Donnellan: “Reference and Definite Descriptions”. TWO USES OF . sentence “ Keith asserted that Smith’s murderer is insane.” To capture the. Keith Donnellan, “Reference and Definite Descriptions”. Due Feb 13, by 10am; Points 5; Submitting a discussion post; Available after Feb 2, at 12am. Keith Donnellan, Joseph Almog, and Paolo Leonardi function is the referential use of definite description, in which the speaker uses it to refer to something.

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Keith S. Donnellan – Reference and Definite Descriptions ()

Russell has not been alone in thinking that descriptions and definite determiners are important. The reason that philosophers find these apparently reverence expressions so intriguing is descriptjons choices made about their proper logical analysis have repercussions that extend far beyond the philosophy of language and philosophy of logic.

Some philosophers and xescriptions treat descriptions as referential expressions, others have treated them as quantificational expressions, and some have treated them as predicational expressions. Some recent work in linguistics has even called into question the idea that definite and indefinite determiners correspond to logical elements in the analysis of the logical form of natural language. Indeed, there is some reason to think that they are merely grammatical elements for assigning case.

Ordinarily, when philosophers talk about descriptions, they have two kinds of expressions in mind: As we will see, this way of carving up the kinds of descriptions is far too blunt. First, there are many kinds of expressions that appear to have this form but that are often argued not to be descriptions. Russell also proposed that ordinary proper names could be construed as definite descriptions in disguise. Boiled down to its simplest non-technical form, the idea is that an expression of the form ieith 3 is shorthand for the conjunction of three claims:.

Keith Donnellan

There are three main motivations for the theory of descriptions; the first is metaphysical, the second involves semantical concerns in the philosophy of language, and the third is epistemological.

Accordingly, there is a kind of ambiguity in 4between the following two logical forms. Here we are using the restricted quantifier notation adopted in Neale So for example, we read:. The material in the square brackets gives the restriction on the quantifier, and deecriptions formula in parentheses after the bracket constitutes the scope of the restricted quantifier.

We sometimes drop the outer parentheses when it is clear what the scope of the restricted quantifier is, and we sometimes add parentheses around the entire formula for disambiguation.

Thus, 4a captures the fact that the negation has wide scope in a manner that can be glossed thus: Whereas 4b gives the restricted quantifier wide scope, in a manner that can be glossed this way: What is refetence in 4a is not a claim about some particular individual, but rather a general claim about the world—in effect a claim that the world contains exactly one individual that is presently the king of France and that whoever is presently the king of France exists.

Both refer to or at least denote the planet Venus, but there are contexts in which it seems incorrect to say that they have the same meaning. In a similar vein, if we utter 6. Frege proposed that that the solution to this puzzle involved the introduction of senses—abstract objects that fix the referents of these expressions, each having a different cognitive significance.

Russell saw that scope relations are relevant here. There are circumstances under which George has some object in particular in mind and is wondering, of that object, whether it is the star that appears in the evening. Alternatively, if George has gone mad and is in fact wondering about the law of identity, this may be represented as in 8where both descriptions have wide scope. Metaphysical and semantical concerns were important to Russell in his paper, but epistemological concerns were no less significant.


So, for example, I might know myself by acquaintance, but I know the tallest man in Iowa only under a description. The problem is that we can be in error as to whether we are directly acquainted with someone did I really have lunch with a colleague or was that a clever hologram?

This in turn led Descriotions to extend the theory of descriptions to almost all uses of names—treating them as definite descriptions in disguise. Russell could have saved himself from some of the more troubling consequences of his view if he had jettisoned the Cartesianism and opted for a more liberal notion of acquaintance. Alternatively, if Hawthorne and Manley are correct, the true mistake would have kelth in at the beginning—with the linking of dffinite and reference.

In their view a case can be made that reference comes much cheaper than Russell imagined. It would follow that descriptions need not be relied upon as heavily as he imagined. But the account has been extended to other constructions as well, including proper names, pronouns, and temporal anaphors, all with mixed results. Perhaps, but there is no shortage of difficulties.

One problem has to do with the fact that there is often no single shared description for certain fictions. At best the Russellian can argue that others are in the same boat here. Consider the option of non-existent objects. If such objects are individuated by their properties then we can again ask which properties the non-existent object Santa Claus is supposed to have. See Everett and Hofweber and French and Wettstein for papers on these general issues, and see Zaltafor a robust defense of the nonexistent object strategy.

