This paper shows that Russell’s theory of descriptions gives the wrong semantics for definitedescriptions occurring in questions and imperatives. Depending on how that theory is applied, it either assigns nonsense to perfectly meaningful questions and assertions or it assigns meanings that diverge from the actual semantics of such sentences, even after all pragmatic and contextual variables are allowed for. Given that Russell’s theory is wrong for questions and assertions, it must be wrong for assertoric statements; for (...) the semantics of ‘the phi’ obviously doesn’t vary depending on whether it occurs in a question or an assertion or a command. (shrink)
Definitedescriptions, I shall argue, have two possible functions. 1] They are used to refer to what a speaker wishes to talk about, but they are also used quite differently. Moreover, a definite description occurring in one and the same sentence may, on different occasions of its use, function in either way. The failure to deal with this duality of function obscures the genuine referring use of definitedescriptions. The best known theories of definite (...)descriptions, those of Russell and Strawson, I shall suggest, are both guilty of this. Before discussing this distinction in use, I will mention some features of these theories to which it is especially relevant. (shrink)
The proper statement and assessment of Russell's theory depends on one's semantic presuppositions. A semantic framework is provided, and Russell's theory formulated in terms of it. Referential uses of descriptions raise familiar problems for the theory, to which there are, at the most general level of abstraction, two possible Russellian responses. Both are considered, and both found wanting. The paper ends with a brief consideration of what the correct positive theory of definitedescriptions might be, if it (...) is not the Russellian theory. (shrink)
Critics and champions alike have fussed and fretted for well over fifty years about whether Russell’s treatment is compatible with certain alleged acceptable uses of incomplete definitedescriptions, where a description (the F( is incomplete just in case more than one object satisfies its nominal F, as in (1).
As is well known, Russell assigned indefinite and definitedescriptions the interpretations represented schematically in (1) and (2) respectively, where “CNP” stands for “Common Noun Phrase” in the sense used by Montague (1973) – i.e. as standing for the constituent which a determiner combines with to form a noun phrase (NP). (1) a. …a/an CNP….
This article reconsiders Kripke’s ( 1977 , in: French, Uehling & Wettstein (eds) Contemporary perspectives in the philosophy of language, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis) pragmatic, univocal account of the attributive-referential distinction in terms of a metalinguistic apparatus consisting of semantic reference and speaker reference. It is argued that Kripke’s strongest methodological argument supporting the pragmatic account, the parallel applicability of the apparatus to both names and definitedescriptions, is successful only if descriptions are treated as designators (...) in both attributive and referential uses. It is not successful if descriptions are treated à la Russell, contrary to what is often assumed. Thus a third theoretical option for the semantic analysis of definitedescriptions arises, neglected by both supporters and opponents of Russell: a univocal, referentialist analysis of descriptions in conjunction with a pragmatic account of the attributive-referential distinction. Contrary to Kripke, and to much of the literature, it is noted that not all so-called referential uses involve implicatures. In the course of the argument Kripke’s innovative apparatus is subjected to improvements and fine-tunings. Also, some general critical comments are made about analogical reasoning, on which Kripke’s argument is partly based. This leads to a clarification of the fundamental notion of speaker reference. The paper concludes with reflections on the challenge to and need of systematic empirical evidence in this field, a desideratum noted by Kripke and still not met. (shrink)
In this paper, I shall address the much-discussed issue of how definitedescriptions should be analysed: whether they should be given a quantificational analysis in the style of Russell’s theory of descriptions, or whether they should be seen instead, at least in some cases, as “genuine singular terms” or “genuine referring expressions”, whose function is to pick out a particular object in order to say something about that very object.
Contrary to a claim made by Kaplan (Mind 114:933–1003, 2005) and Neale (Mind 114:809–871, 2005), the readings available to sentences containing definitedescriptions embedded under propositional attitude verbs and conditionals do pose a significant problem for the Russellian theory of definitedescriptions. The Fregean theory of descriptions, on the other hand, deals easily with the relevant data.
The paper revisits Sharvy's theory of plural definitedescriptions. An alternative account of plural definitedescriptions building on the ideas of plural quantification and non-distributive plural predication is developed. Finally, the alternative is extrapolated to account for generic uses of definitedescriptions.
This paper looks at an approach to Principle C in which the disjoint reference effect triggered by definite description arises because there is a preference for using bound pronouns in those cases. Philippe Schlenker has linked this approach to the idea that the NP part of a definite description should be the most minimal in content relative to a certain communicative goal. On a popular view about what the syntax and semantics of a personal pronoun is, that should (...) have the effect of favoring a pronoun over a definite description. This paper shows how that can be made the source of “Vehicle Change,” an effect in ellipsis contexts in which definitedescriptions seem to behave like pronouns. It requires, however, a way of distinguishing bound pronouns from non-bound pronouns, and the paper makes a proposal about how these two kinds of pronouns can be distinguished in the way needed. (shrink)
A sentence containing a number of definitedescriptions, each lying within the scope of its predecessor, is naturally read as asserting the uniqueness of a sequence of objects satisfying the descriptions. The project of providing a general uniform procedure for eliminating embedded definitedescriptions that gets this and other logical forms right is impeded by several puzzles.
