About this topic
Summary Descriptions are standardly divided into two types: definite descriptions (`the F') and indefinite descriptions (`a G').  Interest in these expressions dates back at least to Russell and Frege, who were interested both in what they mean and what role they play in thought and cognition.  Subsequent debates on descriptions have centered on their truth-conditions and what they presuppose, whether they can properly be said to refer, whether other expressions (e.g. names) can be treated on the model of descriptions, how to extend accounts of definite descriptions to plurals and mass terms, and whether there really is a difference in what definite and indefinite descriptions mean, as opposed to what they otherwise communicate.
Key works Contemporary debates on descriptions begin with Frege 1892 and Russell 1905Strawson 1950 offers a classic response to Russell and stands as the other main precursor to the popular `Frege-Strawson' analysis of definite descriptions, on which definiteness is merely presupposed.  Donnellan 1966 argues that definite descriptions are ambiguous between referring and non-referring uses, and Kripke 1977 responds with a defense of univocal Russellianism.  In the course of extensive discussion of anaphora, Heim 1982 considers the possibility that there may be no semantic difference between definite and indefinite descriptions.  Finally, Sharvy 1980 explores how to extend semantic accounts of descriptions to deal with plurals and mass terms.
Introductions Ludlow 2008
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  1. Discussion Note: Definiteness and Proper Names: Some Bad News for the Description Theory.Abbott Barbara - 2002 - Journal of Semantics 19 (2):191-201.
    This paper addresses some data put forward by Geurts (1997) in support of his metalinguistic or quotation theory of proper names, according to which a name N means ‘the individual named N’. The data illustrate ten linguistic behaviours claimed to be shared by proper names and definite descriptions. I argue that in some cases the behaviours have a common explanation which is based on a property independent of Geurts' analysis, and that in the remaining cases the behaviours are not actually (...)
  2. Descripciones definidas, composicionalidad y forma lógica.J. Acero - 2005 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 24 (3).
  3. Indefinites in Comparatives.Maria Aloni & Floris Roelofsen - 2014 - Natural Language Semantics 22 (2):145-167.
    The goal of this paper is to explain the meaning and distribution of indefinites in comparatives, focusing on English some and any and German irgend-indefinites. We consider three competing theories of comparatives in combination with an alternative semantics of some and any, and a novel account of stressed irgend-indefinites. One of the resulting accounts, based on Heim’s analysis of comparatives, predicts all the relevant differences in quantificational force, and explains why free choice indefinites are licensed in comparatives.
  4. Definite Descriptions Are Ambiguous.F. S. Amaral - 2008 - Analysis 68 (4):288-297.
  5. Miller, Kripke, Bach and the Meaning of Proper Names.Robin Attfield - 1983 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 21 (2):153-158.
    Examples are presented which raise problems for theories of proper names which deny their equivalence either with descriptions (miller, Kripke) or with non-Trivial descriptions (bach). These examples of names equivalent to the same descriptions for all the possible worlds in which their bearers exist require the theories to be abandoned or at least modified as to their scope.
  6. A Simple Treatment of Complex Terms.John Bacon - 1965 - Journal of Philosophy 62 (12):328-331.
  7. Equivalent Descriptions.Yemima Ben-Menahem - 1990 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 41 (2):261-279.
  8. Descriptions of Invited Short Courses.Iandreas Blass - 1996 - Bulletin of Symbolic Logic 2 (2).
  9. Nomi propri e descrizioni definite: resoconto di un lungo dibattito.Gabriele Bonetti - 1986 - Verifiche: Rivista Trimestrale di Scienze Umane 15 (1):123-146.
  10. Gary Ostertag, Ed., Definite Descriptions: A Reader Reviewed By.Emma Borg - 1999 - Philosophy in Review 19 (4):272-274.
  11. Gary Ostertag, Ed., Definite Descriptions: A Reader. [REVIEW]Emma Borg - 1999 - Philosophy in Review 19:272-274.
  12. Towards a Re-Evaluation of On Denoting.H. P. Boukema - 2005 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 24 (3):133-149.
  13. La Théorie Constructive de la Référence Types E Et Descriptions Définies.Michel Bourdeau - 2005 - Logique Et Analyse 48 (192):169-188.
  14. Descriptions of Satanic Sabbath and Ceremonies by Fearful Present-Day Antisatanists.V. Campionvincent - 1995 - Cahiers Internationaux de Sociologie 98:43-58.
