description” by (...)
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  20. Evan Fales (1976). Definite Descriptions as Designators. Mind 85 (338):225-238.
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  21. Delia Graff Fara, Descriptions with Adverbs of Quantification.
    In “Descriptions as Predicates” (Fara 2001) I argued that definite and indefinite descriptions should be given a uniform semantic treatment as predicates rather than as quantifier phrases. The aim of the current paper is to clarify and elaborate one of the arguments for the descriptions-aspredicates view, one that concerns the interaction of descriptions with adverbs of quantification.
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  22. Delia Graff Fara (2006). Descriptions with Adverbs of Quantification. Philosophical Issues 16 (1):65-87.
    In “Descriptions as Predicates” (Fara 2001) I argued that definite and indefinite descriptions should be given a uniform semantic treatment as predicates rather than as quantifier phrases. The aim of the current paper is to clarify and elaborate one of the arguments for the descriptions-aspredicates view, one that concerns the interaction of descriptions with adverbs of quantification.
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  23. Delia Graff Fara (2006). Descriptions with Adverbs of Quantification. Philosophical Issues 16 (1):65–87.
    In “Descriptions as Predicates” (Fara 2001) I argued that definite and indefinite descriptions should be given a uniform semantic treatment as predicates rather than as quantifier phrases. The aim of the current paper is to clarify and elaborate one of the arguments for the descriptions-aspredicates view, one that concerns the interaction of descriptions with adverbs of quantification.
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  24. Solomon Feferman, What's Definite? What's Not?
    • Definite totalities are set-like. If definite totalities are sets then the totality of all sets is indefinite (Russell).
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  25. G. W. Fitch (1984). Indeterminate Descriptions. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 14 (2):257 - 276.
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  26. A. Frigerio (2000). Universality and Singularity and the Question of Definite Descriptions. Rivista di Filosofia Neo-Scolastica 92 (1):108-142.
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  27. Richard M. Gale (1967). Pure and Impure Descriptions. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 45 (1):32 – 43.
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  28. Manuel García-Carpintero (2005). The Real Distinction Between Descriptions and Indexicals. Teorema: Revista Internacional de Filosofía 24 (3):49-74.
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  29. Richard T. Garner (1969). On the Use of Proper Names and Definite Descriptions. Philosophical Quarterly 19 (76):231-238.
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  30. P. T. Geach (1979). Names and Descriptions. Philosophical Books 20 (3):140-142.
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  31. Ma Gernsbacher & Rrw Robertson (1991). The Definite Article the Facilitates the Process of Mapping. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 29 (6):496-496.
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  32. Michael Glanzberg (2007). Definite Descriptions and Quantifier Scope: Some Mates Cases Reconsidered. European Journal of Analytic Philosophy 3 (2):133-158.
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  33. Delia Graff Fara (2006). Descriptions with Adverbs of Quantification. Philosophical Issues, Volume 16: Philosophy of Language 16:65–87.
    In “Descriptions as Predicates” (Graff 2001) I argued that definite and indefinite descriptions should be given a uniform semantic treatment as predicates rather than as quantifier phrases. The aim of the current paper is to clarify and elaborate one of the arguments for the descriptions-as-predicates view, one that concerns the interaction of descriptions with adverbs of quantification.
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  34. Delia Graff Fara (2003). Desires, Scope, and Tense. Philosophical Perspectives 17 (1):141-164.
    I want to discuss a certain argument for the claim that definite descriptions are ambiguous between a Russellian quantificational interpretation and a predicational interpretation.1 The argument is found in James McCawley’s (1981) book Everything Linguists Have Always Wanted to Know about Logic (but were ashamed to ask). The argument has also been resuscitated by Richard Larson and Gabriel Segal in their more recent (1995) book Knowledge of Meaning.2 If successful, the argument would not only show that descriptions have both quantificational (...)
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  35. Richard E. Grandy (1972). A Definition of Truth for Theories with Intensional Definite Description Operators. Journal of Philosophical Logic 1 (2):137--155.
  36. Oliver C. Grannis (1974). Notes on'On the Notion'Definite''. Foundations of Language 11 (1):105-110.
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  37. Norbert Gratzl (2011). Hilbert and Bernays on Definite Descriptions. Studia Philosophiae Christianae 4:19-29.
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  38. Nicholas Griffin & Dale Jacquette (eds.) (2009). Russell Vs. Meinong: The Legacy of "on Denoting". Routledge.