Devitt and Sterelney48 ff. The principled basis objection. The unwanted ambiguity objection. Suppose that we respond to the principled basis objection by letting many flowers bloom. That is, suppose we argue that there is no single correct description associated with the name but there are many.

We now run into the teeth of the problem of unwanted ambiguity. Are there really that many different names, each corresponding to an different description? The unwanted necessity objection. This seems to be a contingent claim—one that is true but matters could have gone otherwise. Aristotle could have decided it was immoral to take the position, or Phillip of Macedonia could have decided that Aristotle was not the best tutor for his young Alexander.

But now consider this sentence with the description unpacked. The problem is that the Russellian analysis seems to turn a contingent proposition into a necessary proposition.

Searle; ff. Is it really part of the meaning of that name that its bearer drank hemlock, taught Plato and did all of the other things that we are told that he did when we study the history of philosophy? Other versions of this idea were proposed in Strawson ; ff. The unwanted necessity objection collapses immediately because the use of a name does not commit the speaker to the object in question having all the properties in the bundle.

Someone might be associated with this bundle of properties and not have written the Nichomachean Ethics so long as they had enough of the other properties. We take them all. As Devitt and Sterelny observe, the three objections to the traditional descriptive theory of names come creeping back.

Worse, what is the principled basis by which we weight the importance of the properties in the bundle?

Keith Donnellan – Wikipedia

The unwanted ambiguity objection returns as well if we allow that different people will associate different bundles of properties with a name or at least weight those properties differently. There is a dilemma then: Aristotle might have had none of the properties that we ordinarily associate with his name. For example even if we concede that Aristotle did all the things he was supposed to have done, it is still the case that Aristotle could have refrained from doing any of the things he did.


He could have forsaken philosophy for other pursuits. He could have been run over by a chariot at age two. But then how do we make sense of a descriptive name in a sentence like 11? There is no nearby possible world where Aristotle did all those things by age two. Kripke refetence that the dnnellan of names in teference environments could only be explained if we think of the names as being rigid designators—i.

Kripke also stressed that this is not really a point about conditional or modal sentences—the same point can ieith made for simple declarative sentences evaluated in a counterfactual situation. So, for example, take a simple sentence like We can evaluate this sentence in other possible worlds.

We can say that it might have been true under certain circumstances. But it does not seem plausible that there is a nearby possible world where the following is true. Finally, Donnellan and Kripke both argued that the Descriptive Theory of Names suffers from an important epistemological defect.

The descriptions that we associate with names routinely do not describe the individuals that we intend to refer to. The descriptive information that we associate with names just is not sufficient to pick out the intended referent. This is not the place for an extended discussion of this proposal, but see Devitt and Salmon for development of this idea and Referemcefor criticism.

For Kripkeand Devitt this sort of approach was hopelessly circular. Another idea taken up in Kroon and Jackson was to build reference to the causal chain into the description itself.

Whatever the merits of these views, they clearly abandon some of the key motivations for the descriptive theories of names—in definitr the idea that the description could do the work of providing the sense of the name. Still, from a linguistic point of view, we should note that there are features of names rsference natural language that make them appear to be similar to descriptions.

In addition, Burge offered a number of arguments in support of the idea that names really are predicates, and further support has come from HornsbyLarson and Segal and Eluguardo But keoth BoerBachand Higginbotham for criticism. The Burge story had the determiner as something like a bare demonstrative.

The idea ajd that the content of the description could consist solely of that property. It seems that charges of circularity are not so easily advanced here, although the view does raise questions about the nature of these rigid properties and our epistemic access to them.

See Parsons for an account of the logic of rigid properties. Dummett ; —, and Sosa ; ch. So, for example, 11 fefinite be taken to have the following logical form. Kripke discussed this possibility briefly in the Preface toholding that the move overlooks the fact that we can simply evaluate 12 in other possible worlds, hence no embedding within modal operators is really necessary.

How does a wide scope story help us in this case? More recently, Soames ; ch. In other words, the description theorists need to have their cake and eat it too. This general strategy is criticized by Sonnellan ; ch.

The argument for this turns on cases where these expressions are embedded in propositional attitude environments, as in 14a and 14b. According to Soames, there are contexts of utterance and worlds of evaluation where 14a is true but 14b is false. Hence names cannot be rigidified descriptions. Definjte see Nelson for a response to this argument.