Sharvy's theory of descriptions: A paradigm subverted

Analysis 69 (3):412-421 (2009)
1. ExpositionRichard Sharvy's ‘A more general theory of definite descriptions’ was published in 1980. Its aim was to replace Russell's paradigm by " a general theory of definite descriptions, of which definite mass descriptions, definite plural descriptions, and Russellian definite singular count descriptions are species. … We have an account of the generic ‘the’ along these same lines. " By now his theory has attained the status of a new paradigm. Even a casual trawl of the literature throws up over a score of citations and endorsements, and no rebuttals of its central contention that the primary use of ‘the’ is to indicate totality . We shall argue that it is wrong for mass description, wrong for singular description, wrong for plural description and wrong for generic ‘the’. Sharvy would have approved: his obituary says that his car displayed the slogan ‘Subvert the Dominant Paradigm’.He follows Russell in treating descriptions as incomplete symbols, but nothing in his paper turns on this aspect of it, and we can bypass the issue by considering them in the context of complete sentences. Where Russell translates F into the predicate calculus as Formula Sharvy translates it as Formula Here ≤ is supposed to stand for some or other species of part of relation. His other governing idea is of a predicate's being cumulative. G is cumulative if any number of things that satisfy G have a sum, i.e. a least upper bound with respect to ≤ which also satisfies G. The meanings of ≤, sum and cumulativity vary according to the different kinds of description, which we take in the order in which Sharvy presents them. Meanwhile, we note that he originally defined ‘sum’ to mean simply the l.u.b. , but subsequently redefined …
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DOI 10.1093/analys/anp074
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