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Summary According to Russell's theory of descriptions, indefinite descriptions (e.g. "an F") contribute only a bare existence claim to the truth-conditions of the sentences in which they appear, whereas definite descriptions (e.g. "the F") contribute both existence and uniqueness claims.  More precisely, Russell suggests that "An F is G" be analyzed as: there is at least one F which is also G.  In contrast, "The F is G" is to be analyzed as: there is a unique F which is also G.  Russell's theory is simple, elegant, and able to account for a variety of challenging phenomena, such as negative existential claims.  Some outstanding concerns include whether the theory can adequately account for the way descriptions are actually used in natural language, as well as how the theory might be extended to account for plural descriptions.
Key works Russell 1905 intoduces Russell's thoery of descriptions.  The theory presented there, and standardly called "Russell's theory", is actually in conflict with an earlier theory of descriptions outlined in Russell 1903Neale 1990 extensively refines and defends the Russellian theory, giving it a more modern treatment.  Strawson 1950 and Donnellan 1966 represent two classic attacks on the theory.  Finally, Sharvy 1980 attempts to generalize on Russell's theory so as to account for plural descriptions as well.
Introductions Ludlow 2008
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83 found
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1 — 50 / 83
  1. A Quantificational Analysis of the Liar Paradox.Matheus Silva - manuscript
    It seems that the most common strategy to solve the liar paradox is to argue that liar sentences are meaningless and, consequently, truth-valueless. The other main option that has grown in recent years is the dialetheist view that treats liar sentences as meaningful, truth-apt and true. In this paper I will offer a new approach that does not belong in either camp. I hope to show that liar sentences can be interpreted as meaningful, truth-apt and false, but without engendering any (...)
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  2. Descriptions and Tests for Polysemy.Andrei Moldovan - forthcoming - Axiomathes:1-21.
    Viebahn (2018) has recently argued that several tests for ambiguity, such as the conjunction-reduction test, are not reliable as tests for polysemy, but only as tests for homonymy. I look at the more fine-grained distinction between regular and irregular polysemy and I argue for a more nuanced conclusion: the tests under discussion provide systematic evidence for homonymy and irregular polysemy but need to be used with more care to test for regular polysemy. I put this conclusion at work in the (...)
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  3. Roundabout Semantic Significance of the 'Attributive/Referential' Distinction.Wojciech Rostworowski - forthcoming - Kriterion - Journal of Philosophy 27 (1):30-40.
    In this paper, I argue that contrary to the approach widely taken in the literature, it is possible to retain Russell's theory of definite descriptions and grant some semantic significance to the distinction between the attributive and the referential use. The core of the argumentation is based on recognition of the so-called "roundabout" way in which the use of a definite description may be significant to the semantic features of the sentence: it is a case where the use of a (...)
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  4. A Russellian Analysis of Buddhist Catuskoti.Nicholaos Jones - 2020 - Comparative Philosophy 11 (2):63-89.
    Names name, but there are no individuals who are named by names. This is the key to an elegant and ideologically parsimonious strategy for analyzing the Buddhist catuṣkoṭi. The strategy is ideologically parsimonious, because it appeals to no analytic resources beyond those of standard predicate logic. The strategy is elegant, because it is, in effect, an application of Bertrand Russell's theory of definite descriptions to Buddhist contexts. The strategy imposes some minor adjustments upon Russell's theory. Attention to familiar catuṣkoṭi from (...)
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  5. Saying a Bundle: Meaning, Intention, and Underdetermination.Mark Bowker - 2019 - Synthese 196 (10):4229-4252.
    People often speak loosely, uttering sentences that are plainly false on their most strict interpretation. In understanding such speakers, we face a problem of underdetermination: there is often no unique interpretation that captures what they meant. Focusing on the case of incomplete definite descriptions, this paper suggests that speakers often mean bundles of propositions. When a speaker means a bundle, their audience can know what they mean by deriving any one of its members. Rather than posing a problem for the (...)
