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Definite Descriptions

Oxford University Press (2013)

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  1. Descriptions, pronouns, and uniqueness.Karen S. Lewis - 2022 - Linguistics and Philosophy 45 (3):559-617.
    Both definite descriptions and pronouns are often anaphoric; that is, part of their interpretation in context depends on prior linguistic material in the discourse. For example: A student walked in. The student sat down. A student walked in. She sat down. One popular view of anaphoric pronouns, the d-type view, is that pronouns like ‘she’ go proxy for definite descriptions like ‘the student who walked in’, which are in turn treated in a classical Russellian or Fregean fashion. I argue for (...)
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  • What do propositions explain? Inflationary vs. deflationary perspectives and the case of singular propositions.Manuel García-Carpintero & Michele Palmira - 2022 - Synthese 200 (2):1-21.
    In this paper we take up the question of the explanatory significance of the notion of propositional content. Our first goal is to disentangle two types of approach: According to what we call inflationism, propositions should be taken seriously enough to expect explanatory payoffs from them. The alternative deflationary approach rejects this claim. Our second goal is to explore the inflationism vs. deflationism contrast in depth by focusing on the distinction between singular and general propositions. We argue that inflationism fails (...)
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  • 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 (...)
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  • Indirectly direct: An account of demonstratives and pointing.Dorothy Ahn - forthcoming - Linguistics and Philosophy:1-49.
    There has been a long debate on whether demonstratives are directly referential as Kaplan originally argued, or indirectly referential like a definite description. I propose a new analysis of demonstratives that combines intuitions from both direct and indirect approaches. The demonstrative is analyzed as an indirectly referential expression with a binary maximality operator that takes two arguments, where the second argument can be a deictic pointing, an anaphoric index, or a relative clause. Direct reference is encoded not in the meaning (...)
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  • Semantics with Assignment Variables.Alex Silk - 2021 - Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    This book combines insights from philosophy and linguistics to develop a novel framework for theorizing about linguistic meaning and the role of context in interpretation. A key innovation is to introduce explicit representations of context — assignment variables — in the syntax and semantics of natural language. The proposed theory systematizes a spectrum of “shifting” phenomena in which the context relevant for interpreting certain expressions depends on features of the linguistic environment. Central applications include local and nonlocal contextual dependencies with (...)
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  • Experiential Attitudes Are Propositional.Kristina Liefke - forthcoming - Erkenntnis:1-25.
    Attitudinal propositionalism is the view that all mental attitude content is truth-evaluable. While attitudinal propositionalism is still silently assumed in large parts of analytic philosophy, recent work on objectual attitudes has put attitudinal propositionalism under explanatory pressure. This paper defends propositionalism for a special subclass of objectual attitudes, viz. experiential attitudes. The latter are attitudes like seeing, remembering, and imagining whose grammatical objects intuitively denote scenes. I provide a propositional analysis of experiential attitudes that preserves the merits of propositionalism. This (...)
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  • Presupposition, assertion, and definite descriptions.Paul Elbourne - 2021 - Linguistics and Philosophy 44 (6):1215-1253.
    In recent work on the semantics of definite descriptions, some theorists :496–533, 2013) have advocated broadly Fregean accounts, whereby a definite description ‘the F’ introduces a presupposition to the effect that there is exactly one F and refers to it if there is, while other theorists Reference: Interdisciplinary perspectives, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 61–72, 2008; Hawthorne and Manley in The reference book, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2012) have advocated accounts whereby ‘the F’ introduces a presupposition to the effect that (...)
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  • On the Presuppositions of Number Sentences.Katharina Felka - 2015 - Synthese 192 (5):1393-1412.
    This paper is concerned with an intuitive contrast that arises when we consider sentences containing empty definite descriptions. A sentence like ‘The king of France is bald’ appears neither true nor false, while a sentence like ‘My friend was visited by the king of France’ appears false. Recently, Stephen Yablo has suggested an account of this intuitive contrast. Yablo’s account is particularly interesting, since it has important consequences for the ontological commitments of number sentences like ‘The number of planets is (...)