A number of authors in favor of a unitary account of singular descriptions have alleged that the unitary account can be extrapolated to account for plural definitedescriptions. In this paper I take a closer look at this suggestion. I argue that while the unitary account is clearly onto something right, it is in the end empirically inadequate. At the end of the paper I offer a new partitive account of plural definitedescriptions that avoids (...) the problems with both the unitary account and standard Russellian analyses. (shrink)
Three views on definitedescriptions are summarized and discussed, including that of P. F. Strawson in which reference failure results in lack of truth value. When reference failure is allowed, a problem arises concerning Universal Instantiation. Van Fraassen solves the problem by the use of supervaluations, preserving as well such theorems as a=a, and Fa Fa, even when the term a fails to refer. In the present paper a form of relevant, quasi-analytic implication is set out which allows (...) reference failure to infect even a=a and Fa Fa with lack of truth-value. Reference failure causes lack of truth-value in a subwff to spread throughout any wff built up by the classical connectives. As a result none of the classical firstorder axiom schemes remain as axiom schemes in the system presented. (shrink)
Russell argued, famously, that definitedescriptions are not logical constituents of the sentences in which they appear. In neither of the following should we suppose that the definite description picks anything out: The King of France is bald The Prince of Wales is bald Since France is a republic, nothing could be picked out by the first; and if the semantic structures of each are the same, it cannot be the function of the second to pick anything (...) out either. On the alternative semantics developed in his 1905 article 'On Denoting', definitedescriptions do not have meaning in isolation; they have meaning only in the context of a whole sentence. Andrew Botterell and Robert Stainton have pointed out that this conclusion appears to be at odds with the phenomenon of unembedded definitedescriptions, in which definitedescriptions are uttered, meaningfully, without accompanying predicates. For example, it is possible to utter 'The last temptation' on its own and in doing so express a proposition (that a salient profiterole ought to be resisted, perhaps). Since definitedescriptions can be used in this way, how can it be right to claim, with Russell, that they lack meaning in isolation? The present paper seeks to show how a Russellian semantics for definitedescriptions (on a certain understanding of what is required for a semantics to be Russellian) is entirely compatible with the phenomenon of unembedded definitedescriptions. In particular, Botterell and Stainton are wrong to think that generalized quantifier semantics is better able to cope with the phenomenon than a more authentically Russellian syncategorematic semantics. (shrink)
Definitedescriptions (e.g. 'The king of France in 1997', 'The teacher of Aristotle') do not stand for particulars. Or so I will assume. The semantic alternative has seemed to be that descriptions only have meaning within sentences: i.e., that their semantic contribution is given syncategorimatically. This doesn't seem right, however, because descriptions can be used and understood outside the context of any sentence. Nor is this use simply a matter of "ellipsis." Since descriptions do not (...) denote particulars, but seem to have a meaning in isolation, I propose that they be assigned generalized quantifiers as denotations — i.e. a kind of function, from sets/properties to propositions. I then defend the pragmatic plausibility of this proposal, using Relevance Theory. Specifically, I argue that, even taken as standing for generalized quantifiers, descriptions could still be used and understood in interpersonal communication. (shrink)
The logic of partial terms (LPT) is a variety of negative free logic in which functions, as well as predicates, are strict. A companion paper focused on nonconstructive LPTwith definitedescriptions, called LPD, and laid the foundation for tableaux systems by defining the concept of an LPDmodel system and establishing Hintikka's Lemma, from which the strong completeness of the corresponding tableaux system readily follows. The present paper utilizes the tableaux system in establishing an Extended Joint Consistency Theorem for (...) LPDthat incorporates the Robinson Joint Consistency Theorem and the Craig-Lyndon Interpolation Lemma. The method of proof is similar to that originally used in establishing the Extended Joint Consistency Theorem for positive free logic. Proof of the Craig-Lyndon Interpolation Lemma for formulas possibly having free variables is readily had in LPTand its intuitionistic counterpart. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the theory of definitions in LPD. (shrink)
This paper offers an explanation of the maj or traditions in the logical treatment of definitedescriptions as reactions to paradoxical naive definite descriptiontheory. The explanation closely parallels that of various set theories as reactions to paradoxical naive set theory. Indeed, naive set theory is derivable from naive definite description theory given an appropriate definition of set abstracts in terms of definitedescriptions.
