I argue that the Universal Law formulation of the Categorical Imperative is best interpreted as a test or decision procedure of moral rightness and not as a criterion intended to explain the deontic status of actions. Rather, the Humanity formulation is best interpreted as a moral criterion. I also argue that because the role of a moral criterion is to explain, and thus specify what makes an action right or wrong, Kant's Humanity formulation yields a theory of relevant descriptions.
On a popular view dating back to Russell, descriptions, both definite and indefinite alike, work syntactically and semantically like quantifiers. I have an argument against Russell's view. The argument supports a different picture: descriptions can behave syntactically and semantically like variables. This basic idea can be implemented in very different systematic analyses, but, whichever way one goes, there will be a significant departure from Russell. The claim that descriptions are variables is not new: what I offer is (...) a new way of defending it. The argument centers on attitude reports. I argue that we should recognize a new reading of descriptions under attitude reports, which I call ‘singular opaque’. The existence of this reading cannot be explained on the traditional Russellian view, and demands a switch to the variable view. Along the way, some interesting new facts about attitude reports come to light. (shrink)
Almost entirely ignored in the linguistic theorising on names and descriptions is a hybrid form of expression which, like definite descriptions, begin with 'the' but which, like proper names, are capitalised and seem to lack descriptive content. These are expressions such as the following, 'the Holy Roman Empire', 'the Mississippi River', or 'the Space Needle'. Such capitalised descriptions are ubiquitous in natural language, but to which linguistic categories do they belong? Are they simply proper names? Or are (...) they definite descriptions with unique orthography? Or are they something else entirely? This paper assesses two obvious assimilation strategies: (i) assimilation to proper names and (ii) assimilation to definite descriptions. It is argued that both of these strategies face major difficulties. The primary goal is to lay the groundwork for a linguistic analysis of capitalised descriptions. Yet, the hope is that clearing the ground on capitalised descriptions may reveal useful insights for the on-going research into the semantics and syntax of their lower-case or 'the'-less relatives. (shrink)
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 facts about presupposition projection are fully appreciated, the Frege/Strawson analysis of definite descriptions has an explanatory advantage. In this paper, I argue that both Russell's analysis and the Frege/Strawson analysis face a serious problem when it comes to the interaction of attitude verbs and definite descriptions. I argue that the problem observed by Elbourne, Heim, and Kripke is much more general than standardly assumed and that a solution requires a revision of the semantics of definite and indefinite descriptions. I outline the conditions that are required to solve the problem and present an analysis couched in dynamic semantics which can provide a solution. I conclude by discussing some further issues related to propositional attitude verbs that complicate a fully general solution to the problem. (shrink)
Carnap's theory of descriptions was restricted in two ways. First, the descriptive conditions had to be non-modal. Second, only primitive predicates or the identity predicate could be used to predicate something of the descriptum. The motivating reasons for these two restrictions that can be found in the literature will be critically discussed. Both restrictions can be relaxed, but Carnap's theory can still be blamed for not dealing adequately with improper descriptions.
Carnap's theory of descriptions was restricted in two ways. First, the descriptive conditions had to be non-modal. Second, only primitive predicates or the identity predicate could be used to predicate something of the descriptum . The motivating reasons for these two restrictions that can be found in the literature will be critically discussed. Both restrictions can be relaxed, but Carnap's theory can still be blamed for not dealing adequately with improper descriptions.
Contrary to a claim made by Kaplan (Mind 114:933–1003, 2005) and Neale (Mind 114:809–871, 2005), the readings available to sentences containing definite descriptions embedded under propositional attitude verbs and conditionals do pose a significant problem for the Russellian theory of definite descriptions. The Fregean theory of descriptions, on the other hand, deals easily with the relevant data.
On the observational equivalence of continuous-time deterministic and indeterministic descriptions Content Type Journal Article Pages 193-225 DOI 10.1007/s13194-010-0011-5 Authors Charlotte Werndl, Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London, WC2A 2AE UK Journal European Journal for Philosophy of Science Online ISSN 1879-4920 Print ISSN 1879-4912 Journal Volume Volume 1 Journal Issue Volume 1, Number 2.