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  • Descriptive Indexicals, Deferred Reference, and Anaphora.Katarzyna Kijania-Placek - 2020 - Studies in Logic, Grammar and Rhetoric 62 (1):25-52.
    The objectives of this paper are twofold. The first is to present a differentiation between two kinds of deferred uses of indexicals: those in which indexical utterances express singular propositions and those where they express general propositions. The second objective is the analysis of the descriptive uses of indexicals. In contrast to Nunberg, who treats descriptive uses as a special case of deferred reference in which a property contributes to the proposition expressed, I argue that examples in which a general (...)
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  • 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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  • Pronouns as Demonstratives.Kyle Blumberg - 2021 - Philosophers' Imprint 21 (35).
    In this paper, I outline a novel approach to the semantics of natural language pronouns. On this account, which I call 'demonstrativism', pronouns are semantically equivalent to demonstratives. I begin by presenting some contrasts that provide support for demonstrativism. Then I try to explain these contrasts by developing a particular demonstrativist proposal. I build on the "hidden argument" theory of demonstratives. On this theory, demonstratives are semantically similar to definite descriptions, with one important difference: demonstratives take two arguments, rather than (...)
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  • Genericity as a Unitary Psychological Phenomenon: An Argument From Linguistic Diversity.John Collins - 2015 - Ratio 28 (4):369-394.
    So-called ‘generics’ are members of a diverse class of constructions that express generalisations that do not directly involve any precise cardinality of individuals, but rather the kinds or ‘typical’ or ‘normal’ members of the kinds contributed by arguments of the predicate. The paper argues that genericity as a unitary phenomenon of human thought has a psychological, rather than linguistic, basis. This claim is argued for by way of a survey of the linguistic diversity of the forms of genericity, and the (...)
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  • Coalescent Theories and Divergent Paraphrases: Definites, Non-Extensional Contexts, and Familiarity.Francesco Pupa - 2021 - Synthese 199 (1-2):4841-4862.
    A recent challenge to Russell’s theory of definite description centers upon the divergent behavior of definites and their Russellian paraphrases in non-extensional contexts. Russellians can meet this challenge, I argue, by incorporating the familiarity theory of definiteness into Russell’s theory. The synthesis of these two seemingly incompatible theories produces a conceptually consistent and empirically powerful framework. As I show, the coalescence of Russellianism and the familiarity theory of definiteness stands as a legitimate alternative to both Traditional Russellianism and alternative semantic (...)
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  • Are Descriptions Really Descriptive? An Experimental Study on Misdescription and Reference.Wojciech Rostworowski & Natalia Pietrulewicz - 2019 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 10 (3):609-630.
    This paper presents an experimental study on definite descriptions. According to the classical views, a definite description, i.e., a phrase of the form “the F”, has – roughly speaking - purely descriptive semantics, that is, it designates the object which uniquely satisfies the description. However, as several philosophers including Keith Donnellan have argued, there are uses of definite descriptions on which these expressions do not seem to designate objects which satisfy the descriptions. Namely, a description may refer in some circumstances (...)
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  • Definite Descriptions and Negative Existential Quantifiers.Paul Elbourne - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (7):1597-1612.
    Previous theorists have claimed that Russell’s theory of definite descriptions gives the wrong truth conditions to sentences in which definite descriptions are embedded under certain other operators; but the other operators used, such as conditionals and propositional attitude verbs, have introduced intensional and hyperintensional complications that might be thought to obscure the point against Russell. This paper shows that the same kind of problem arises when the operator in question allows the context to be extensional. It is further argued that (...)
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  • The Argument From Convention Revisited.Francesco Pupa - 2018 - Synthese 195 (5):2175-2204.
    The argument from convention contends that the regular use of definite descriptions as referential devices strongly implies that a referential semantic convention underlies such usage. On the presumption that definite descriptions also participate in a quantificational semantic convention, the argument from convention has served as an argument for the thesis that the English definite article is ambiguous. Here, I revisit this relatively new argument. First, I address two recurring criticisms of the argument from convention: its alleged tendency to overgenerate and (...)
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  • 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’.
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  • Impossible Interpretations, Impossible Demands.Francesco Pupa - 2015 - Linguistics and Philosophy 38 (3):269-287.
