Chat with us, powered by LiveChat Philosophy of Language Essay | All Paper

3 Pages MLA FORMAT Use in Line citations (Must know how to do this)Must include a works cited page. For the handouts I am going to provide you can cite as handout with the date that is in the top right corner if you use the handout as a source. Otherwise, just use the handouts for guidance. No outside sources. Essay prompt:Are definite descriptions referring expressions? We have read Strawson responding to Russell’s negative answer, and Donnellan responding to Strawson (and Russell).




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the other way, one has to destroy the singular statements by
obliterating individual mention of individual Straws. So the
enterprise of making the statements equivalent is hopeless.
the interest of the suggestion lies in the fact that, because of the
pull of the unadmitted real resemblance between 8 1 and 83, the
real differences are denied. The differences are that S3 does,
and S1 and S 2 do not, explicitly speak of the tot~Hty of a ~ol­
lection; that 8 3 does not, and S1 and 8 2 do, exphc1tly mention
particular individuals. One sees aright when one sees that
both statements that do, and statements that do not, explicitly
speak of particular individuals may be subject-predicate sta~e­
ments, ·and neither assert nor deny, but presuppose, the existence of things referred tO by, e.g., the grammatical subjects of
sentences used to make them. Compare the case of a statement
which unexplicitly speaks of a particular individual; viz., a
statement made in the words “One (at least one) of the Straws
is happy ‘ (84). A parallel manreuvre is to declare this sentence
to be equivalent to a disjunction of singular sentenc~s the ~se
of which would involve explicitly mentioning particular inM
dividuals : ‘Jack Straw is happy or Mary Straw is happy ?’
. . . ‘ and so on. And this manreuvre fails too, for the cntatlment holds only in one direction. 8 4 resembles 8 1 and S2 in
being a subject-predicate sentence and differs from them in not
being used to speak explicitly of a particular individual. . It
is a mistake either to exaggerate -the resemblance by decl~~1ng
it to be equivalent to a sentence which is used to speak exphc1tly
of particular individuals; or to exaggerate and distort the
difference by declaring it to be an existential sentence.
10. I have described how the logical character of sentences
whose use to make statements presupposes the existence of
somethin(J’ referred to by their grammatical subjects can go unnoticed·b~cause (or partly because) of the operation of th~ bogus
trichotomy ‘ true, false, or meaningless ‘; and how this error
operates in the realm of ge.neral statem.ents. As the last para~
graph .suggests, this error does not operate in that realm alone;
~ut by invading that of singular statements as .well, tends. to
limit still further the class of referring expressions or logical
A classical illustration of this is provided by Russell’.s ‘ Theory
PT. m]
of Definite Descriptions’. According to this theory, the form
of the sentence ‘ The: King of France is wise ‘ is revealed by
writing it as an explicitly existential sentence, viz., ‘(3.v) [.v is
King of France. (y)(y is King of France ::> x = y). x is wise]’;
i.e., ‘ There is a person of whom it is true that he and that no
one else is King of France and that he is wise ‘. It is argued
t.hat this analysis provi x = y) .gx] ‘. The theory is
generalized to cover all apparent subject-predicate statements
in the singular beginning with the definite article.
These arguments lose thei.r power if we keep in mind th~
distinction between sentence and statement, and the conception
of subject-predicate statements, which I have earlier outlined.
For a sentence of the statement~making type to have meaning,
it·is not necessary that every use of it, at any time, at any place,
, should result in a true or false statement. It is enough that it
. should be possible to describe or imagine circUmst.ances in which
its use would result in a true or false statement. For a referring
phrase to have meaning, it is not necessary that on every occasion
of its use there should be something to which it refers.
