Why Definite Descriptions Really are Referring Terms

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Abstract:

According to Russell, '... the phi ...' means: 'exactly one object has phi and ... that object ...'. Strawson pointed out that, if somebody asked how many kings of France there were, it would be deeply inappropriate to respond by saying '... the king of France ...': the respondent appears to be presupposing the very thing that, under the circumstances, he ought to be asserting. But it would seem that if Russell's theory were correct, the respondent would be asserting exactly what he was asked to assert. So Russell's theory wrongly predicts that the respondent's answer will be appropriate. Russellians deal with this by saying that this anti-Russellian intuition embodies our reaction not to what is semantically encoded in the respondent's words, but to what is pragmatically imparted by them. So Russell's theory is correct: the fact that it appears wrong is due to the distorting effects of pragmatics. In this paper I show that pragmatic phenomena cannot possibly be responsible for the just mentioned anti-Russellian intuition. No matter how hard we try to put the blame on pragmatics, Russell's theory still falls short. It follows that defi nite descriptions really are what they appear to be: referring expressions. I argue that defi nite descriptions are complex demonstratives; and, within that framework, I deal with cases where defi nite descriptions appear to be functioning non-referentially. I also solve Frege's puzzle within the framework defi ned by my treatment of defi nite descriptions taken in conjunction with Kripke-Kaplan semantics.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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