  15. Strawson on Referring.Charles E. Caton - 1959 - Mind 68 (272):539-544.
  16. Myself and Others.V. Chappell - 1963 - Analysis 23 (Suppl-1):50-57.
  17. Definiteness and Determinacy.Elizabeth Coppock & David Beaver - 2015 - Linguistics and Philosophy 38 (5):377-435.
    This paper distinguishes between definiteness and determinacy. Definiteness is seen as a morphological category which, in English, marks a uniqueness presupposition, while determinacy consists in denoting an individual. Definite descriptions are argued to be fundamentally predicative, presupposing uniqueness but not existence, and to acquire existential import through general type-shifting operations that apply not only to definites, but also indefinites and possessives. Through these shifts, argumental definite descriptions may become either determinate or indeterminate. The latter option is observed in examples like (...)
  18. On Epitheths Qua Attributive Anaphors.Eros Corazza - 2004 - Journal of Linguistics 41:1-32.
  19. Using Descriptions Referentially.W. Stephen Croddy - 1984 - Philosophical Inquiry 6 (2):111-118.
  20. Do descriptions have meaning.W. Stephen Croddy - 1979 - Logique Et Analyse 22 (85):23.
  21. Notionalization: The Transformation of Descriptions Into Categorizations. [REVIEW]Arnulf Deppermann - 2011 - Human Studies 34 (2):155-181.
    This paper analyses one specific conversational practice of formulation called ‘notionalization’. It consists in the transformation of a description by a prior speaker into a categorization by the next speaker. Sequences of this kind are a “natural laboratory” for studying the differences between descriptions and categorizations regarding their semantic, interactional, and rhetorical properties: Descriptive/narrative versions are often vague and tentative, multi unit turns, which are temporalized and episodic, offering a lot of contingent, situational, and indexical detail. Notionalizations turn them into (...)
  22. Social Interaction and the Development of Definite Descriptions.Werner Deutsch & Thomas Pechmann - 1982 - Cognition 11 (2):159-184.
  23. Definite and Indefinite According to Muslim Philosophers.Dr Gh Dinani - unknown - Kheradnameh Sadra Quarterly 5.
  24. Mr. Hochberg, Mr. Quine, and the Theory of Description.Vernon Dolphin - 1958 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 19 (2):246-247.
  25. Proper Names and Identifying Descriptions.Keith S. Donnellan - 1970 - Synthese 21 (3-4):335 - 358.
  26. Strawsonian Vs. Russellian Definite Descriptions.Marie Duží - 2009 - Organon F: Medzinárodný Časopis Pre Analytickú Filozofiu 16 (4):587-614.
    In 1905 Bertrand Russell took on the problem of definite descriptions, and his analysis became the standard up until 1950 when Peter Strawson criticised Russell’s solution as inadequate. Since then many opponents as well as proponents of the Russellian solution have been involved in a long-term debate on definite descriptions. In this paper I show that both sides of the contention are partly right and partly wrong, because sentences of the form “The F is a G” are ambiguous. However, the (...)
  27. Incomplete Descriptions and Indistinguishable Participants.Paul Elbourne - 2016 - Natural Language Semantics 24 (1):1-43.
    The implicit content associated with incomplete definite descriptions is contributed in the form of definite descriptions of situations. A definite description of this kind is contributed by a small structure in the syntax, which is interpreted, in general terms, as ‘the situation that bears R to s’.
  28. Definite Descriptions.Paul Elbourne - 2013 - Oxford University Press.
    Paul Elbourne defends the Fregean view that definite descriptions ('the table', 'the King of France') refer to individuals, and offers a new and radical account of the semantics of pronouns. He draws on a wide range of work, from Frege, Peano, and Russell to the latest findings in linguistics, philosophy of language, and psycholinguistics.
  29. The Existence Entailments of Definite Descriptions.Paul Elbourne - 2010 - Linguistics and Philosophy 33 (1):1-10.
    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 definite descriptions embedded under propositional attitude verbs and conditionals do pose a significant problem for the Russellian theory of definite descriptions. The Fregean theory of descriptions, on the other hand, deals easily with the relevant data.
  30. Descriptions as Distinctions. George Spencer Brown's Calculus of Indications as a Basis for Mitterer's Non-Dualistic Descriptions.P. Ene - 2013 - Constructivist Foundations 8 (2):202-208.
    Context: Non-dualistic thinking is an alternative to realism and constructivism. Problem: In the absence of a distinct definition of the term “description,” the question comes up of what exactly can be included in non-dualistic descriptions, and in how far the definition of this term affects the relation between theory and empirical practice. Furthermore, this paper is concerned with the question of whether non-dualism and dualism differ in their implications. Method: I provide a wider semantic framework for the term “description” by (...)
  31. Definite Descriptions as Designators.Evan Fales - 1976 - Mind 85 (338):225-238.
  32. Further Steps Towards a Theory of Descriptions as Predicates.Delia Graff Fara - 2016 - Analytic Philosophy 57 (2):91-109.