Sometimes we begin a singular statement about a person or
thing with a name(‘ Robinson’) or a’ the ‘-phrase(‘ the Presi~
dent’,’ the chair’) or a pronoun(‘ he’,’ it’). Sometimes “·e
[cH. 6
begin Such a statement with expressions which ‘ve are inclined
to call more indefinite : with words or phrases like ‘ someone ‘,
‘ something ‘, ‘ one of them ‘ ; or with phrases which start with
the indefinite article Ca man’, ‘a table ‘). Statements of the
latter class are also currently assimilated to existential statements. Thus ‘ A man fell over the edge ‘ would be said to
mean ‘(3x)(x is a man. x fell over the edge) ‘; and,’ Some?ne
fell over the edge’ would be said (perhaps) to mean (3x)(x ts a
person , x fell over the edge) ‘. These translations may .well
strike us at first as pointlessly perverse; we may well fail to
understand how anything except a determination to caricature
all ordinary statements in terms of the symbolism of quanti~ca­
tional logic could induce anyone to propose them. We might
wonder next whether the point of the translations was to try to
bring out the logical differences between, e.g., statements made
by sentences beginning with the definite article, an~ statemen~s
made by sentences ,beginning with the indefinite article. But It
is wildly absurd to suggest that the difference between ‘ A man
fell over the edge ‘ and ‘ The man fell over the edge ‘ is that t~e
truth of a statement made by the use of the first sentence IS
consistent with the existence of more than one man, while the
truth of”(t statement made by the use of the second is not. Yet
this is just.the logical difference between’ (3x)(x is a man •. x fell
over the edge)’ and ‘(3x)[x is a man. (y)(y is a ma~ :::> x = Y):
x fell over the edge J ‘. It is not in these terms, or 1n any quah·
fl.cation of them which adheres to the principle of existential
analysis, that we shall come to understand the difference. ~·e
begin to understand it ,vhen .we consider such facts as that a
paragraph in a novel or a newspaper which begins with the sen·
tence’ A man approached the edge’ may end with the sentence
‘ The man fell over the edge ‘ ; where the point of the change
from ‘a’ to ‘the’ may be to indicate (though not to state) that
the man referred to in the last sentence is the same as the man
referred to in the first. We tend generally to speak of the ~
“”·hen we can safely rely upon some feature of the situation in
which we write or spea~ to single out some one”‘ for our heare_rs’
or readers’ attention. It may be proximity or contemporaneity
or (as in the above example) the linguistic context, which we
thus rely upon to enable our_ hearers or readers to pick up the
reference, to identify the object referred to (even if only as the
man referred to ai the beginning of the paragraph). The use of
‘the’ helps the identification by indicating (though not stating)
that we are placirig this reliance upon what may, in a broad sense,
be called contextual features. This is, of course, a very rough
description; and we may, and do, use ‘the ‘ for other purposes
as well. We tend to speak, on the other hand, of a~ when these
conditions are not fulfilled; and the use of ‘ a ‘ serves then to
indicate that we do not expect our audience to be enabled by
contextual features to identify the object of our reference.
‘A ‘, too, may be, and is, used for other reasons as well.
Consider also the ways in ‘vhich we might dissent from a
statement made in the words ‘ A man fell over the edge ‘. We
might say ‘He didn’t fall; he jumped ‘; or we might say: ‘ It
wasn’t a man; it was a woman wearing trousers ‘; or we might
say: ‘Nobody fell over; you’ve been seeing things’ . The
importance of the pronouns ‘ he ‘ and ‘ it ‘ in the first two dis~
senting remarks is that_ they take up the reference to a definite
person, indefinitely made by the phrase ‘ a m~n ‘. The first
remark denies what is said about the subject of the reference;
the second remark accepts what is said about the subject of the
reference, but corrects the description of that subject. These
examples emphasize a logical resemblance between indefinite
and definite referring expressions. The third dissenting remark
is different from either of the other two. One cou]d make it,
and in making it, contradict the original statement, without
admitting that any reference had been made at all in the
original statement. For the original statement to be false, it is
not necessary that a reference should have been made. So this
example brings out a difference between ‘ a man ‘, as used in the
original sentence, and definite referring expressions; and a
difference between that sentence and typical subject-predicate
sentences. If someone says ‘ The President fell over the edge ‘,
one may reply ‘No one fell over’ and from this correctly move
to ‘ So he can’t have done ‘. But if someone says ‘ A man fell
over the edge ‘, it will not generally be appropriate to move, in
replY.• from’ No one fell over’ to’ So he can’t have done’.
It is by consi,deration of such facts as these (of many more
than these) that’ one comes to understand the roles of’ a ‘ and
‘the ‘ in introducing singular statements. The jejune existential analysis cannot possibly do justice to more than a few
[ca. 6
l’T. 111)
of such facts, and then only at the cost of falsifying others.
Nevertheless, one must try to understand the-motives for. the
existential analysis in the case of indefinite referring expressions
(‘a man’) as well as in the case of definite descriptions (‘the
J(ing of France ‘). For logical dogmas are seldom just perverse.
We have detected already the belief, underlying the Theory of
Definite Descriptions, that a genuine logical subject, a true referring expression, can have a meaning only if there exists an
object to which it applies. ‘The King of F’rance ‘,which failed
to satisfy this condition, was degraded from the status of referring expression. Now why is this belief so firmly heJd?
The answer seems to be that the meaning of any genuine referring expression is taken to be identical with the object to ·iuhich it
applies. 1 Its meaning is what it stands for; and what it stands
for is •vhat it refers to. This simple and only too natural equation is fatal to the claims of phrases like ~ a man ‘ as referring
expressions. For while there are plenty of men, there is plainly
no single object which is the meaning of the phrase. And yet
the phrase is not one .we should ordinarily call ambiguous. It
has the same meaning in immense numbers of sentences. So the
conclusion seems to follow that it is not a referring expression.
So the available logical apparatus of predicates and quantifiers
n1ust be en1ployed to show that the sentences, in which it seen1s
to play something like a referring role are nOt really subjectpredicate sentences at all, but existential sentences.