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  6. Two Treatments of Definite Descriptions in Intuitionist Negative Free Logic.Nils Kürbis - 2019 - Bulletin of the Section of Logic 48 (4):299-317.
    Sentences containing definite descriptions, expressions of the form ‘The F’, can be formalised using a binary quantifier ι that forms a formula out of two predicates, where ιx[F, G] is read as ‘The F is G’. This is an innovation over the usual formalisation of definite descriptions with a term forming operator. The present paper compares the two approaches. After a brief overview of the system INFι of intuitionist negative free logic extended by such a quantifier, which was presented in (...)
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  7. Split-Scope Definites: Relative Superlatives and Haddock Descriptions.Dylan Bumford - 2017 - Linguistics and Philosophy 40 (6):549-593.
    This paper argues for a particular semantic decomposition of morphological definiteness. I propose that the meaning of ‘the’ comprises two distinct compositional operations. The first builds a set of witnesses that satisfy the restricting noun phrase. The second tests this set for uniqueness. The motivation for decomposing the denotation of the definite determiner in this way comes from split-scope intervention effects. The two components—the selection of witnesses on the one hand and the counting of witnesses on the other—may take effect (...)
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  8. Russell's Revenge: A Problem for Bivalent Fregean Theories of Descriptions.Jan Heylen - 2017 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 98 (4):636-652.
    Fregean theories of descriptions as terms have to deal with improper descriptions. To save bivalence various proposals have been made that involve assigning referents to improper descriptions. While bivalence is indeed saved, there is a price to be paid. Instantiations of the same general scheme, viz. the one and only individual that is F and G is G, are not only allowed but even required to have different truth values.
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  9. Zelfpredicatie: Middeleeuwse en hedendaagse perspectieven.Jan Heylen & Can Laurens Löwe - 2017 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 79 (2):239-258.
    The focus of the article is the self-predication principle, according to which the/a such-and-such is such-and-such. We consider contemporary approaches (Frege, Russell, Meinong) to the self-predication principle, as well as fourteenth-century approaches (Burley, Ockham, Buridan). In crucial ways, the Ockham-Buridan view prefigures Russell’s view, and Burley’s view shows a striking resemblance to Meinong’s view. In short the Russell-Ockham-Buridan view holds: no existence, no truth. The Burley-Meinong view holds, in short: intelligibility suffices for truth. Both views approach self-predication in a uniform (...)
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  10. The Real Problem with Uniqueness.Andrei Moldovan - 2017 - SATS 18 (2):125-139.
    Arguments against the Russellian theory of definite descriptions based on cases that involve failures of uniqueness are a recurrent theme in the relevant literature. In this paper, I discuss a number of such arguments, from Strawson (1950), Ramachandran (1993) and Szabo (2005). I argue that the Russellian has resources to account for these data by deploying a variety of mechanisms of quantifier domain restrictions. Finally, I present a case that is more problematic for the Russellian. While the previous cases all (...)
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  11. Against the Russellian Open Future.Anders J. Schoubye & Brian Rabern - 2017 - Mind 126 (504): 1217–1237.
    Todd (2016) proposes an analysis of future-directed sentences, in particular sentences of the form 'will(φ)', that is based on the classic Russellian analysis of definite descriptions. Todd's analysis is supposed to vindicate the claim that the future is metaphysically open while retaining a simple Ockhamist semantics of future contingents and the principles of classical logic, i.e. bivalence and the law of excluded middle. Consequently, an open futurist can straightforwardly retain classical logic without appeal to supervaluations, determinacy operators, or any further (...)
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  12. The Lying Test.Eliot Michaelson - 2016 - Mind and Language 31 (4):470-499.
    As an empirical inquiry into the nature of meaning, semantics must rely on data. Unfortunately, the primary data to which philosophers and linguists have traditionally appealed—judgments on the truth and falsity of sentences—have long been known to vary widely between competent speakers in a number of interesting cases. The present article constitutes an experiment in how to obtain some more consistent data for the enterprise of semantics. Specifically, it argues from some widely accepted Gricean premises to the conclusion that judgments (...)