The aim of this paper is to discuss an idea that referentially used definitedescriptions are rigid designators or, at least, „weakly” rigid designators in some sense of this term. In the first part, the views of Nathan Salmon, Howard Wettstein and Michael Devitt are presented. The author observes that none of these positions provides a conclusive argument in the discussion on the issue in question. In the second part, it is argued that referentially used descriptions are (...) in some sense rigid. The main argument appeals to some observations concerning the scope ambiguity of modal constructions in which definitedescriptions are embedded, and applies in an essential way Kripke’s possible worlds-semantics. In particular, the author attempts to demonstrate that in a „de dicto” modal construction, a referential description is rigid in a sense that it designates the same object in all „accessible” worlds. Moreover, he observes that his conclusion can be accepted by someone who is a proponent of a unified semantic analysis of definitedescriptions, since his whole argumentation is based on the unified quantificational treatment of descriptions. (shrink)
In this paper I offer a defence of a Russellian analysis of the referential uses of incomplete (mis)descriptions, in a contextual setting. With regard to the debate between a unificationist and an ambiguity approach to the formal treatment of definitedescriptions (introduction), I will support the former against the latter. In 1. I explain what I mean by "essentially" incomplete descriptions: incomplete descriptions are context dependent descriptions. In 2. I examine one of the best (...) versions of the unificationist “explicit” approach given by Buchanan and Ostertag. I then show that this proposal seems unable to treat the normal uses of misdescriptions. I then accept the challenge of treating misdescriptions as a key to solving the problem of context dependent descriptions. In 3. I briefly discuss Michael Devitt’s and Joseph Almog’s treatments of referential descriptions, showing that they find it difficult to explain misdescriptions. In 4. I suggest an alternative approach to DD as contextuals, under a normative epistemic stance. Definitedescriptions express (i) what a speaker should have in mind in using certain words in a certain context and (ii) what a normal speaker is justified in saying in a context, given a common basic knowledge of the lexicon. In 5. I define a procedure running on contextual parameters (partiality, perspective and approximation) as a means of representing the role of pragmatics as a filter for semantic interpretation. In 6. I defend my procedural approach against possible objections concerning the problem of the boundaries between semantics and pragmatics, relying on the distinction between semantics and theory of meaning. (shrink)
According to Donnellan the characteristic mark of a referential use of a definite description is the fact that it can be used to pick out an individual that does not satisfy the attributes in the description. Friends and foes of the referential/attributive distinction have equally dismissed that point as obviously wrong or as a sign that Donnellan’s distinction lacks semantic import. I will argue that, on a strict semantic conception of what it is for an expression to be a (...) genuine referential device, Donnellan is right: if a use of a definite description is referential, it has got to be possible for it to refer to an object independently of any attributes associated with the description, including those that constitute its conventional meaning. (shrink)
The principal question asked in this paper is: in the case of attributive usage, is the definite description to be analyzed as Russell said or is it to be treated as a referring expression, functioning semantically as a proper name? It answers by defending the former alternative.
Both proposals acknowledge that definitedescriptions differ from indefinites in their implications. (Two parenthetical clarifications: (i) "implication" is to be understood here and below as neutral between semantic and pragmatic conveyance; (ii) "semantic" is to be understood to mean "conventional", that is including, in addition to truth conditional impact, anything else that is linguistically encoded.) One of these implications is what is commonly termed "familiarity" ? an assumption that the denotation of the NP has already been introduced, as (...) such, to the addressee of the utterance. The other is uniqueness, or more properly exhaustive application, within the salient discourse context, of the descriptive content of the NP to the intended denotation. However both analyses attempt to derive one or both of these implications pragmatically. Ludlow & Segal propose that familiarity is a conventional implicature and uniqueness a conversational implicature. Szabó concurs with Ludlow & Segal that familiarity is more essential to definitedescriptions, but attempts to derive both implications pragmatically. (shrink)
Donnellan (1966) makes a convincing case for two distinct uses ofdefinite descriptions. But does the difference between the usesreflects an ambiguity in the semantics of descriptions? This paperapplies a linguistic test for ambiguity to argue that the differencebetween the uses is not semantically significant.
