In Peter A. French, Theodore E. Uehling Jr & Howard K. Wettstein (eds.), Studies in the Philosophy of Language. University of Minnesota Press (1977)
|Abstract||am going to discuss some issues inspired by a well-known paper ofKeith Donnellan, "Reference and Definite Descriptions,”2 but the interest—to me—of the contrast mentioned in my title goes beyond Donnellan's paper: I think it is of considerable constructive as well as critical importance to the philosophy oflanguage. These applications, however, and even everything I might want to say relative to Donnellan’s paper, cannot be discussed in full here because of problems of length. Moreover, although I have a considerable interest in the substantive issues raised by Donnellan’s paper, and by related literature, my own conclusions will be methodological, not substantive. I can put the matter this way: Donnellan’s paper claims to give decisive objections both to Russell’s theory of definite descriptions (taken as a theory about English) and to Strawson’s. My concem is not primarily with the question; is Donnellan right, or is Russell (or Strawson)? Rather, it is with the question: do the considerations in Donneilarfs paper refute Russell’s theory (or Strawson’s)? For definiteness, I will concentrate on Donnellan versus Russell, leaving Strawson aside. And about this issue I will draw a definite conclusion, one which I think will illuminate a few methodological maxims about language. Namely, I will conclude that the considerations in Donnellan’s paper, by themselves, do not refute Russell’s theory. Any conclusions about Russell’s views per se, or Donnellan’s, must be tentative, IfI were to be asked for a tentative stab about Russell, I would say that although his theory does a far better job of handling ordinary discourse than many have thought, and although many popular arguments against it are inconclusive, probably it ultimately fails. The considerations I have in mind have to do with the existence of “improper” definite descriptions, such as “the table," where uniquely specifying conditions are not contained in the description itself..|
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