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  13. Gönderim Üzerine.Bertrand Russell - 2015 - Felsefe Tartismalari (49):55-72.
  14. Definite Descriptions and Semantic Pluralism.Brendan Murday - 2014 - Philosophical Papers 43 (2):255-284.
    We pose two arguments for the view that sentences containing definite descriptions semantically express multiple propositions: a general proposition as Russell suggested, and a singular proposition featuring the individual who uniquely satisfies the description at the world-time of utterance. One argument mirrors David Kaplan's arguments that indexicals express singular propositions through a context-sensitive character. The second argument mirrors Kent Bach's and Stephen Neale's arguments for pluralist views about terms putatively triggering conventional implicatures, appositive, and nonrestrictive relative clauses. After presenting these (...)
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  15. Quine and Russell.Gary Ostertag - 2013 - In Gilbert Harman Ernie Lepore (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to Quine. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 403-431.
  16. Embedded Definite Descriptions: A Novel Solution to a Familiar Problem.Francesco Pupa - 2013 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 94 (3):290-314.
    Paul Elbourne claims that Russellians cannot accommodate the behavior of certain embedded definite descriptions. Since Fregeans can handle such descriptions, Elbourne urges theorists to reject Russell's theory in favor of Frege's. Here, I show that such descriptions pose no threat to Russellianism. These descriptions, I argue, are neutral between the two camps.
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  17. Ghosts, Murderers, and the Semantics of Descriptions.Anders Johan Schoubye - 2013 - Noûs 47 (3):496-533.
    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 definite descriptions 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 (...)
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  18. How to Give Someone Horns. Paradoxes of Presupposition in Antiquity.Susanne Bobzien - 2012 - History of Philosophy & Logical Analysis 15:159-84.
    ABSTRACT: This paper discusses ancient versions of paradoxes today classified as paradoxes of presupposition and how their ancient solutions compare with contemporary ones. Sections 1-4 air ancient evidence for the Fallacy of Complex Question and suggested solutions, introduce the Horn Paradox, consider its authorship and contemporary solutions. Section 5 reconstructs the Stoic solution, suggesting the Stoics produced a Russellian-type solution based on a hidden scope ambiguity of negation. The difference to Russell's explanation of definite descriptions is that in the Horn (...)
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  19. The Theory of Descriptions: Russell and the Philosophy of Language.Stewart Candlish - 2012 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 90 (4):820-821.
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  20. On the Russellian Reformation.Francesco Pupa - 2010 - Philosophical Studies 147 (2):247-271.
    Recently, an orthodox Russellian tenet has come under fire from within. In particular, some Russellians now argue that definite descriptions don’t semantically encode uniqueness. Instead, Reformed Russellians, as I call them, hold that definite descriptions are truth-theoretically identical to indefinite ones. On this approach, a definite description’s uniqueness reading becomes a matter of pragmatics, not semantics. These reforms, we’re told, provide both empirical and methodological benefits over and above the prevailing orthodoxy. As I argue, however, the Russellian Reformation contains serious (...)
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  21. Introdução à teoria das descrições de Russell.Sagid Salles - 2010 - Critica 1.
    Usamos cotidianamente um conjunto de expressões para captar, selecionar ou referir uma determinada coisa particular e podermos em seguida dizer algo sobre essa coisa. Expressões desse tipo incluem nomes próprios, como “Platão” ou “João”, descrições definidas, como “o rei da França” ou “o autor da República”, demonstrativos, como “este” ou “isto”, etc. O uso cotidiano de tais expressões pode parecer não envolver problema filosófico algum. Afinal, o que poderia haver de mais banal? Mas, infelizmente (ou felizmente?) há problemas filosóficos dificílimos (...)
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  22. Review of Nicholas Griffin, Dale Jacquette (Eds.), Russell Vs. Meinong: The Legacy of "on Denoting"[REVIEW]Berit Brogaard - 2009 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2009 (4).
  23. Descriptions, Negation, and Focus.Michael Glanzberg - 2009 - In Robert Stainton & Christopher Viger (eds.), Compositionality, Context, and Semantic Values: Essays in Honor of Ernie Lepore. Springer.