In ‘On Denoting’ and to some extent in ‘Review of Meinong and Others, Untersuchungen zur Gegenstandstheorie und Psychologie’, published in the same issue of Mind (Russell, 1905a,b), Russell presents not only his famous elimination (or contextual deﬁ nition) of deﬁ nite descriptions, but also a series of considerations against understanding deﬁ nite descriptions as singular terms. At the end of ‘On Denoting’, Russell believes he has shown that all the theories that do treat deﬁ nite descriptions as (...) singular terms fall logically short: Meinong’s, Mally’s, his own earlier (1903) theory, and Frege’s. (He also believes that at least some of them fall short on other grounds—epistemological and metaphysical—but we do not discuss these criticisms except in passing). Our aim in the present paper is to discuss whether his criticisms actually refute Frege’s theory. We ﬁ rst attempt to specify just what Frege’s theory is and present the evidence that has moved scholars to attribute one of three different theories to Frege in this area. We think that each of these theories has some claim to be Fregean, even though they are logically quite different from each other. This raises the issue of determining Frege’s attitude towards these three theories. We consider whether he changed his mind and came to replace one theory with another, or whether he perhaps thought that the different theories applied to different realms, for example, to natural language versus a language for formal logic and arithmetic. We do not come to any hard and fast conclusion here, but instead just note that all these theories treat deﬁ nite descriptions as singular terms, and that Russell proceeds as if he has refuted them all. After taking a brief look at the formal properties of the Fregean theories (particularly the logical status of various sentences containing nonproper deﬁ - nite descriptions) and comparing them to Russell’s theory in this regard, we turn to Russell’s actual criticisms in the above-mentioned articles to examine the extent to which the criticisms hold.. (shrink)
According to Russell, '... the phi ...' means: 'exactly one object has phi and ... that object ...'. Strawson pointed out that, if somebody asked how many kings of France there were, it would be deeply inappropriate to respond by saying '... the king of France ...': the respondent appears to be presupposing the very thing that, under the circumstances, he ought to be asserting. But it would seem that if Russell's theory were correct, the respondent would be asserting exactly (...) what he was asked to assert. So Russell's theory wrongly predicts that the respondent's answer will be appropriate. Russellians deal with this by saying that this anti-Russellian intuition embodies our reaction not to what is semantically encoded in the respondent's words, but to what is pragmatically imparted by them. So Russell's theory is correct: the fact that it appears wrong is due to the distorting effects of pragmatics. In this paper I show that pragmatic phenomena cannot possibly be responsible for the just mentioned anti-Russellian intuition. No matter how hard we try to put the blame on pragmatics, Russell's theory still falls short. It follows that defi nite descriptions really are what they appear to be: referring expressions. I argue that defi nite descriptions are complex demonstratives; and, within that framework, I deal with cases where defi nite descriptions appear to be functioning non-referentially. I also solve Frege's puzzle within the framework defi ned by my treatment of defi nite descriptions taken in conjunction with Kripke-Kaplan semantics. (shrink)
My original reaction to Yosh’s paper was to grumble. It seemed to me to contain a number of terminological infelicities, unpersuasive arguments, and counterintuitive implications. And while I think that some of my superficial complaints are worth pointing out (and I can’t help myself), a commentary consisting only of grumbling would be neither interesting nor helpful. Paul Viminitz would describe such a commentary as “unseemly”. And so I revisited Yosh’s paper with a more sympathetic eye. My second reaction was to (...) suppose that what Yosh had actually done was to provide a Russellian analysis of sentences containing descriptions but in a 2nd order logical system – a system in which quantification over properties is permitted and in which 1st order quantifiers are reinterpreted as 2nd order properties. This would be an interesting albeit modest contribution to the description literature. But as I reread Yosh’s paper in preparation for writing this commentary, I realized that given the account of individual kinds that was being developed this wasn’t right. Individual kinds are not properties at all, they are a new sort of individual – teams of one. Yosh’s proposal is hardly modest at all. So, in these comments, I am going to focus on the notion of an individual kind and whether or not we ought to endorse such entities in our semantic theorizing. But first, some preliminary grumbling – I really can’t help myself. (shrink)
This paper challenges the first Gettier counterexample to the tripartite account of knowledge. Noting that 'the man who will get the job' is a description and invoking Donnellan's distinction between their 'referential' and 'attributive' uses, I argue that Smith does not actually believe that the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket. Smith's ignorance about who will get the job shows that the belief cannot be understood referentially, his ignorance of the coins in his pocket (...) shows that it cannot be understood attributively. An explanation for why Smith appeared to have justified true belief is given by distinguishing between 'belief' and 'belief in truth'. Smith believes the sentence 'the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket' to be true (he mistakenly believes that Jones will get the job, of whom he knows that he has ten coins in his pocket) (hence his 'belief'), the sentence is true (hence 'truth'), and he has sufficient reason to assent to it (hence his 'justification'). But he does not believe the proposition expressed. Hence he does not know it either. (shrink)
I want to discuss a certain argument for the claim that definitedescriptions 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. (shrink)
The hierarchical analysis of existence attribution is Fregean in its endorsement of senses, understood as guises. Furthermore, the hierarchical analysis makes an essential use of the Russellian analysis (9′) as a means to understand what it is for a sense to present a given entity (cf. biconditional (11) above). The hierarchical analysis, on the other hand, is more general than the Russellian one and hence - in accordance with natural language usage - allows for a wider range of applications.
