Methodological Reflections on Two Kripkean Strategies

Aims. Saul Kripke’s (1977) argument defending Russell’s theory of (definite) descriptions (RTD) against the possible objection that Donnellan’s (1966) distinction between attributive and referential uses of descriptions marks a semantic ambiguity has been highly influential.1 Yet, as I hope you’ll be persuaded, Kripke’s line of reasoning— in particular, the ‘thought-experiment’ it involves—has not been duly explored. In section II, I argue that while Kripke’s argument does ward off a fairly ill-motivated ambiguity theory, it is far from clear whether it would succeed against more realistic candidates. If the central point I make in this regard is correct, it tells not only against Kripke’s argument but also against what has become a fairly orthodox line against the ambiguity thesis (as I shall call it). In section III, I compare Kripke’s defence of Russell with his ‘schmidentity’ argument (1980, p. 108), which involves essentially the same kind of thought-experiment. But, as I shall show, the latter argument contains an added twist which converts what otherwise would be merely a defence of one semantic theory into an attack against its rival. In section IV, I argue that the offensive strategy is unsound and attempt to locate its error. I conclude by drawing a (not unfamiliar) moral concerning the semantics—pragmatics distinction.
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DOI 10.2307/4545209
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