    While there has been much ado about the innumerable ways a speaker can alter the reach of her quantifier phrases, little fuss has been made over the fact that some forms of alteration are, as it were, impossible to pull off. These impossible interpretations cast a shadow over both syntactic and free enrichment approaches to the phenomenon of quantifier domain restriction. Indeed, I argue that these impossible interpretations help to undermine the presupposition that domain restriction is amenable to a uniform (...)
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  • The History and Prehistory of Natural-Language Semantics.Daniel W. Harris - 2017 - In Sandra Lapointe & Christopher Pincock (eds.), Innovations in the History of Analytical Philosophy. Palgrave-MacMillan. pp. 149--194.
    Contemporary natural-language semantics began with the assumption that the meaning of a sentence could be modeled by a single truth condition, or by an entity with a truth-condition. But with the recent explosion of dynamic semantics and pragmatics and of work on non- truth-conditional dimensions of linguistic meaning, we are now in the midst of a shift away from a truth-condition-centric view and toward the idea that a sentence’s meaning must be spelled out in terms of its various roles in (...)
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  • Anaphora and negation.Karen S. Lewis - 2021 - Philosophical Studies 178 (5):1403-1440.
    One of the central questions of discourse dynamics is when an anaphoric pronoun is licensed. This paper addresses this question as it pertains to the complex data involving anaphora and negation. It is commonly held that negation blocks anaphoric potential, for example, we cannot say “Bill doesn’t have a car. It is black”. However, there are many exceptions to this generalization. This paper examines a variety of types of discourses in which anaphora on indefinites under the scope of negation is (...)
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  • Revisionist Reporting.Kyle Blumberg & Harvey Lederman - 2021 - Philosophical Studies 178 (3):755-783.
    Several theorists have observed that attitude reports have what we call “revisionist” uses. For example, even if Pete has never met Ann and has no idea that she exists, Jane can still say to Jim ‘Pete believes Ann can learn to play tennis in ten lessons’ if Pete believes all 6-year-olds can learn to play tennis in ten lessons and it is part of Jane and Jim’s background knowledge that Ann is a 6-year-old. Jane’s assertion seems acceptable because the claim (...)
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  • A plea for inexact truthmaking.Michael Deigan - 2020 - Linguistics and Philosophy 43 (5):515-536.
    Kit Fine distinguishes between inexact and exact truthmaking. He argues that the former can be defined from the latter, but not vice versa, and so concludes that truthmaker semanticists should treat the exact variety of truthmaking as primitive. I argue that this gets things backwards. We can define exact truthmaking in terms of inexact truthmaking and we can’t define inexact truthmaking in terms of exact truthmaking. I conclude that it’s inexact truthmaking, rather than exact truthmaking, that truthmaker semanticists should treat (...)
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  • Definiteness, Uniqueness, and Maximality in Languages With and Without Articles.Radek Šimík & Christoph Demian - 2020 - Journal of Semantics 37 (3):311-366.
    We present a number of experiments testing influential hypotheses about the meaning of definite descriptions and bare nominals. Our results are in line with the commonly entertained hypothesis that definite descriptions convey uniqueness or maximality, but fail to support two hypotheses about bare nominal interpretation, namely that singular bare nominals convey uniqueness and that topical bare nominals convey uniqueness/maximality. Uniqueness or maximality inferences are expected to arise via covert type-shifting under these approaches. Our results are compatible with what we take (...)
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  • 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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  • Situations in Natural Language Semantics.Angelika Kratzer - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    Situation semantics was developed as an alternative to possible worlds semantics. In situation semantics, linguistic expressions are evaluated with respect to partial, rather than complete, worlds. There is no consensus about what situations are, just as there is no consensus about what possible worlds or events are. According to some, situations are structured entities consisting of relations and individuals standing in those relations. According to others, situations are particulars. In spite of unresolved foundational issues, the partiality provided by situation semantics (...)
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  • Projecting Possibilities in the Nominal Domain: Spanish Uno Cualquiera.Luis Alonso-Ovalle & Paula Menéndez-Benito - 2018 - Journal of Semantics 35 (1):1-41.