This paper attempts to define indexicality so as to semantically distinguish indexicals from proper names and definitedescriptions. The widely-accepted approach that says that indexical reference is distinctive in being dependent on context of use is criticized. A reductive approach is proposed and defended that takes an indexical to be (roughly) an expression that either is or is equivalent to ‘here’ or ‘now’, or is such that a tokening of it refers by relating something to the place and/or (...) time that would have been referred to had ‘here’ and ‘now’ been tokened instead. Alternative reductive approaches are criticized. (shrink)
In order to understand a sentence, one must know the relevant semantic rules. Those rules are not learned in a vacuum; they are given to one through one's senses. (One sees Smith; one is told that his name is "Smith.") As a result, knowledge of semantic rules sometimes comes bundled with semantically irrelevant, but cognitively non-innocuous, knowledge of the circumstances in which those rules were learned. Thus, one must work through non-semantic information in order to know what is literally meant (...) by a given sentence-token. A consequence is that one's knowledge of what is literally meant by a given sentence-token is sometimes embedded in non-semantic knowledge, resulting in a cleavage between what that sentence-token literally means and what the auditor in question takes it to mean. Such deviations obviously have nothing to do with the principles put forth by Grice, since those principles only concern sentence-tokens that have already been understood---since, to put it another way, those principles only concern post-semantic implicature. The just-described deviations are appropriately described as being due to "pre-semantic implicature." Given the phenomenon of pre-semantic implicature, it is easily shown that Russell's Theory of Descriptions, if taken as a theory of literal meaning, is false. In the present volume, these rather elementary principles are entirely ignored, and all of the articles in it are sterile repetitions of the points made by Russell and Strawson. The blinkered approach to language embodied in this volume must be reconsidered in light of psychological principles relating to language-acquisition and language-use. Unfortunately, analytic philosophers shy away from such topics, as is made clear by the papers in this grim volume. (shrink)
In this paper I defend the “Standard View” of the semantics of ‘I’—according to which ‘I’ is a pure, automatic indexical—from a challenge posed by “deferred reference” cases, in which occurrences of ‘I’ are (allegedly) not speaker-referential, and thus non-automatic. In reply, I offer an alternative account of the cases in question, which I call the “Description Analysis” (DA). According to DA, seemingly deferred-referential occurrences of the first person pronoun are interpreted as constituents of a definite description, whose operator (...) scopes over an open sentence Rxy—where R is a contextually selected relation ranging over pairs of people and objects. The role of intentions is thus limited to the determination of R, which is posterior to the fixation of the reference of ‘I’. In support of the DA I present evidence that, in the cases in question, the (Determiner) phrase containing ‘I’ behaves in relevant ways like a description. I show that the DA can account for the problematic examples, while preserving the simplicity of the standard semantics of ‘I’. Finally, I examine a rival account of the data, offered by Nunberg (Linguist Philos 16:1–43, 1993), and argue for the superiority of the DA. (shrink)
This paper defends 'plural reference', the view that definite plurals refer to several individuals at once, and it explores how the view can account for a range of phenomena that have been discussed in the linguistic literature.
In recent years, a new argument in favor of Donnellan’s (Philos Rev 77: 281–304, 1966) semantic distinction between attributive and referential descriptions has been proposed by Michael Devitt and Marga Reimer. This argument is based on two empirical premises concerning regularity of use and processing ease. This paper is an attempt to demonstrate (a) that these empirical observations are dubious and fail to license the conclusion of the argument and (b) that if the argument were sound, it would severely (...) overgenerate. The general lesson of the paper is that empirical observations about (a) how frequent an expression E is used to mean M and (b) how easy and fast M is processed cannot be taken to provide reliable evidence about the lexically encoded semantic properties of E. (shrink)
This paper defends the Meinongian thesis that “there are objects of which it is true that there are no such objects,” re: fictitious and illusory objects. I first formulate the problem of negative existentials in a novel way, and discuss why this new version is more forceful against anti-Meinongians. Additional data is then raised to vex anti-Meinongians—e.g., the truth of ‘Pegasus is imaginary’, and a reading of ‘There actually are illusory objects’ where it comes out true. The Meinongian, in contrast, (...) easily and uniformly explains the same data, by allowing the existence Pegasus, pink elephants, and the like. But contra Meinong, these cases suggest that the nonexistent objects are mind-dependent objects, and I clarify and defend this suggestion from several objections. The resulting Meinongianism is thus “conservative” in that it merely acknowledges the sense in which there are mind-dependent objects, imaginary and illusory objects being prime examples. Of special note, the “ideology” is conservative as well in that the typical Meinongian jargon of “nuclear” or “encoded” properties is paraphrased away. I end by arguing that it is presumptive to use Occham’s razor against Meinongian objects, since this would assume we can achieve empirical adequacy without them. Yet this assumption is now seen as contentious, in light of the data provided. (shrink)