‘Ve have just seen that there is something to be said for this
conclusion, as well as something to be said against it; that
sentences like ‘ A man fell over the edge ‘ do not behave in all
respects, though they behave in some respects, like subjectprcdicate sentences. But though there is something to be said
for the conclusion, there is nothing to be. said for the reasoning
by which it is arrived at. It rests once more upon the fatal
confusion between sentence and statement, meaning and refer~
ence. For a singular referring expression to have a meaning,
it suffices that it should be possible in suitable circumstances to
use it to refer to some one thing, person, place, &c. Its meaning
is the set of linguistic conventions governing its correct use so to
refer. For the great majority of referring expressions, these
conventions are such. that a given expression may be used on
different occasions to refer to different individual things, persons, places, &c. A moment’s reflection shows this to be true
no less of the phrase ‘ the l{ing of France ‘, ‘or ‘ the ‘-phrases in
general, than of ‘ a man ‘ or ‘ a ‘-phrases in general. Sentences
and phrases and words have meanings, in virtue of which they
may be used to make statements and to refer to things. But
the meanings of sentences are not the statements they are used
to make, and the meanings of words and phrases are not the
things they are used to refer to. Only the grossest equivocation
with Vords like ‘ mean ‘ and ‘ refer ‘ can continue to obscure
–these facts.
The doctrines I am here criticizing have a curious consequence
for the interpretation of the symbolism of the predicative cal culus. In discussing that syn1bolism, we began by distinguish·
ing individual from predicative variables; and since a variable
is explained as a gap-sign in a formula capable of being exemplified by a sentence, this distinction in type of variable seemed to
involve a distinction· between types of expression; l namely,
the distinction between individual and predicative expressions.
We then explained how sentences could be framed froffi predicative formulae by binding individual variables to. form exi~­
tential sentences, as well as by replacing the variables by in·
dividual expressions. We should therefore expect to find two
basic types of sentence exemplifying formulae of the predicative
calculus : viz., predicative sentences containing individual
expressions and not involving quantification; and existential
sentences containing quantifiers and not containing individual
expressions; as well as mixed sentences containing both. The
curious consequence of the doctrines just examined is that
ordinary language, if that doctrine is sound, contains no individual expressions at all, and consequently that there do not
exist any sentences at alJ of the first type.
For where are genuine individual referring expressions to be
found·, having the characteristics required if the doctrines just
examined are correCt? It might be thought that proper names
would fill the bill. But even a proper name does not satisfy
l The phrase ‘the object to which it applies’ contains implicitly the
whole of the confusions here discussed; the whole of e. persistent and
mistaken theory of meaning.
I More strictly, e. distinction between expressions e.s playing certain
kinds of role in sentences. See Chapter 5, Section 5.
Philosophical Review
Reference and Definite Descriptions
Author(s): Keith S. Donnellan
Source: The Philosophical Review, Vol. 75, No. 3 (Jul., 1966), pp. 281-304
Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of Philosophical Review
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All use subject to
DEFINITE descriptions, I shall argue, have two possible functions. 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.
On Russell’s view a definite description may denote an entity:
“if ‘C’ is a denoting phrase [as definite descriptions are by definition], it may happen that there is one entity x (there cannot be
more than one) for which the proposition ‘x is identical with C’
is true. … We may then say that the entity x is the denotation of
the phrase ‘C.’ “2 In using a definite description, then, a speaker
may use an expression which denotes some entity, but this is the
only relationship between that entity and the use of the definite
description recognized by Russell. I shall argue, however, that
there are two uses of definite descriptions. The definition of
denotation given by Russell is applicable to both, but in one of
these the definite description serves to do something more. I shall
say that in this use the speaker uses the definite description to
refer to something, and call this use the “referential use” of a
definite description. Thus, if I am right, referring is not the same
1 I should like to thank my colleagues, John Canfield, Sydney Shoemaker,
and Timothy Smiley, who read an earlier draft and gave me helpful suggestions.
I also had the benefit of the valuable and detailed comments of the referee for
the paper, to whom I wish to express my gratitude.
2 “On Denoting,” reprinted in Logic and Knowledge, ed. by Robert C. Marsh
(London, I 956), P- 5 I 28i
This content downloaded from on Sat, 28 Oct 2017 20:25:46 UTC
All use subject to
as denoting and the referential use of definite descrip
recognized on Russell’s view.
Furthermore, on Russell’s view the type of expression that
comes closest to performing the function of the referential use of
definite descriptions turns out, as one might suspect, to be a
proper name (in “the narrow logical sense”). Many of the things
said about proper names by Russell can, I think, be said about the
referential use of definite descriptions without straining senses
unduly. Thus the gulf Russell thought he saw between names and
definite descriptions is narrower than he thought.
Strawson, on the other hand, certainly does recognize a referential use of definite definitions. But what I think he did not see is
that a definite description may have a quite different role-may
be used nonreferentially, even as it occurs in one and the same
sentence. Strawson, it is true, points out nonreferential uses of
definite descriptions,3 but which use a definite description has
seems to be for him a function of the kind of sentence in which it
occurs; whereas, if I am right, there can be two possible uses of a
definite description in the same sentence. Thus, in “On Referring,”
he says, speaking of expressions used to refer, “Any expression of any
of these classes [one being that of definite descriptions] can occur
as the subject of what would traditionally be regarded as a singular
subject-predicate sentence; and would, so occ …
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