    One of the mainstays of the theory of definite descriptions since Russell (1905) has been their interaction with negation. In particular, Russellians, who advocate the view that definite descriptions are a kind of quantifier, point to these interactions as evidence in favor of the their view. The argument runs roughly as follows.
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  24. 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. (...)
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  25. Existence in the Theory of Definite Descriptions.Frederick Kroon - 2009 - Journal of Philosophy 106 (7):365-389.
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  26. The Slingshot Argument and Sentential Identity.Yaroslav Shramko & Heinrich Wansing - 2009 - Studia Logica 91 (3):429-455.
    The famous “slingshot argument” developed by Church, Gödel, Quine and Davidson is often considered to be a formally strict proof of the Fregean conception that all true sentences, as well as all false ones, have one and the same denotation, namely their corresponding truth value: the true or the false . In this paper we examine the analysis of the slingshot argument by means of a non-Fregean logic undertaken recently by A.Wóitowicz and put to the test her claim that the (...)
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  27. 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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  28. Ambiguous Articles: An Essay On The Theory Of Descriptions.Francesco Pupa - 2008 - Dissertation, The Graduate Center, CUNY
    What, from a semantic perspective, is the difference between singular indefinite and definite descriptions? 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; definite descriptions denote uniquely existential quantities. Now around the 1930s and 1940s, some linguists, working independently of philosophers, developed a radically different response. Descriptions, linguists such as Jespersen held, were (...)
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  29. Referentially Used Descriptions: A Reply to Devitt.Kent Bach - 2007 - European Journal of Analytic Philosophy 3 (2):33-48.
    This paper continues an ongoing debate between Michael Devitt and me on referential uses of definite descriptions. He has argued that definite descriptions have referential meanings, and I have argued that they do not. Having previously rebutted the view that referential uses are akin to particularized conversational implicatures, he now he rebuts the view that they are akin to generalized conversational implicatures. I agree that the GCI is not the best model, but I maintain that in exploiting the quantificational meaning (...)
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  30. Review of Andrea Bottani, Richard Davies (Eds.), Modes of Existence: Papers in Ontology and Philosophical Logic[REVIEW]Berit Brogaard - 2007 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2007 (8).
  31. Presuppositions and Scope.Daniel Rothschild - 2007 - Journal of Philosophy 104 (2):71-106.
    This paper discusses the apparent scope ambiguities between definite descriptions and modal operators. I argue that we need the theory of presupposition to explain why these ambiguities are not always present, and that once that theory is in hand, Kripke’s modal argument loses much of its force.
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  32. 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 (...)
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  33. The ‘Gray’s Elegy’ Argument, and The Prospects for the Theory of Denoting Concepts.B. Brogaard - 2006 - Synthese 152 (1):47-79.
    Russell's new theory of denoting phrases introduced in "On Denoting" in Mind 1905 is now a paradigm of analytic philosophy. The main argument for Russell's new theory is the so-called 'Gray's Elegy' argument, which purports to show that the theory of denoting concepts promoted by Russell in the 1903 Principles of Mathematics is incoherent. The 'Gray's Elegy' argument rests on the premise that if a denoting concept occurs in a proposition, then the proposition is not about the concept. I argue (...)
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  34. Descriptions with Adverbs of Quantification.Delia Graff - 2006 - Philosophical Issues 16 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.
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  35. Co-Extensive Theories and Unembedded Definite Descriptions.Alex Barber - 2005 - In Reinaldo Elugardo & Robert J. Stainton (eds.), Ellipsis and Nonsentential Speech. Springer. pp. 185–201.
    Russell argued, famously, that definite descriptions 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 (...)
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  36. 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 (...)
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  37. Review of Anne Bezuidenhout (Ed.), Marga Reimer (Ed.), Descriptions and Beyond[REVIEW]Gary Ostertag - 2005 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2005 (8).