It is widely agreed that sentences containing a non-denoting description embedded in the scope of a propositional attitude verb have true de dicto interpretations, and Russell’s (1905) analysis of definitedescriptions is often praised for its simple analysis of such cases, cf. e.g. Neale (1990). However, several people, incl. Elbourne (2005, 2009), Heim (1991), and Kripke (2005), have contested this by arguing that Russell’s analysis yields incorrect predictions in non-doxastic attitude contexts. Heim and Elbourne have subsequently argued that (...) once certain facts about presupposition projection are fully appreciated, the Frege/Strawson analysis of definitedescriptions has an explanatory advantage. In this paper, I argue that both Russell’s analysis and the Frege/Strawson analysis face a serious problem when it comes to the interaction of attitude verbs and definitedescriptions. I argue that the problem observed by Elbourne, Heim, and Kripke is much more general than standardly assumed and that a solution requires a revision of the semantics of definite and indefinite descriptions. I outline the conditions that are required to solve the problem and present an analysis couched in dynamic semantics which can provide a solution. I conclude by discussing some further issues related to propositional attitude verbs that complicate a fully general solution to the problem. (shrink)
NPs with intensional relative clauses such as 'the impact of the book John needs to write' pose a significant challenge for trope theory (the theory of particularized properties), since they seem to refer to tropes that lack an actual bearer. This paper proposes a novel semantic analysis of such NPs on the basis of the notion of a variable object. The analysis avoids a range of difficulties that an alternative analysis based on the notion of an individual concept would face.
On a popular view dating back to Russell, descriptions, both definite and indefinite alike, work syntactically and semantically like quantifiers. I have an argument against Russell's view. The argument supports a different picture: descriptions can behave syntactically and semantically like variables. This basic idea can be implemented in very different systematic analyses, but, whichever way one goes, there will be a significant departure from Russell. The claim that descriptions are variables is not new: what I offer (...) is a new way of defending it. The argument centers on attitude reports. I argue that we should recognize a new reading of descriptions under attitude reports, which I call ‘singular opaque’. The existence of this reading cannot be explained on the traditional Russellian view, and demands a switch to the variable view. Along the way, some interesting new facts about attitude reports come to light. (shrink)
This study investigates to what extent the amount of variation in a visual scene causes speakers to mention the attribute color in their definite target descriptions, focusing on scenes in which this attribute is not needed for identification of the target. The results of our three experiments show that speakers are more likely to redundantly include a color attribute when the scene variation is high as compared with when this variation is low (even if this leads to overspecified (...)descriptions). We argue that these findings are problematic for existing algorithms that aim to automatically generate psychologically realistic target descriptions, such as the Incremental Algorithm, as these algorithms make use of a fixed preference order per domain and do not take visual scene variation into account. (shrink)
A Russellian theory of (definite) descriptions takes an utterance of the form ‘The F is G’ to express a purely general proposition that affirms the existence of a (contextually) unique F: there is exactly one F [which is C] and it is G. Strawson, by contrast, takes the utterer to presuppose in some sense that there is exactly one salient F, but this is not part of what is asserted; rather, when the presupposition is not met, the utterance (...) simply fails to express a (true or false) proposition. A defender of Strawson’s approach, however, must square up to what appear to be straightforward counterexamples to the presupposition thesis, and must also provide an account of certain linguistic phenomena that supposedly demand treating descriptions as quantifiers, as the Russellian theory does. In this paper I propose fresh considerations in favour of Strawson’s approach. I shift attention from what the utterer presupposes to preconditions for the use of descriptions, and distinguish between referring and predicative uses of descriptions (not to be confused with referential and attributive uses); importantly, the referring and predicative uses have different preconditions, I argue, and these provide some satisfactory responses to the aforementioned challenges facing the Strawsonian. (shrink)
Noun phrases (NPs) beginning with the or a/an are prototypical definite and indefinite NPs in English. The two main theories about the meaning of definiteness are uniqueness and familiarity. Both properties characterize most occurrences of definitedescriptions although there are examples which defy one or the other or both theories. Existential sentences have become criterial for distinguishing indefinites from definites, and have led to broadening of both categories to include a variety of other NP forms. Information status (...) approaches propose a hierarchy of NP types, rather than a simple binary distinction. The expression of definiteness varies from language to language. (shrink)