What is the semantic contribution of anaphoric links in sentences like, ‘A physicist was late to the party. He brought some bongos’? A natural first thought is that the passage entails a wide-scope existential claim that there is something that both (i) was late to the party and (ii) brought some bongos. Intentional identity sentences are counter-examples to this natural thought applied to anaphora in general. Some have tried to rescue the thought and accommodate the counter-examples by positing mythical objects. (...) I present a new intentional identity sentence that cannot be so accommodated. I then propose a new account of intentional identity and other anaphoric sentences that does not appeal to mythical objects, but instead draws on traditional accounts of definite descriptions. (shrink)
This paper addresses a certain objection to the quantificational theory of definite descriptions. According to this objection, the quantificational account cannot provide correct interpretations of definite descriptions embedded in the non-doxastic attitude ascriptions and therefore ought to be rejected. In brief, the objection says that the quantificational theory is committed to the view that a sentence of the form “The F is G” is equivalent to the claim that there is a unique F and it is G, while (...) the ascription such as, e.g., “S wants the F to be G” is not equivalent to the statement that S wants there to be a F and for it to be G. I argue that this objection is invalid as it rests on a false assumption concerning the substitutivity of the relative clauses in the non-doxastic attitude ascriptions. (shrink)
In order to understand a sentence, one must know the relevant semantic rules. Those rules are not learned in a vacuum; they are given to one through one's senses. As a result, knowledge of semantic rules sometimes comes bundled with semantically irrelevant, but cognitively non-innocuous, knowledge of the circumstances in which those rules were learned. Thus, one must work through non-semantic information in order to know what is literally meant by a given sentence-token. A consequence is that one's knowledge of (...) what is literally meant by a given sentence-token is sometimes embedded in non-semantic knowledge, resulting in a cleavage between what that sentence-token literally means and what the auditor in question takes it to mean. Such deviations obviously have nothing to do with the principles put forth by Grice, since those principles only concern sentence-tokens that have already been understood---since, to put it another way, those principles only concern post-semantic implicature. The just-described deviations are appropriately described as being due to "pre-semantic implicature." Given the phenomenon of pre-semantic implicature, it is easily shown that Russell's Theory of Descriptions, if taken as a theory of literal meaning, is false. In the present volume, these rather elementary principles are entirely ignored, and all of the articles in it are sterile repetitions of the points made by Russell and Strawson. The blinkered approach to language embodied in this volume must be reconsidered in light of psychological principles relating to language-acquisition and language-use. Unfortunately, analytic philosophers shy away from such topics, as is made clear by the papers in this grim volume. (shrink)
In this paper I offer a defence of a Russellian analysis of the referential uses of incomplete (mis)descriptions, in a contextual setting. With regard to the debate between a unificationist and an ambiguity approach to the formal treatment of definite descriptions (introduction), I will support the former against the latter. In 1. I explain what I mean by "essentially" incomplete descriptions: incomplete descriptions are context dependent descriptions. In 2. I examine one of the best versions (...) of the unificationist “explicit” approach given by Buchanan and Ostertag. I then show that this proposal seems unable to treat the normal uses of misdescriptions. I then accept the challenge of treating misdescriptions as a key to solving the problem of context dependent descriptions. In 3. I briefly discuss Michael Devitt’s and Joseph Almog’s treatments of referential descriptions, showing that they find it difficult to explain misdescriptions. In 4. I suggest an alternative approach to DD as contextuals, under a normative epistemic stance. Definite descriptions express (i) what a speaker should have in mind in using certain words in a certain context and (ii) what a normal speaker is justified in saying in a context, given a common basic knowledge of the lexicon. In 5. I define a procedure running on contextual parameters (partiality, perspective and approximation) as a means of representing the role of pragmatics as a filter for semantic interpretation. In 6. I defend my procedural approach against possible objections concerning the problem of the boundaries between semantics and pragmatics, relying on the distinction between semantics and theory of meaning. (shrink)
A consequence of Russell's Theory of Descriptions is that non-indicative sentences (questions and imperatives) either have meanings that are obviously distinct from their actual meanings, even after all pragmatic and contextual variables are allowed for, or are categorically non-sensical. Therefore, the Theory of Descriptions is false.
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.