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  • Evidence for Single-Type Semantics—An Alternative To $E$/$T$-Based Dual-Type Semantics.Kristina Liefke & Markus Werning - forthcoming - Journal of Semantics.
    Partee (2009) conjectures a formal semantics for natural language (hereafter, single-type semantics) that interprets CPs and referential DPs in the same semantic type: properties of situations. Partee’s semantics contrasts with Montague semantics and its recent contenders (dubbed dual- or multi-type semantics) which assume distinct basic types for the semantic values of referential DPs (i.e. individuals) and CPs (i.e. propositions, truth-values, or sets of assignment functions). Partee’s conjecture is motivated by results in event semantics and discourse representation theory, which support the (...)
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  • A Unified Non Monstrous Semantics for Third Person Pronouns.Fabio Del Prete & Sandro Zucchi - 2017 - Semantics and Pragmatics 10.
    It is common practice in formal semantics to assume that the context specifies an assignment of values to variables and that the same variables that receive contextually salient values when they occur free may also be bound by quantifiers and λs. These assumptions are at work to provide a unified account of free and bound uses of third person pronouns, namely one by which the same lexical item is involved in both uses. One way to pursue this account is to (...)
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  • Definite Descriptions and the Alleged East–West Variation in Judgments About Reference.Yu Izumi, Masashi Kasaki, Yan Zhou & Sobei Oda - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (5):1183-1205.
    Machery et al. presented data suggesting the existence of cross-cultural variation in judgments about the reference of proper names. In this paper, we examine a previously overlooked confound in the subsequent studies that attempt to replicate the results of Machery et al. using East Asian languages. Machery et al. and Sytsma et al. claim that they have successfully replicated the original finding with probes written in Chinese and Japanese, respectively. These studies, however, crucially rely on uses of articleless, ‘bare noun (...)
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  • Modelling Deep Indeterminacy.George Darby & Martin Pickup - 2021 - Synthese 198:1685–1710.
    This paper constructs a model of metaphysical indeterminacy that can accommodate a kind of ‘deep’ worldly indeterminacy that arguably arises in quantum mechanics via the Kochen-Specker theorem, and that is incompatible with prominent theories of metaphysical indeterminacy such as that in Barnes and Williams (2011). We construct a variant of Barnes and Williams's theory that avoids this problem. Our version builds on situation semantics and uses incomplete, local situations rather than possible worlds to build a model. We evaluate the resulting (...)
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  • Reductionism About Understanding Why.Insa Lawler - 2016 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 116 (2):229-236.
    Paulina Sliwa (2015) argues that knowing why p is necessary and sufficient for understanding why p. She tries to rebut recent attacks against the necessity and sufficiency claims, and explains the gradability of understanding why in terms of knowledge. I argue that her attempts do not succeed, but I indicate more promising ways to defend reductionism about understanding why throughout the discussion.
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  • Counterfactual Attitudes and the Relational Analysis.Kyle Blumberg - 2018 - Mind 127 (506):521-546.
    In this paper, I raise a problem for standard precisifications of the Relational Analysis of attitude reports. The problem I raise involves counterfactual attitude verbs. such as ‘wish’. In short, the trouble is this: there are true attitude reports ‘ S wishes that P ’ but there is no suitable referent for the term ‘that P ’. The problematic reports illustrate that the content of a subject’s wish is intimately related to the content of their beliefs. I capture this fact (...)
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  • Multi-Sentential Category Mistakes.Paul Elbourne - 2016 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 59 (5):542-558.
    Magidor argued that category mistakes are infelicitous due to presupposition failure. The case for this position is strengthened by the consideration of a previously unnoted category of data, namely multi-sentence discourses in which category mistake phenomenology arises at the end of the last sentence, but arguably due to content contained in a previous sentence. This phenomenon is analysed in terms of the previous sentence giving rise to a presupposition that is shown to be false only in the last sentence.
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  • Descriptions and Tests for Polysemy.Andrei Moldovan - 2021 - Axiomathes 31 (3):229-249.
    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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  • Demonstratives, Definite Descriptions and Non-Redundancy.Kyle Hammet Blumberg - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (1):39-64.