This is a welcome opportunity to clarify my approach to referential uses of definitedescriptions, as well as to highlight what I take to be the main shortcomings of the view that definitedescriptions have referential meanings. Michael Devitt and I have previously debated referential uses in the course of stating our respective views (see our 2004 articles), but here in this issue we both aim to dispel certain misunderstandings and to sharpen our criticisms of the (...) other’s views.1 Devitt recognizes that it was not enough to target the view that referential uses are akin to particularized conversational implicatures. So now he focuses on the view that they are akin to generalized conversational implicatures (GCIs). He argues that although in principle the GGI model could explain referential uses, it does not in fact provide the best explanation of them. He insists that the fact that definitedescriptions are standardized for being used referentially is best explained on the supposition that, as a matter of semantic convention, they have referential meanings, in addition to the quantificational meanings given by Russell’s theory of descriptions. He acknowledges that this commits him to the view that the word ‘the’ is semantically ambiguous. Accordingly, recognizing a use as referential (or as attributive, for that matter) is not like recognizing a GCI but is more akin to, indeed is a case of, disambiguation. Devitt devotes a good part of his article to rebutting my account of referential uses. He challenges the GCI model and identifies a number of difficulties with my view, which he construes as based on that model. However, my account does not rely on that model. I do say that referential uses are “akin” to GCIs, but I did not mean that they are, or involve, GCI. All I meant was that they too are cases of standardized uses, as opposed to.. (shrink)
What, from a semantic perspective, is the difference between singular indefinite and definitedescriptions? Just over a century ago, Russell provided what has become the standard philosophical response. Descriptions are quantifier phrases, not referring expressions. As such, they differ with respect to the quantities they denote. Indefinite descriptions denote existential quantities; definitedescriptions denote uniquely existential quantities. Now around the 1930s and 1940s, some linguists, working independently of philosophers, developed a radically different response. (...) class='Hi'>Descriptions, linguists such as Jespersen held, were referring expressions, not quantifier phrases. Accordingly, descriptions differ with respect their rules of reference. Indefinite descriptions refer to „novel‟ items, definitedescriptions to „familiar‟ ones. My dissertation serves as the first systematic effort to bridge the gap between these two seemingly incompatible responses. It provides a satisfactory answer to the above question which links the seemingly intractable divide between Russellians and familiarity theorists. This is achieved by utilizing two observations: Donnellan‟s observation that speakers use descriptions not only as devices of quantification but also as devices of reference, and Devitt‟s observation that these two uses, being regular, systematic, and cross-linguistic, have the status of convention in our language. Taken in conjunction, these two observations, I argue, require postulating that descriptions are semantically ambiguous. These observations compel the thoughtful theorist to maintain that descriptions have two distinct semantic functions, one quantificational and one referential. Accordingly, the semantic contrast between singular indefinite and definitedescriptions is two-fold. Descriptions can contrast either quantificationally or with respect to the speaker‟s view of the audience‟s familiarity with the description‟s referent. (shrink)
Taking a Russellian approach to descriptions, this paper aims to explain the nature of referring, the rationale for using definitedescriptions referentially, the difference between referring to something and merely alluding to it or just describing it, specific uses of indefinite descriptions, and the pragmatic character of the referential-attributive distinction. Among the points defended are that definitedescriptions do not have referential meanings, that using a description to refer identifies by implicitly conveying an identity, (...) that one can describe a (singular) proposition without being in a position to grasp it, and that incomplete definitedescriptions do not threaten Russell’s theory. (shrink)
Standard attempts to defend Russell's Theory of Descriptions against the problem posed by incomplete descriptions, are discussed and dismissed as inadequate. It is then suggested that one such attempt, one which exploits the notion of a contextually delimited domain of quantification, may be applicable to incomplete quantifier expressions which are typically treated as quantificational: expressions of the form AllF's, NoF's, SomeF's, Exactly eightF's, etc. In this way, one is able to retain the plausible claim that such expressions ought (...) to receive their usual quantificational analyses. The conclusion tentatively drawn is that perhaps definitedescriptions arenot amenable to a (Russellian) quantificational analysis. (shrink)
Some contemporary semantic views defend an asymmetry thesis concerning definitedescriptions and indexicals. Semantically, indexicals are devices of singular reference; they contribute objects to the contents of the speech acts made with utterances including them. Definitedescriptions, on the other hand, are generalized quantifiers, behaving roughly the way Russell envisaged in “On Denoting”. The asymmetry thesis depends on the existence of a sufficiently clear-cut distinction between semantics and pragmatics, because indexicals and descriptions are often used (...) in ways that apparently contradict the asymmetry thesis; the semantics/pragmatics distinction is invoked to see behind the appearances. The paper critically examines arguments by Schiffer against the asymmetry thesis, based on referential uses of incomplete descriptions. (shrink)