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 arguments, we show that rival explanations (appeals to implicature, referential use, presupposition, etc.) do not offer equally compelling explanations of the data, and defend the methodology employed in the arguments against some criticisms. (shrink)
Direct reference theorists tell us that proper names have no semantic value other than their bearers, and that the connection between name and bearer is unmediated by descriptions or descriptive information. And yet, these theorists also acknowledge that we produce our name-containing utterances with descriptions on our minds. After arguing that direct reference proponents have failed to give descriptions their due, I show that appeal to speaker-associated descriptions is required if the direct reference portrayal of speakers (...) wielding and referring with public names is to succeed. (shrink)
In this article I construe Russell's definite description notation as a fragment of an "ideal language"– a language in which, as Russell puts it in the "Logical Atomism" lectures, "the words in a proposition correspond one by one with the components of the corresponding fact." Russell's notation – containing as it does variables, quantifiers and the identity sign – commits him to an ontology that is lavish indeed. It thus conflicts with the spirit of the theory of descriptions, which (...) is developed in the service of ontological frugality. I make use of arguments derived from the Tractatus to show that an ideal language need not contain logical signs. I thus defend the spirit of the theory of descriptions while departing from its letter. (shrink)
I critically examine an argument, due to howard wettstein, purporting to show that sentences containing definite descriptions are semantically ambiguous between referential and attributive readings. Wettstein argues that many sentences containing nonidentifying descriptions--descriptions that apply to more than one object--cannot be given a Russellian analysis, and that the descriptions in these sentences should be understood as directly referential terms. But because Wettstein does not justify treating referential uses of nonidentifying descriptions differently than attributive uses of (...) nonidentifying descriptions, his argument fails. (shrink)
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’.
In this article I argue that Russell's multiple-relation theory of judgment is a continuation of the campaign against Frege and Meinong begun in “On Denoting” with the theory of descriptions. More precisely, I hold that the problem of false belief, to which the multiple-relation theory is presented as a solution, emerges quite naturally out of the problem context of “On Denoting” and threatens to give new life to the theories Russell purports to have laid to rest there, and that (...) Russell's solution to the much neglected third puzzle of “On Denoting” contains the gist of the multiple-relation theory. The failure of that theory to solve the problem of false belief thus signifies the failure of the theory of descriptions. (shrink)
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 explanation of the original asymmetry on its grounds. This provides an answer to the challenge for Lewis’s theory. (shrink)
Abstract Theories of descriptions tend to involve commitments about the ambiguity of descriptions. For example, sentences containing descriptions are widely taken to be ambiguous between de re , de dicto , and intermediate interpretations and are sometimes thought to be ambiguous between the former and directly referential interpretations. I provide arguments to suggest that none of these interpretations are due to ambiguities (or indexicality). On the other hand, I argue that descriptions are ambiguous between the above (...) family of interpretations and what may be called ‘institutional’ as well as generic interpretations. My arguments suggest that an adequate theory of descriptions may require considerable rethinking. Most contemporary theories of descriptions appear to be committed to one or more claims about the ambiguity of descriptions that I reject in this paper. I suggest that my observations provide a reason to renew efforts to develop a theory of descriptions within a representationalist theory of interpretation. Content Type Journal Article Pages 1-16 DOI 10.1007/s11098-011-9759-5 Authors Philipp Koralus, Philosophy Department, Princeton University, 212 1879 Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA Journal Philosophical Studies Online ISSN 1573-0883 Print ISSN 0031-8116. (shrink)
We investigate incomplete symbols, i.e. definite descriptions with scope-operators. Russell famously introduced definite descriptions by contextual definitions; in this article definite descriptions are introduced by rules in a specific calculus that is very well suited for proof-theoretic investigations. That is to say, the phrase ‘incomplete symbols’ is formally interpreted as to the existence of an elimination procedure. The last section offers semantical tools for interpreting the phrase ‘no meaning in isolation’ in a formal way.
