About this topic
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.
Introductions Ludlow 2008
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20 found
  1. Definite and Indefinite.Barbara Abbott - 2006 - In Keith Brown (ed.), Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Elsevier. pp. 3--392.
  2. Definite Descriptions and Context-Dependence.Alan Brinton - 1977 - Noûs 11 (4):397-407.
  3. A Puzzle About Meaning and Communication.Ray Buchanan - 2010 - Noûs 44 (2):340-371.
  4. Has the Problem of Incompleteness Rested on a Mistake?Ray Buchanan & Gary Ostertag - 2005 - Mind 114 (456):889-913.
    A common objection to Russell's theory of descriptions concerns incomplete definite descriptions: uses of (for example) ‘the book is overdue’ in contexts where there is clearly more than one book. Many contemporary Russellians hold that such utterances will invariably convey a contextually determined complete proposition, for example, that the book in your briefcase is overdue. But according to the objection this gets things wrong: typically, when a speaker utters such a sentence, no facts about the context or the speaker's communicative (...)
  5. Names Are Predicates.Delia Graff Fara - 2015 - Philosophical Review 124 (1):59-117.
    One reason to think that names have a predicate-type semantic value is that they naturally occur in count-noun positions: ‘The Michaels in my building both lost their keys’; ‘I know one incredibly sharp Cecil and one that's incredibly dull’. Predicativism is the view that names uniformly occur as predicates. Predicativism flies in the face of the widely accepted view that names in argument position are referential, whether that be Millian Referentialism, direct-reference theories, or even Fregean Descriptivism. But names are predicates (...)
  6. The Indefinability of “One”.Laurence Goldstein - 2002 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 31 (1):29 - 42.
    Logicism is one of the great reductionist projects. Numbers and the relationships in which they stand may seem to possess suspect ontological credentials - to be entia non grata - and, further, to be beyond the reach of knowledge. In seeking to reduce mathematics to a small set of principles that form the logical basis of all reasoning, logicism holds out the prospect of ontological economy and epistemological security. This paper attempts to show that a fundamental logicist project, that of (...)
  7. Incomplete Descriptions and (Reverse) Sobel Sequences.Mirja Annalena Holst - 2013 - Analysis 73 (1):26-32.
    A challenge for theories of incomplete descriptions is to capture the consistency of ‘Sobel sequences’ and to account for an asymmetry in the acceptability of utterances of Sobel sequences and ‘reverse Sobel sequences’. David Lewis’s theory of incomplete descriptions answers, unlike many other theories, the challenge from Sobel sequences, but it does not answer the challenge from reverse Sobel sequences. This article presents another asymmetry in the availability of anaphoric readings of Sobel sequences and reverse Sobel sequences, and proposes an (...)
  8. A Companion to Philosophical Logic.Dale Jacquette (ed.) - 2002 - Wiley-Blackwell.
    This collection of newly comissioned essays by international contributors offers a representative overview of the most important developments in contemporary philosophical logic. Presents controversies in philosophical implications and applications of formal symbolic logic. Surveys major trends and offers original insights.
  9. Über Die Deskriptive Unerschöpflichkeit der Einzeldinge.Geert Keil - 2006 - In Geert Keil & Udo Tietz (eds.), Phänomenologie und Sprachanalyse. Mentis. pp. 83-125.
    Der Topos von der Unerschöpflichkeit des Gegenstands wird mit der Phänomenologie assoziiert. Den ihm verwandten Topos von der Unaussprechlichkeit des Individuellen haben Goethe und die deutschen Romantiker in die Welt getragen. Der Diktion der analytischen Philosophie sind die Ausdrücke „unerschöpflich“ und „unaussprechlich“ fremd. Dieser Umstand sollte analytische Philosophen nicht davon abhalten, sich den sprachphilosophischen und ontologischen Problemen zuzuwenden, die sich hinter den besagten Formeln verbergen. Husserls Wort für Unerschöpflichkeit ist „Fülle“. Die „Fülle des Gegenstandes“ erläutert Husserl als den „Inbegriff der (...)
  10. The Semantics and Pragmatics of Complex Demonstratives.Ernest Lepore & Kirk Ludwig - 2000 - Mind 109 (434):199-240.
    Complex demonstratives, expressions of the form 'That F', 'These Fs', etc., have traditionally been taken to be referring terms. Yet they exhibit many of the features of quantified noun phrases. This has led some philosophers to suggest that demonstrative determiners are a special kind of quantifier, which can be paraphrased using a context sensitive definite description. Both these views contain elements of the truth, though each is mistaken. We advance a novel account of the semantic form of complex demonstratives that (...)
  11. Parts and Wholes in Semantics (TOC).Friederike Moltmann - 1997 - Oxford University Press.
    This book present a unified semantic theory of expressions involving the notions of part and whole. It develops a theory of part structures which differs from traditional (extensional) mereological theories in that the notion of an integrated whole plays a central role and in that the part structure of an entity is allowed to vary across different situations, perspectives, and dimensions. The book presents a great range of empirical generalizations involving plurals, mass nouns, adnominal and adverbial modifiers such as 'whole', (...)
  12. Descriptions.Stephen Neale - 1990 - MIT Press.
    When philosophers talk about descriptions, usually they have in mind singular definite descriptions such as ‘the finest Greek poet’ or ‘the positive square root of nine’, phrases formed with the definite article ‘the’. English also contains indefinite descriptions such as ‘a fine Greek poet’ or ‘a square root of nine’, phrases formed with the indefinite article ‘a’ (or ‘an’); and demonstrative descriptions (also known as complex demonstratives) such as ‘this Greek poet’ and ‘that tall woman’, formed with the demonstrative articles (...)
  13. Descriptions and Logical Form.Gary Ostertag - 2002 - In Dale Jacquette (ed.), A Companion to Philosophical Logic.
  14. A Scorekeeping Error.Gary Ostertag - 1999 - Philosophical Studies 96 (2):123-146.
  15. Descriptions and Situations.François Recanati - 2002 - In Marga Reimer & Anne Bezuidenhout (eds.), Descriptions and Beyond. Clarendon Press. pp. 15-40.
  16. Quantification and Context.Marga Reimer - 1998 - Linguistics and Philosophy 21 (1):95-115.
  17. A Problem for Predicativism Not Solved by Predicativism.Anders J. Schoubye - forthcoming - Semantics and Pragmatics.
    In 'The Reference Book' (2012), Hawthorne and Manley observe the following contrast between (1) and (2): -/- (1) In every race John won. (2) In every race, the colt won. -/- The name 'John' in (1) must intuitively refer to the same single individual for each race. However, the description 'the colt' in (2) has a co-varying reading, i.e. a reading where for each race it refers to a different colt. This observation is a prima facie problem for proponents of (...)
  18. On Quantifier Domain Restriction.Jason Stanley & Zoltán Gendler Szabó - 2000 - Mind and Language 15 (2&3):219--61.
  19. On Referring.P. F. Strawson - 1950 - Mind 59 (235):320-344.
  20. Incomplete Descriptions, Incomplete Quantified Expressions (Part of the Dissertation Portfolio Modality, Names and Descriptions).Zsófia Zvolenszky - 2007 - Dissertation, New York University
    This paper offers a unified, quantificational treatment of incomplete descriptions like ‘the table’. An incomplete quantified expression like ‘every bottle’ (as in “Every bottle is empty”) can feature in true utterances despite the fact that the world contains nonempty bottles. Positing a contextual restriction on the bottles being talked about is a straightforward solution. It is argued that the same strategy can be extended to incomplete definite descriptions across the board. ncorporating the contextual restrictions into semantics involves meeting a complex (...)