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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. 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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  2. Vernon Dolphin (1958). Mr. Hochberg, Mr. Quine, and the Theory of Description. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 19 (2):246-247.
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  3. Keith S. Donnellan (1970). Proper Names and Identifying Descriptions. Synthese 21 (3-4):335 - 358.
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  4. 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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  5. 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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  6. Evan Fales (1976). Definite Descriptions as Designators. Mind 85 (338):225-238.
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  7. 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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  8. 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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  9. 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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  10. 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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  11. Richard M. Gale (1967). Pure and Impure Descriptions. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 45 (1):32 – 43.
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  12. Manuel García-Carpintero (2005). The Real Distinction Between Descriptions and Indexicals. Teorema: Revista Internacional de Filosofía 24 (3):49-74.
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  13. Richard T. Garner (1969). On the Use of Proper Names and Definite Descriptions. Philosophical Quarterly 19 (76):231-238.
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  14. 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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  15. 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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  16. 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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  17. Richard E. Grandy (1972). A Definition of Truth for Theories with Intensional Definite Description Operators. Journal of Philosophical Logic 1 (2):137--155.
  18. 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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  19. D. A. Griffiths (1976). Russell on Existence and Descriptions. Philosophical Quarterly 26 (103):157-162.
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  20. Reinhardt Grossmann (1984). Nonexistent Objects Versus Definite Descriptions. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 62 (4):363 – 377.
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  21. Reinhardt Grossmann (1975). Definite Descriptions. Philosophical Studies 27 (2):127 - 144.
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  22. 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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  23. 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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  24. Fredrik Haraldsen (2013). What Russell Couldn't Describe. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 91 (3):459-473.
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  25. Clyde L. Hardin (1957). Descriptions and Referential Opaqueness. Philosophical Studies 8 (1-2):27 - 28.
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  26. 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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  27. Irene Heim (1982). The Semantics of Definite and Indefinite Noun Phrases. Dissertation, UMass Amherst
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  28. Reese Heitner (2003). An Integrated Theory of Linguistic Descriptions [1964]. Philosophical Forum 34 (3-4):401–416.
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  29. Jan Heylen (2010). Descriptions and Unknowability. Analysis 70 (1):50-52.
    (No abstract is available for this citation).
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  30. Jaakko Hintikka (1964). Definite Descriptions and Self-Identity. Philosophical Studies 15 (1-2):5--7.
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  31. H. Hiż (1977). Descriptions in Russell's Theory and in Ontology. Studia Logica 36 (4):271 - 283.
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  32. Herbert Hochberg (1989). Descriptions, Situations, and Russell's Extensional Analysis of Intentionality. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 49 (4):555-581.
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  33. C. A. Hooker (1972). Definite Descriptions. Philosophical Studies 23 (6):365 - 375.
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  34. Terence Horgan & Michael Tye (1988). Braving the Perils of an Uneventful World. Grazer Philosophische Studien 31:179-186.
    Philosophers who advocate an ontology without events must show how sentences containing apparent reference to events can be systematically paraphrased, or "regimented," into sentences which avoid ontological commitment to these putative entities. Two alternative proposals are set forth for regimenting statements containing putatively event-denoting definite descriptions. Both proposals eliminate the apparent reference to events, while still preserving the validity of inferences sanctioned by the surface grammar of the regimented sentences.
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  35. Tania Ionin (2010). The Scope of Indefinites: An Experimental Investigation. [REVIEW] Natural Language Semantics 18 (3):295-350.
    This paper reports on an experimental investigation of the scope of English a indefinites and a certain indefinites. Three experiments test whether native English speakers allow indefinites to scope out of syntactic islands, and to take intermediate as well as widest scope. The experimental findings indicate that a indefinites and a certain indefinites have different ranges of interpretations available to them. Experiment 1 shows that a certain indefinites, unlike a indefinites, cannot be interpreted in the scope of an intensional operator, (...)
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  36. Tania Ionin (2006). This is Definitely Specific: Specificity and Definiteness in Article Systems. [REVIEW] Natural Language Semantics 14 (2):175-234.
    This paper argues for the reality of specificity as noteworthiness, a concept built upon Fodor and Sag’s (1982) view of referentiality. Support for this view of specificity comes from the behavior of indefinite this in spoken English, as well as from specificity markers in Samoan, Hebrew, and Sissala. It is shown that the conditions on the use of this-indefinites cannot be accounted for by previous analyses of specificity. The relationship between definiteness and specificity in article systems crosslinguistically is examined, and (...)
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  37. Frank Jackson (1998). Reference and Description Revisited. Philosophical Perspectives 12 (S12):201-218.
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  38. D. Jacquette (1994). A Meinongian Theory of Definite Description. Axiomathes 5 (2-3):345-359.