    Descriptions are predicates. Here, I'll take this to mean either of two basically equivalent things: that they have extensions as their semantic values, sets of entities, in the broadest sense; or that they have type-〈e,t〉 functions as their semantic values, functions from entities, in the broadest sense, to truth values. An entity in the broadest sense is anything that can be the subject of a first-order predication. Examples are individuals, pluralities, masses, and kinds. Here I'm including entities in this broadest (...)
  33. Descriptions with Adverbs of Quantification.Delia Graff Fara - 2006 - Philosophical Issues 16 (1):65–87.
    In “Descriptions as Predicates” (Fara 2001) I argued that definite and indefinite descriptions should be given a uniform semantic treatment as predicates rather than as quantifier phrases. The aim of the current paper is to clarify and elaborate one of the arguments for the descriptions-aspredicates view, one that concerns the interaction of descriptions with adverbs of quantification.
  34. What's Definite? What's Not?Solomon Feferman - unknown
    • Definite totalities are set-like. If definite totalities are sets then the totality of all sets is indefinite (Russell).
  35. Indeterminate Descriptions.G. W. Fitch - 1984 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 14 (2):257 - 276.
  36. Names and Descriptions in Epistemic Contexts.B. Freed - 1973 - International Logic Review 8:239.
  37. Universality and Singularity and the Question of Definite Descriptions.A. Frigerio - 2000 - Rivista di Filosofia Neo-Scolastica 92 (1):108-142.
  38. Pure and Impure Descriptions.Richard M. Gale - 1967 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 45 (1):32 – 43.
  39. Indexicals and Descriptions.Fernando Garcia-Murga - 1995 - Sorites 2:46-56.
    Reference is a common feature to indexicals, definite descriptions and, at least some uses of indefinite descriptions. A referential expression triggers a search for a referent, which ranges over the linguistic context, physical environment or encyclopedic knowledge. I argue for a unified theory of reference within which indexicals and definite descriptions refer to salient objects while indefinite descriptions refer to non salient objects. The descriptive content attached to each expression provides information making it possible for the addressee to find an (...)
  40. On the Use of Proper Names and Definite Descriptions.Richard T. Garner - 1969 - Philosophical Quarterly 19 (76):231-238.
  41. Names and Descriptions.P. T. Geach - 1979 - Philosophical Books 20 (3):140-142.
  42. The Definite Article the Facilitates the Process of Mapping.Ma Gernsbacher & Rrw Robertson - 1991 - Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 29 (6):496-496.
  43. Definite Descriptions and Quantifier Scope: Some Mates Cases Reconsidered.Michael Glanzberg - 2007 - European Journal of Analytic Philosophy 3 (2):133-158.
  44. Quantified Deontic Logic with Definite Descriptions.Lou Goble - 1994 - Logique Et Analyse 37:229-253.
  45. Descriptions with Adverbs of Quantification.Delia Graff Fara - 2006 - Philosophical Issues, Volume 16: Philosophy of Language 16:65–87.
    In “Descriptions as Predicates” (Graff 2001) I argued that definite and indefinite descriptions should be given a uniform semantic treatment as predicates rather than as quantifier phrases. The aim of the current paper is to clarify and elaborate one of the arguments for the descriptions-as-predicates view, one that concerns the interaction of descriptions with adverbs of quantification.
  46. A Definition of Truth for Theories with Intensional Definite Description Operators.Richard E. Grandy - 1972 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 1 (2):137--155.
  47. Notes on 'On the Notion 'Definite".Oliver C. Grannis - 1974 - Foundations of Language 11 (1):105-110.
  48. Hilbert and Bernays on Definite Descriptions.Norbert Gratzl - 2011 - Studia Philosophiae Christianae 47 (4):19-29.
  49. Definite Descriptions: Language, Logic, and Elimination.Norbert Gratzl - 2009 - In Hieke Alexander & Leitgeb Hannes (eds.), Reduction, Abstraction, Analysis. Ontos Verlag. pp. 355.
    Definite descriptions are in the focus of philosophical discussion at least since Russell's famous paper "On Denoting". We present in this paper a logic with descriptions in Russell's spirit. The formulation, however, is closely related to Schütte's development of predicate logic, i.e. the formulation of the calculus uses positive- and negative-parts. With respect to this slightly more sophisticated formulation it is possible to formalize Russell's convention that is originally stated in the metalanguage of his theory of descriptions within our calculus. (...)
  50. Russell Vs. Meinong: The Legacy of "on Denoting".Nicholas Griffin & Dale Jacquette (eds.) - 2008 - Routledge.
    A century after ‘On Denoting’ was published, the debate it initiated continues to rage. On the one hand, there is a mass of new historical scholarship, about both Russell and Meinong, which has not circulated very far beyond specialist scholars. On the other hand, there are continuing problems and controversies concerning contemporary Russellian and Meinongian theories, many of them involving issues that simply did not occur to the original protagonists. This work provides an overview of the latest historical scholarship on (...)
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