    Meinong The Legacy of "On Denoting" Edited by Nicholas Griffin and Dale Jacquette Routledge TaylorkFrancisGroup New York London ...
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  39. D. A. Griffiths (1976). Russell on Existence and Descriptions. Philosophical Quarterly 26 (103):157-162.
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  40. Reinhardt Grossmann (1984). Nonexistent Objects Versus Definite Descriptions. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 62 (4):363 – 377.
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  41. Reinhardt Grossmann (1975). Definite Descriptions. Philosophical Studies 27 (2):127 - 144.
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  42. Atle Grønn & Kjell Johan Sæbø (2012). A, The, Another: A Game of Same and Different. [REVIEW] Journal of Logic, Language and Information 21 (1):75-95.
    Indefinites face competition at two levels: Presupposition and content. The antipresupposition hypothesis predicts that they signal the opposite of familiarity, or uniqueness, namely, novelty, or non-uniqueness. At the level of descriptive content, they are pressured from two sides: definites expressing identity and another phrases expressing difference, and Gricean reasoning predicts that indefinites signal both difference and identity and are infelicitous when definites and another phrases are felicitous. However, occasionally a space opens between the and another, for a to fill. This (...)
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  43. Raymond D. Gumb (2001). An Extended Joint Consistency Theorem for a Nonconstructive Logic of Partial Terms with Definite Descriptions. Studia Logica 69 (2):279-292.
    The logic of partial terms (LPT) is a variety of negative free logic in which functions, as well as predicates, are strict. A companion paper focused on nonconstructive LPTwith definite descriptions, called LPD, and laid the foundation for tableaux systems by defining the concept of an LPDmodel system and establishing Hintikka's Lemma, from which the strong completeness of the corresponding tableaux system readily follows. The present paper utilizes the tableaux system in establishing an Extended Joint Consistency Theorem for LPDthat incorporates (...)
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  44. Fredrik Haraldsen (2013). What Russell Couldn't Describe. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 91 (3):459-473.
    The characteristic property of definite descriptions in natural language is commonly assumed to be their uniqueness requirement, although there is disagreement with respect to how occurrences should be interpreted, for instance with regard to the well-known restriction problem. I offer a novel argument against characterizing definite expressions in terms of uniqueness. If a singular definite description ?the F? implies that its denotation is the unique satisfier of ?F? (relative to a context) then there are real-life states of affairs that can (...)
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  45. Clyde L. Hardin (1957). Descriptions and Referential Opaqueness. Philosophical Studies 8 (1-2):27 - 28.
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  46. John Hawthorne & David Manley (2012). The Reference Book. Oxford University Press.
    This book critically examines some widespread views about the semantic phenomenon of reference and the cognitive phenomenon of singular thought. It begins with a defense of the view that neither is tied to a special relation of causal or epistemic acquaintance. It then challenges the alleged semantic rift between definite and indefinite descriptions on the one hand, and names and demonstratives on the other—a division that has been motivated in part by appeals to considerations of acquaintance. Drawing on recent work (...)
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  47. Irene Heim (1982). The Semantics of Definite and Indefinite Noun Phrases. Dissertation, UMass Amherst
  48. Reese Heitner (2003). An Integrated Theory of Linguistic Descriptions [1964]. Philosophical Forum 34 (3-4):401–416.
    Book reviewed:;Jerrold J. Katz and Paul M. Postal, An Integrated Theory of Linguistic Descriptions;Book reviewed:;Jerrold J. Katz and Paul M. Postal, An Integrated Theory of Linguistic Descriptions;Book reviewed:;Jerrold J. Katz and Paul M. Postal, An Integrated Theory of Linguistic Descriptions;Book reviewed:;Jerrold J. Katz and Paul M. Postal, An Integrated Theory of Linguistic Descriptions;Book reviewed:;Jerrold J. Katz and Paul M. Postal, An Integrated Theory of Linguistic Descriptions;Book reviewed:;Jerrold J. Katz and Paul M. Postal, An Integrated Theory of Linguistic Descriptions;Book reviewed:;Jerrold J. (...)
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  49. Jan Heylen (2010). Descriptions and Unknowability. Analysis 70 (1):50-52.
    (No abstract is available for this citation).
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  50. Jaakko Hintikka (1964). Definite Descriptions and Self-Identity. Philosophical Studies 15 (1-2):5--7.
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