Edited by Eliot Michaelson (King's College London)
|Summary||According to Russell's classic semantics for definite descriptions, descriptions like "the F" are satisfied only if there is a unique F. Other accounts of definite descriptions opt to make this uniqueness requirement a presupposition rather than a part of the strict semantic content expressed by the description. Either way, such a requirement seems at odds with how we commonly use descriptions: to talk about objects that neither are, nor are presupposed to be, uniquely F. This puts the predictions of many popular theories of definite descriptions at odds with at least one aspect of common usage. Some theorists have proposed to deal with this "problem of incompleteness" by allowing that the context can effectively supplement the available descriptive material. Others have proposed to deal with this problem by appealing to a supplemental pragmatic theory.|
|Key works||Strawson 1950 first appealed to incomplete descriptions as an objection to Russell 1905's theory of definite descriptions. Kripke 1977 allows that the problem of incomplete descriptions might constitute a sufficient reason to accept that there are semantically-significant referential uses of definite descriptions. Neale 1990 argues, conversely, that this is not so. More recently, the literature on incomplete descriptions has become bound up in the literature on quantifier-domain restriction. Since the Russellian analysis has it that definite descriptions are to be treated as a certain sort of quantifier, it stands to reason that solutions to this larger problem should port over to the problem of incomplete descriptions. This strategy is pursued explicitly in Stanley & Szabó 2000.|
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David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
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