Philosophy of Language > Specific Expressions > Descriptions > Presuppositional Account of Descriptions
Edited by Eliot Michaelson (King's College London)
|Summary||In contrast to Russell, who claimed that sentences of the form "The F is G" are false if there is no F, Strawson (prefigured to some extent by Frege) claimed that the lack of an F would result in sentences of this form being either indeterminate or truth-valueless, not false. Strawson's basic idea is that a sentence of this form doesn't assert that there is an F; rather, it presupposes it. Without the existence of an F, it is highly unclear what the sentence says. While many have found this analysis plausible for certain sentences, such as "The King of France is bald," it is decidedly less plausible for others, such as "The King of France is sitting in that chair." In fact, judgments regarding sentences like these seem to be highly context-sensitive, leaving us without an easy answer regarding how we ought best understand this set of phenomena.|
|Key works||Strawson 1950 serves to introduce the presuppositional account as a serious alternative to Russell's analysis of definite descriptions (predecessors to these ideas can be found in Frege 1948 and Frege 1956, however). Von Fintel 2004 and Yablo 2006 delve into the range of subtle cases that can be generated in this domain, and how even minor changes can shift truth-value judgments. Schoubye 2009 has subsequently pushed against von Fintel and Yablo's positive suggestions and offered a variant of the Strawsonian analysis in their place. Finally, Elbourne 2010 defends the Strawsonian account by appeal, in particular, to how descriptions embed under attitude verbs.|
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