Since the famous debate between Russell (Mind 14: 479–493, 1905, Mind 66: 385–389, 1957) and Strawson (Mind 59: 320–344, 1950; Introduction to logical theory, 1952; Theoria, 30: 96–118, 1964) linguistic intuitions about truth values have been considered notoriously unreliable as a guide to the semantics of definitedescriptions. As a result, most existing semantic analyses of definites leave a large number of intuitions unexplained. In this paper, I explore the nature of the relationship between truth value intuitions and (...) non-referring definites. Inspired by comments in Strawson (Introduction to logical theory, 1964), I argue that given certain systematic considerations, one can provide a structured explanation of conflicting intuitions. I show that the intuitions of falsity, which proponents of a Russellian analysis often appeal to, result from evaluating sentences in relation to specific questions in context. This is shown by developing a method for predicting when sentences containing non-referring definites elicit intuitions of falsity. My proposed analysis draws importantly on Roberts (in: Yoon & Kathol (eds.) OSU working papers in Linguistics: vol. 49: Papers in Semantics 1998; in: Horn & Ward (eds.) Handbook of pragmatics, 2004) and recent research in the semantics and pragmatics of focus. (shrink)
In 1905, Bertrand Russell published 'On Denoting' in which he proposed and defended a quantificational account of definitedescriptions. Forty-five years later, in 'On Referring', Peter Strawson claimed that Russell was mistaken: definitedescriptions do not function as quantifiers but (paradigmatically) as referring expressions. Ever since, scores of theorists have attempted to adjudicate this debate. Others have gone beyond the question of the proper analysis of definitedescriptions, focusing instead on the complex relations between (...) definites, indefinites, and pronouns. These relations are often examined with attention to the phenomena of scope and anaphora. This collection assembles nineteen new papers on definitedescriptions and related topics. The contributors include both philosophers and linguists, many of whom have been active participants in the various debates concerning descriptions. The volume contains a brief general introduction and is divided into six sections, each of which is accompanied by a detailed introduction of its own. Several of the sections concern issues associated with the Russell/Strawson debate. These include the sections on incomplete descriptions, the referential/attributive distinction, and presupposition and truth value gaps. There is also a section on the representation of definites and indefinites in semantic theory, containing papers that reject certain core assumptions of the Russellian paradigm. Linguists interested in definites have traditionally been concerned with how such expressions interact with other expressions, including pronouns and indefinites. They have explored, and continue to explore, these interactions through the complex phenomena of scope and anaphora. In the section dealing with anaphoric pronouns and descriptions, indefinites and dynamic syntax/semantics, five linguists propose and defend their views on these and related issues. Finally, there is a section that concerns the relation between proper names and descriptions and, more particularly, the idea that some names, those introduced into the language by description, are semantically equivalent to definitedescriptions. (shrink)
Although Strawson’s main aim in “On Referring” was to argue that deﬁnitedescriptions can be used referentially – that is, “to mention or refer to some individual person or single object . . . , in the course of doing what we should normally describe as making a statement about that person [or] object” (1950, p. 320) – he denied that definitedescriptions are always used referentially. The description in ‘Napoleon was the greatest French soldier’ is (...) not used referentially, says Strawson, since it is used not to mention an individual, but only “to say something about an individual already mentioned” (p. 320). This is an example of what we may call a predicative use of a deﬁnite description, though such uses might be better illustrated by considering the false sentence.. (shrink)
Russell had two theories of definitedescriptions: one for singular descriptions, another for plural descriptions. We chart its development, in which ‘On Denoting’ plays a part but not the part one might expect, before explaining why it eventually fails. We go on to consider many-valued functions, since they too bring in plural terms—terms such as ‘4’ or the descriptive ‘the inhabitants of London’ which, like plain plural descriptions, stand for more than one thing. Logicians need (...) to take plural reference seriously if only because mathematicians take many-valued functions seriously. We assess the objection (by Russell, Frege and others) that many-valued functions are illegitimate because the corresponding terms are ambiguous. We also assess the various methods proposed for getting rid of them. Finding the objection ill-founded and the methods ineffective, we introduce a logical framework that admits plural reference, and use it to answer some earlier questions and to raise some more. (shrink)
It would be an understatement to say that Russell was interested in Cantorian diagonal paradoxes. His discovery of the various versions of Russell’s paradox—the classes version, the predicates version, the propositional functions version—had a lasting effect on his views in philosophical logic. Similar Cantorian paradoxes regarding propositions—such as that discussed in §500 of The Principles of Mathematics—were surely among the reasons Russell eventually abandoned his ontology of propositions.1 However, Russell’s reasons for abandoning what he called “denoting concepts”, and his rejection (...) of similar “semantic dualisms” such as Frege’s theory of sense and reference—at least in “On Denoting”—made no explicit mention of any Cantorian paradox. My aim in this paper is to argue that such paradoxes do pose a problem for certain theories such as Frege’s, and early Russell’s, about how definitedescriptions are meaningful. My first aim is simply to lay out the problem I have in mind. Next, I shall turn to arguing that the theories of descriptions endorsed by Frege and by Russell prior to “On Denoting” are susceptible to the problem. Finally, I explore what responses a.. (shrink)