This article reconsiders Kripke’s ( 1977 , in: French, Uehling & Wettstein (eds) Contemporary perspectives in the philosophy of language, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis) pragmatic, univocal account of the attributive-referential distinction in terms of a metalinguistic apparatus consisting of semantic reference and speaker reference. It is argued that Kripke’s strongest methodological argument supporting the pragmatic account, the parallel applicability of the apparatus to both names and definite descriptions, is successful only if descriptions are treated as designators in (...) both attributive and referential uses. It is not successful if descriptions are treated à la Russell, contrary to what is often assumed. Thus a third theoretical option for the semantic analysis of definite descriptions arises, neglected by both supporters and opponents of Russell: a univocal, referentialist analysis of descriptions in conjunction with a pragmatic account of the attributive-referential distinction. Contrary to Kripke, and to much of the literature, it is noted that not all so-called referential uses involve implicatures. In the course of the argument Kripke’s innovative apparatus is subjected to improvements and fine-tunings. Also, some general critical comments are made about analogical reasoning, on which Kripke’s argument is partly based. This leads to a clarification of the fundamental notion of speaker reference. The paper concludes with reflections on the challenge to and need of systematic empirical evidence in this field, a desideratum noted by Kripke and still not met. (shrink)
In this essay I argue that given Donnellan’s formulation of the attributive uses of definite descriptions, as well as Kripke’s  and Salmon’s  generalized accounts, most uses of definite descriptions that are taken to be attributive turn out not to be so. In building up to my main thesis, I first consider certain problematic cases of uses of definite descriptions that do not neatly fit into any category. I then argue that, in general, a complete definite (...) description we use is complex, in which there is an embedded singular term that is used referentially. From this I conclude that an attributive use of a definite description is an extremely rare linguistic phenomenon, much less frequent than what Donnellan, Kripke, and Salmon have presupposed; so much so that the standard examples given by Donnellan of the attributive use of definite descriptions do not qualify as attributive. (shrink)
This contribution presents a corpus of spatial descriptions and describes the development of a human-driven spatial language robot system for their comprehension. The domain of application is an eldercare setting in which an assistive robot is asked to “fetch” an object for an elderly resident based on a natural language spatial description given by the resident. In Part One, we describe a corpus of naturally occurring descriptions elicited from a group of older adults within a virtual 3D home (...) that simulates the eldercare setting. We contrast descriptions elicited when participants offered descriptions to a human versus robot avatar, and under instructions to tell the addressee how to find the target versus where the target is. We summarize the key features of the spatial descriptions, including their dynamic versus static nature and the perspective adopted by the speaker. In Part Two, we discuss critical cognitive and perceptual processing capabilities necessary for the robot to establish a common ground with the human user and perform the “fetch” task. Based on the collected corpus, we focus here on resolving the perspective ambiguity and recognizing furniture items used as landmarks in the descriptions. Taken together, the work presented here offers the key building blocks of a robust system that takes as input natural spatial language descriptions and produces commands that drive the robot to successfully fetch objects within our eldercare scenario. (shrink)
The purpose of this paper is to discuss two phenomena related to the semantics of definite descriptions: that of incomplete uses of descriptions, and that of the underdetermination of referential uses of descriptions. The Russellian theorist has a way of accounting for incomplete uses of descriptions by appealing to an account of quantifier domain restriction, such as the one proposed in Stanley and Szabó (2000a). But, I argue, the Russellian is not the only one in a (...) position to appeal to such an account of incomplete uses of descriptions. Proponents of other theories, such as the Fregean, which does not treat descriptions as quantifiers, might benefit from this account of domain restriction. In the second part of the paper I discuss referential uses of incomplete definite descriptions. Relative to such uses, Wettstein (1981) and others have argued that the Russellian theory faces a problem of underdetermination of semantic content. Neale (2004) has replied to this objection showing why it does not pose a threat to the Russellian theory. Again, I argue that not only the Russellian, but also the Fregean can subscribe to Neale’s (2004) suggestion. (shrink)
It is known that a semantically closed theory with description may well be trivial if the principles concerning denotation and descriptions are formulated in certain ways, even if the underlying logic is paraconsistent. This paper establishes the nontriviality of a semantically closed theory with a natural, but non-extensional, description operator.