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  39. Andrej Jandrić (2014). “The King of France is Bald” Reconsidered: A Case Against Yablo. Philosophical Studies 169 (2):173-181.
    Stephen Yablo has argued for metaontological antirealism: he believes that the sentences claiming or denying the existence of numbers (or other abstract entities or mereological sums) are inapt for truth valuation, because the reference failure of a numerical singular term (or a singular term for an abstract entity or a mereological sum) would not produce a truth value gap in any sentence containing that term. At the same time, Yablo believes that nothing similar applies to singular terms that aim to (...)
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  40. Bjørn Jespersen (2011). An Intensional Solution to the Bike Puzzle of Intentional Identity. Philosophia 39 (2):297-307.
    In a 2005 paper Ólafur Páll Jónsson presents a puzzle that turns on intentional identity and definite descriptions. He considers eight solutions and rejects them all, thus leaving the puzzle unsolved. In this paper I put forward a solution. The puzzle is this. Little Lotta wants most of all a bicycle for her birthday, but she gets none. Distracted by the gifts she does receive, she at first does not think about the bike. But when seeing her tricycle, she is (...)
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  41. Kyle Johnson, Pronouns Vs. Definite Descriptions.
    This paper looks at an approach to Principle C in which the disjoint reference effect triggered by definite description arises because there is a preference for using bound pronouns in those cases. Philippe Schlenker has linked this approach to the idea that the NP part of a definite description should be the most minimal in content relative to a certain communicative goal. On a popular view about what the syntax and semantics of a personal pronoun is, that should have the (...)
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  42. P. N. Johnson-Laird & A. Garnham (1980). Descriptions and Discourse Models. Linguistics and Philosophy 3 (3):371 - 393.
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  43. Ólafur Páll Jónsson (2005). The Bike Puzzle. Mind 114 (456):929 - 932.
    Definite descriptions occurring within the scopes of psychological verbs provide more puzzles than are traditionally acknowledged. This article presents one puzzle that is particularly intriguing.
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  44. Dunja Jutronić (2008). Reference Borrowing and the Role of Descriptions. Croatian Journal of Philosophy 8 (3):349-360.
    In this exchange with Michael Devitt on reference borrowing I continue to challenge the idea that reference borrowing is a purely causal process and suggest instead that reference borrowing involves the borrowers having to associate the correct categorial term and have some true beliefs about the referent in the guise of some associate description. I strengthen my defense by suggesting that other kind terms form the core of our language and this is where we associate true categorial descriptions and where (...)
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  45. Reinhard Kahle (ed.) (2005). Intensionality: An Interdisciplinary Discussion. AK Peters.
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  46. Jack Kaminsky (1978). Names and Descriptions. International Studies in Philosophy 10:189-190.
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  47. Edward Kanterian (2011). Kripke's Metalinguistic Apparatus and the Analysis of Definite Descriptions. Philosophical Studies 156 (3):363-387.
    This article reconsiders Kripke’s ( 1977 , in: French, Uehling & Wettstein (eds) Contemporary perspectives in the philosophy of language, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis) pragmatic, univocal account of the attributive-referential distinction in terms of a metalinguistic apparatus consisting of semantic reference and speaker reference. It is argued that Kripke’s strongest methodological argument supporting the pragmatic account, the parallel applicability of the apparatus to both names and definite descriptions, is successful only if descriptions are treated as designators in both attributive (...)
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  48. David Kaplan (2005). Reading ‘on Denoting’ on its Centenary. Mind 114 (456):933-1003.
    Part 1 sets out the logical/semantical background to ‘On Denoting’, including an exposition of Russell's views in Principles of Mathematics, the role and justification of Frege's notorious Axiom V, and speculation about how the search for a solution to the Contradiction might have motivated a new treatment of denoting. Part 2 consists primarily of an extended analysis of Russell's views on knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description, in which I try to show that the discomfiture between Russell's semantical and (...)
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  49. Ezra Keshet (2010). Split Intensionality: A New Scope Theory of de Re and de Dicto. [REVIEW] Linguistics and Philosophy 33 (4):251-283.
    The traditional scope theory of intensionality (STI) (see Russell 1905; Montague 1973; Ladusaw 1977; Ogihara 1992, 1996; Stowell 1993) is simple, elegant, and, for the most part, empirically adequate. However, a few quite troubling counterexamples to this theory have lead researchers to propose alternatives, such as positing null situation pronouns (Percus 2000) or actuality operators (Kamp 1971; Cresswell 1990) in the syntax of natural language. These innovative theories do correct the undergeneration of the original scope theory, but at a cost: (...)
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  50. Jeffrey C. King (1987). Pronouns, Descriptions, and the Semantics of Discourse. Philosophical Studies 51 (3):341--363.
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