Desires, scope, and tense

Philosophical Perspectives 17 (1):141-164 (2003)
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 and predicational interpretations, but would also provide confirmation for the commonly held view that the verb ‘to be’ is ambiguous in its interpretation—that it sometimes expresses the ‘‘‘is’ of identity’’ and sometimes the ‘‘‘is’ of predication.’’ But the argument is not successful; it contains an obvious flaw. What’s interesting is that when you try to correct the flaw, certain puzzles arise about the nature of propositional attitudes and the semantics of their ascriptions.
Keywords Definite Descriptions  Desire  Language  Propositional Attitudes  Scope  Semantics  Tense  Larson, R  Mccawley, J  Segal, G
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DOI 10.1111/j.1520-8583.2003.00006.x
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