This article discusses the “Argument from Inference” raised against the view that definite descriptions are semantically referring expressions. According to this argument, the indicated view is inadequate since it evaluates some invalid inferences with definite descriptions as “valid” and vice versa. I argue that the Argument from Inference is basically wrong. Firstly, it is crucially based on the assumption that a proponent of the view that definite descriptions are referring expressions conceives them as directly referring terms, i.e., (...) the terms which contribute their referents into the semantic content of the sentences in which they occur. However, the framework of direct reference is not essential to the idea that descriptions might have semantic referential interpretation. Secondly, the Argument of Inference - if correct - suffices to establish an overgeneralized conclusion that even paradigmatically referring terms, like proper names, cannot be semantically referential. This fact indicates that the argument is flawed. In the final part of this article, I briefly consider what the source of the problem with the Argument of Inference might be. (shrink)
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 the alternative semantics developed in his 1905 article 'On Denoting', definite descriptions do not have meaning in isolation; they have meaning only in the context of a whole sentence. Andrew Botterell and Robert Stainton have pointed out that this conclusion appears to be at odds with the phenomenon of unembedded definite descriptions, in which definite descriptions are uttered, meaningfully, without accompanying predicates. For example, it is possible to utter 'The last temptation' on its own and in doing so express a proposition. Since definite descriptions can be used in this way, how can it be right to claim, with Russell, that they lack meaning in isolation? The present paper seeks to show how a Russellian semantics for definite descriptions is entirely compatible with the phenomenon of unembedded definite descriptions. In particular, Botterell and Stainton are wrong to think that generalized quantifier semantics is better able to cope with the phenomenon than a more authentically Russellian syncategorematic semantics. (shrink)
This paper shows that Russell’s theory of descriptions gives the wrong semantics for definite descriptions occurring in questions and imperatives. Depending on how that theory is applied, it either assigns nonsense to perfectly meaningful questions and assertions or it assigns meanings that diverge 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 statements; for the (...) semantics of ‘the phi’ obviously doesn’t vary depending on whether it occurs in a question or an assertion or a command. (shrink)
The generation of route descriptions is a fundamental task of navigation systems. A particular problem in this context is to identify routes that can easily be described and processed by users. In this work, we present a framework for representing route networks with the qualitative information necessary to evaluate and optimize route descriptions with regard to ambiguities in them. We identify different agent models that differ in how agents are assumed to process route descriptions while navigating through (...) route networks and discuss which agent models can be translated into PDL programs. Further, we analyze the computational complexity of matching route descriptions and paths in route networks in dependency of the agent model. Finally, we empirically evaluate the influence of the agent model on the optimization and the processing of route instructions. (shrink)
In a recent paper Horsten embarked on a journey along the limits of the domain of the unknowable. Rather than knowability simpliciter, he considered a priori knowability, and by the latter he meant absolute provability, i.e. provability that is not relativized to a formal system. He presented an argument for the conclusion that it is not absolutely provable that there is a natural number of which it is true but absolutely unprovable that it has a certain property. The argument depends (...) on a description principle. I will argue that the latter principle implies the knowability of all arithmetical truths. Therefore, Horsten's argument is either sound but its conclusion is trivial, or his argument is unsound. (shrink)
Szabó follows Heim in viewing familiarity, rather than uniqueness, as the essence of the definite article, but attempts to derive both familiarity and uniqueness implications pragmatically, assigning a single semantic interpretation to both the definite and indefinite articles. I argue that if there is no semantic distinction between the articles, then there is no way to derive these differences between them pragmatically.
We study a new formal logic LD introduced by Prof. Grzegorczyk. The logic is based on so-called descriptive equivalence, corresponding to the idea of shared meaning rather than shared truth value. We construct a semantics for LD based on a new type of algebras and prove its soundness and completeness. We further show several examples of classical laws that hold for LD as well as laws that fail. Finally, we list a number of open problems. -/- .