    In some sentences, demonstratives can be substituted with definite descriptions without any change in meaning. In light of this, many have maintained that demonstratives are just a type of definite description. However, several theorists have drawn attention to a range of cases where definite descriptions are acceptable, but their demonstrative counterparts are not. Some have tried to account for this data by appealing to presupposition. I argue that such presuppositional approaches are problematic, and present a pragmatic account of the target (...)
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  • Reference and Incomplete Descriptions.Antonio Capuano - 2021 - Philosophical Studies 178 (5):1669-1687.
    In “On Referring” Peter Strawson pointed out that incomplete descriptions pose a problem for Russell’s analysis of definite descriptions. Howard Wettstein and Michael Devitt appealed to incomplete descriptions to argue, first, that Russell’s analysis of definite descriptions fails, and second, that Donnellan’s referential/attributive distinction has semantic bite. Stephen Neale has defended Russell’s analysis of definite descriptions against Wettstein’s and Devitt’s objections. In this paper, my aim is twofold. First, I rebut Neale’s objections to Wettstein’s and Devitt’s argument and argue that (...)
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  • Bridging Uses of Demonstrative Pronouns in German.Patrick Grosz - 2018 - Linguistics and Philosophy 41 (4):367-421.
    The goal of this paper is to revisit the phenomenon of bridging anaphora Thinking: readings in cognitive science, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 411–420, 1977) from the perspective of the German demonstrative plural pronoun die ‘they’. I argue that antecedentless die ‘they’ can be analyzed as a novel definite that is licensed by a suitable, contextually given situation and denotes the salient person who stand in a contextually given relation to that situation. Subsequently, I propose a formal semantic implementation of (...)
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  • The Pragmatics of Non-denoting Descriptions.Andrei Moldovan - 2020 - Topoi (2):413-423.
    One challenge that the proponent of the Fregean theory of definite descriptions has to meet is to account for those truth-value intuitions that do not match the predictions of her theory. What needs an explanation is why sentences such as ‘The king of France is sitting in that chair’ [pointing at an empty chair] are intuitively false, while semantically truth-valueless. The existence of such cases was pointed out by Strawson :216–231, 1954) and Russell :385–389, 1957), and much discussed in the (...)
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  • Definiteness Projection.Matthew Mandelkern & Daniel Rothschild - 2019 - Natural Language Semantics:1-33.
    We argue that definite noun phrases give rise to uniqueness inferences characterized by a pattern we call definiteness projection. Definiteness projection says that the uniqueness inference of a definite projects out unless there is an indefinite antecedent in a position that filters presuppositions. We argue that definiteness projection poses a serious puzzle for e-type theories of (in)definites; on such theories, indefinites should filter existence presuppositions but not uniqueness presuppositions. We argue that definiteness projection also poses challenges for dynamic approaches, which (...)
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  • Descriptions.Peter Ludlow - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  • Who’s Sitting in That Chair? Multiple Failing Presuppositions and Truth-Value Judgments.Martina Rosola - 2021 - Topoi 40 (1).
    The sentences that contain empty definite descriptions are sometimes perceived to be truth-valueless and sometimes perceived to be false. Strawson offered an account of this phenomenon. However, his proposal is empirically inadequate, as shown by von Fintel. von Fintel proposes an alternative account based on a mechanism of belief revision. In this paper, I argue that sentences with multiple failing presuppositions pose a problem for von Fintel’s account. Furthermore, I discuss two variants of von Fintel’s theory proposed by Elbourne to (...)
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  • Descriptions.P. Elbourne - 2007 - In Thaddeus Metz (ed.), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
     
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  • "That"-Clauses and Propositional Anaphors.Peter van Elswyk - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (10):2861-2875.
    This paper argues that "that"-clauses do not reference propositions because they are not intersubstitutible with other expressions that do reference propositions. In particular, "that"-clauses are shown to not be intersubstitutible with propositional anaphors like "so." The substitution failures are further argued to support a semantics on which "that"-clauses are predicates.
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  • A Note on Connected Exceptives and Approximatives.Luka Crnič - forthcoming - Journal of Semantics.
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