Keith Donnellan, “Reference and Definite Descriptions”, The Philosophical Review, 75 (1966): 281-304.
Donnellan’s main claim in this paper is that Russell’s and Strawson’s account of descriptions are both mistaken: each of them accounts for at most one of the uses of descriptions that Donnellan distinguishes. Write a short essay on Donnellan’s paper, explaining his distinction between attributive and referential uses of definite descriptions. Provide some of your own examples to illustrate the distinction.
Donnellan uses a variety of locutions to try to capture what is special about the referential use: e.g., the thing that is “meant” or the thing that the speaker has “in mind”. In what ways are these helpful and in what ways not? In section VI, Donnellan argues that his results are inconsistent both with Russell’s theory and with Strawson’s. Briefly summarize why? In the last couple sections of the paper, Donnellan attempts to say something about the nature of the distinction. In section VII, he denies that it is either a syntatic ambiguity (e.g., a scope difference) or semantic ambiguity (a difference in the meanings of the words, as with “bank”). He suggests we might think of the ambiguity as “pragmatic”, as a matter of the speaker's intentions. What do you think that this might mean?
As this is a short paper with a defined purpose, you need not worry about writing an introduction, about motivating what you are trying to do, or any such thing. Simply launch directly into talking about Donnellan’s distinction.
Your essay should be 700-900 words in length (exclusive of your bibliography). Essays longer than 900 words may be penalized. Please include a word count at the end of your essay.
These solutions may offer step-by-step problem-solving explanations or good writing examples that include modern styles of formatting and construction of bibliographies out of text citations and references. Students may use these solutions for personal skill-building and practice. Unethical use is strictly forbidden.It is important to stress that Donnellan’s distinction is between two ways in which definite descriptions are used, where circumstances—at least in part—decide which use is in effect. Attributive use involves using a definite description to assert something about “whoever or whatever is the so-and-so…[that is] about whatever or whoever fits [the definite description]” (Donnellan 285). Referential use involves using a definite description to pick out for listeners a particular thing and to say something about that particular thing. Consider this ripped-from-the-headlines example: “Andy’s sidekick is a big redheaded comedian from Boston.” Attributive use of this definite description implies that there is some unique individual who is Andy’s sidekick and that whoever that is, they are a big redheaded comedian from Boston. Referential use of this definite description, however, picks out a specific...
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