Pragmatics, semantic undetermination and the referential/attributive distinction

Mind 106 (423):375-409 (1997)
Abstract
It has long ben recognised that there are referential uses of definite descriptions. It is not as widely recognised that there are atttributives uses of idexicals and other such paradigmatically singular terms. I offer an account of the referential/attributive distinction which is intended to give a unified treatment of both sorts of cases. I argue that the best way to account for the referential/attributive distinction is to treat is as semantically underdetermined which sort of propositions is expressed in a context. In certain contexts the proposition expressed will be a descriptive one, and in others it will be an object-dependent one. I appeal to Sperer and Wilson's (1986) idea that the recovery of the content of an utterance involves pragmatic processes of enrichment of a representation of the logical form of utterance. According to the account I offer, the first-level descriptive meaning associated with an expression (whether this is an indexical or a definite description) is pragmatically enriched and then used either to track an individual in the context, or is taken to lay down a condition of satisfaction for an individual. The proposition that the listener takes the speaker to have expressed is recovered on the basis of considerations of relevance and contextually available information about the speaker's directive intentions. Although my account has affinities with those of Recanati (1993) and Nunberg (1993), it also differs from theirs in crucial ways. Each of these authors sees asymmetries where I see none. I give reasons for preferring my symmetrical account.
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