  38. Why Definite Descriptions Really Are Referring Terms1 John-Michael Kuczynski University of California, Santa Barbara.Really Are Referring Terms - 2005 - Grazer Philosophische Studien 68 (1):45-79.
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  39. Modality, Mood, and Descriptions.Kai F. Wehmeier - 2005 - In Reinhard Kahle (ed.), Intensionality: An Interdisciplinary Discussion. AK Peters.
    §1. Introduction. By means of what semantic features is a proper name tied to its bearer? This is a puzzling question indeed: proper names — like “Aristotle” or “Paris” — are syntactically simple, and it therefore does not seem possible to reduce their meanings, by means of a principle of compositionality, to the meanings of more basic, and hence perhaps more tractable, linguistic elements.
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  40. Non-Declarative Sentences and the Theory of Definite Descriptions.John-Michael Kuczynski - 2004 - Principia: An International Journal of Epistemology 8 (1):119-154.
    This paper shows that Russell’s theory of descriptions gives the wrong se-mantics for definite descriptions occurring in questions and imperatives. Depending on how that theory is applied, it either assigns nonsense to per-fectly meaningful questions and assertions or it assigns meanings that di-verge 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 state-ments; for the semantics of (...)
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  41. On a Unitary Semantical Analysis for Definite and Indefinite Descriptions.Peter Ludlow & Gabriel Segal - 2004 - In Marga Reimer & Anne Bezuidenhout (eds.), Descriptions and Beyond. Oxford University Press. pp. 420-437.
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  42. Facing Facts?Graham Oppy - 2004 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 82 (4):621 – 643.
    In his recent book, Stephen Neale provides an extended defence of the claim that Gödel's slingshot has dramatic consequences for fact theorists (and, in particular, for fact theorists who look with favour on referential treatments of definite descriptions). I argue that the book-length treatment provides no strengthening of the case that Neale has made elsewhere for this implausible claim. Moreover, I also argue that various criticisms of Neale's case that I made on a previous occasion have met with no successful (...)
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  43. 6 The Theory of Descriptions.Peter Hylton - 2003 - In Nicholas Griffin (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Bertrand Russell. Cambridge University Press. pp. 202.
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  44. The Indefinability of €œOne”.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 (...)
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  45. 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.
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  46. Bradley’s Theory of Descriptions.Anthony Manser - 2002 - Bradley Studies 8 (2):114-129.
    A draft copy of this article, dated 13th February 1988, was given by Tony Manser in 1989 to Stewart Candlish, who has edited it for publication in Bradley Studies in the hope that the finished result will not only be of value to students of Bradley and Russell but also stand as a worthy memorial to a valued colleague and friend. Editing has been confined to a minimum, such as correcting errors in punctuation, quotation, referencing and typography; no attempt has (...)
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  47. Descriptions and Logical Form.Gary Ostertag - 2002 - In Dale Jacquette (ed.), A Companion to Philosophical Logic.
  48. Descriptions as Predicates.Graff Fara Delia - 2001 - Philosophical Studies 102 (1):1-42.
    Although Strawson’s main aim in “On Referring” was to argue that definite descriptions 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 definite descriptions are always used referentially. The description in ‘Napoleon was the greatest French soldier’ is not used referentially, says (...)
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  49. Descriptions As Predicates.Delia Graff - 2001 - Philosophical Studies 102 (1):1-42.
    Although Strawson’s main aim in “On Referring” was to argue that definite descriptions 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 definite descriptions are always used referentially. The description in ‘Napoleon was the greatest French soldier’ is not used referentially, says (...)
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  50. Knowledge and Understanding.David Hunter - 2001 - Mind and Language 16 (5):542–546.
    Some philosophical proposals seem to die hard. In a recent paper, Jason Stanley has worked to resurrect the description theory of reference, at least as it might apply to natural kind terms like ‘elm’ (Stanley, 1999). The theory’s founding idea is that to understand ‘elm’ one must know a uniquely identifying truth about elms. Famously, Hilary Putnam showed that ordinary users of ‘elm’ may understand it while lacking such knowledge, and may even be unable to distinguish elms from beeches (Putnam, (...)
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