According to Donnellan the characteristic mark of a referential use of a definite description is the fact that it can be used to pick out an individual that does not satisfy the attributes in the description. Friends and foes of the referential/attributive distinction have equally dismissed that point as obviously wrong or as a sign that Donnellan’s distinction lacks semantic import. I will argue that, on a strict semantic conception of what it is for an expression to be a genuine (...) referential device, Donnellan is right: if a use of a definite description is referential, it has got to be possible for it to refer to an object independently of any attributes associated with the description, including those that constitute its conventional meaning. (shrink)
According to Millian Descriptivism, while the semantic content of a linguistically simple proper name is just its referent, we often use sentences containing such expressions “to make assertions…that are, in part, descriptive” (Soames 2008). Against this view, I show, following Ted Sider and David Braun (2006), that simple sentences containing names are never used to assert descriptively enriched propositions. In addition, I offer a diagnosis as to where the argument for Millian Descriptivism goes wrong. Once we appreciate the distinctive way (...) in which this account fails, we can better appreciate the very modest role that associated descriptive information plays in the pragmatics of proper names. (shrink)
Michael Devitt claims that the predicative material that constitutes complex referential expressions makes a semantic contribution to the proposition expressed. He thus deviates from direct referentialism, according to which every referential expression -either simple or complex- contributes just with an object to the proposition expressed, leaving the predicative material out of the semantic content. However, when dealing with misdescriptions, Devitt has suggested a pragmatic way out: the audience can understand what the speaker is referring to even if the object does (...) not fall under the corresponding description. From my perspective, this proposal questions the semantic validity of the predicative material, together with Devitt's original claim. In this paper, I propose a way to solve the problem posed by misdescriptions that appeals to the idea of epistemically relativized properties, according to which the properties ascribed to the object -by means of the predicative material- correspond to the way the speaker thinks of it and not to the way the object really is. Michael Devitt sostiene que el material predicativo que constituye las expresiones referenciales complejas hace un aporte semántico a la proposición expresada, alejándose así del referencialismo directo, para el cual toda expresión referencial -sea ésta simple o compleja- contribuye sólo con un objeto singular a la proposición expresada. Sin embargo, al enfrentarse al problema de las descripciones fallidas, Devitt ofrece una salida pragmática: el oyente comprende a qué se refiere el hablante aun cuando el objeto referido no caiga bajo la descripción utilizada. Esto pone en cuestión la validez semántica del material predicativo, desestimando la postura original de Devitt. En el trabajo propongo una solución a este problema, apelando a la idea de propiedades epistémicamente relativizadas, de acuerdo con la cual lo que se predica del objeto por medio del material predicativo corresponde a las creencias del hablante, y no a lo que el objeto realmente es. (shrink)
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 ‘this’ and ‘that’. Following the custom in philosophy, in this chapter often we use ‘description’ as short for ‘definite description’; and following the custom in linguistics, often we use ‘definite’, ‘indefinite’, and ‘demonstrative’ as shorthand nouns. For the most part we focus on definite and indefinites, although a few words about demonstratives are called for. At the centre of debates about descriptions is the matter of whether they are devices of reference or of predication (simple or higher-order), and much discussion focuses on how various proposals are to be incorporated into broader theories of the semantics of natural language. But philosophical interest goes beyond the confines of linguistics, logic, and the philosophy of language because choices made about the semantics of descriptions have repercussions elsewhere, particularly in epistemology and metaphysics. A simple match of form and meaning appears to fail.1 First, many occurrences of expressions of both forms ‘the φ’ and ‘a φ’ appear to be used to talk about particular individuals. Consider (1). (shrink)
Definite descriptions, I shall argue, have two possible functions. 1] They are used to refer to what a speaker wishes to talk about, but they are also used quite differently. Moreover, a definite description occurring in one and the same sentence may, on different occasions of its use, function in either way. The failure to deal with this duality of function obscures the genuine referring use of definite descriptions. The best known theories of definite descriptions, those of (...) Russell and Strawson, I shall suggest, are both guilty of this. Before discussing this distinction in use, I will mention some features of these theories to which it is especially relevant. (shrink)
Paul Elbourne defends the Fregean view that definite descriptions ('the table', 'the King of France') refer to individuals, and offers a new and radical account of the semantics of pronouns. He draws on a wide range of work, from Frege, Peano, and Russell to the latest findings in linguistics, philosophy of language, and psycholinguistics.
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 Strawson, since it is used not to mention an individual, but only “to say something about an individual already mentioned” (p. 320). This is an example of what we may call a predicative use of a deﬁnite description, though such uses might be better illustrated by considering the false sentence.. (shrink)
A distinction is developed between two uses of definite descriptions, the "attributive" and the "referential." the distinction exists even in the same sentence. several criteria are given for making the distinction. it is suggested that both russell's and strawson's theories fail to deal with this distinction, although some of the things russell says about genuine proper names can be said about the referential use of definite descriptions. it is argued that the presupposition or implication that something fits the (...) description, present in both uses, has a different genesis depending upon whether the description is used referentially or attributively. this distinction in use seems not to depend upon any syntactic or semantic ambiguity. it is also suggested that there is a distinction between what is here called "referring" and what russell defines as denoting. definite descriptions may denote something, according to his definition, whether used attributively or referentially. (shrink)