Talk:Theory of descriptions

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Co-Referring Expressions

What is required here is an explanation of the WAY in which the theory of Definite Descriptions addresses the issue of co-referring expressions; right now there is no attempt to link to the whatsoever.    — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:29, 13 April 2016 (UTC) 

Bald kings[edit]

I've commented out this:

Furthermore, the law of excluded middle need not be violated (i.e. it remains a law), because "it is not the case that the present King of France is bald" comes out true, so long as it is read as "it is not the case that there exists a unique individual that is both the present King of France and bald". Thus, Russell's theory seems to be a better analysis insofar as it solves several problems.

I'll read the paper again when I have the time, but my recollection is that Russell says that both statements are false, because the first term ("Kings of France exist") is false:

  1. "Kings of France exist & there is one KoF & this KoF is bald"
  2. "Kings of France exist & there is one KoF & this KoF is not bald"
No, both statements are not false. The statement "It is not the case that the present king of France is bald" is true, according to RTD. Just as "The present king of France is bald" is false. It should not be confused with "The present king of France is not bald", which is false.Commentor 04:47, 17 December 2006 (UTC)

The law of the excluded middle is not violated, because the analysis reveals that both statements can be simultaneously false. In fact, looking at the paper now, it's more complex than that, and I'll add what Russell says to the article. --ajn (talk) 09:36, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

RTD is quite complicated. Hopefully it will get hammered out and polished up over time here. --Jaymay 16:47, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
I think it's doable, provided we stick more or less to Russell's own statements in On Denoting and elsewhere. --ajn (talk) 16:51, 1 August 2006 (UTC)


It's clear to me that Definite description is in fact an article about part of the Theory of Descriptions, and includes criticism of the theory which ought to be in this article. It's entirely about Russell's theory and reactions to it, not about anyone else's definition or use of the term. --ajn (talk) 09:59, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

I agree. The definite descriptions entry should be merged. I'll post something over there, then wait and see if anyone responds. If no one says anything after a while, then someone should just merge it. --Jaymay 16:47, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
The {{mergeto}} template directs discussion here from the other page, so people shouldn't be debating the matter at the other talk page, but it won't hurt to keep an eye on both. --ajn (talk) 16:53, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
I was thinking about how definite descriptions do get a sort of separate treatment in logic sometimes, independent of Russell's analysis. Perhaps we should just have Russell's analysis breifly discussed at definite descriptions, but have the details and the criticisms of his analysis at Theory of descriptions. Any thoughts? Hopefully people would add to the definite descriptions article article though. Otherwise, it will only have the short bit about Russell and the symbolic form. - Jaymay 20:52, 17 August 2006 (UTC)
I completed what I suggested in the previous paragraph. No one objected and it seems like a good idea. If more content doesn't build up on the definite description entry, then that can maybe be fully merged into this article. But, I figured this will be good for now. - Jaymay 22:54, 18 August 2006 (UTC)

Long personal essay[edit]

First, I removed the long personal essay on this Talk page about existence. The reason is obvious, I take it. Second, I recently expanded the article. However, I don't exactly specialize in philosophy of language. So, if anyone knows more about Russell's theory of descriptions and can help improve this, please do! There is an article on definite descriptions that has quite a bit of info, but I thought it important to point out that Russell's theory is also about indefinite descriptions. --Jaymay 06:45, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

Further sources[edit]

Notes for myself and anyone else who feels like joining in.

  • My Philosophical Development - flicking through this, it may have some info about the theory, but I can't find it immediately.
  • Monk vol. 1 will almost certainly have something about it.
  • Possibly Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits? MPD implies there is some stuff about Russell's theory of language in this one, but I haven't read it.
  • There is some typically opaque "discussion" of the theory in Wittgenstein's Tractatus (i.e. LW says some things about it without going very far into his reasons).
  • Oxford Companion to Philosophy has a good summary under descriptions.

--ajn (talk) 16:21, 2 August 2006 (UTC)


Kripke defends Russell's analysis of definite descriptions, and argues that Donnellan does not adequately distinguish meaning from use, or, speaker's meaning from sentence meaning. I don't know, where Kripke says that. Is it indeed the case? Commentor 04:46, 17 December 2006 (UTC)

The transcript of Reference and Existence is widely referred to, but almost impossible to obtain, even in Oxford. Has the author read these transcripts, or someone else writing about them? If the latter, that reference should be added. I'd even say that the reference to R&E should be removed.

A convenient distinction of two kinds of meaning[edit]

Link...-->      --Faustnh (talk) 19:47, 27 April 2009 (UTC)

Broad proposal for change[edit]

Currently, the section describing the criticisms of Russell's theory is split out into three sections, covering broadly the criticism by Strawson, Donnellan and Kripke. The section on Kripke isn't so much a criticism of Russell as stating that Kripke responded to Donnellan's criticism of Russell.

I'm thinking of refactoring the section to make it about the criticisms raised rather than about who raised the criticism. Broadly, then, the two existing critiques made by Strawson and Donnellan can be represented like this:

  1. Incomplete definite descriptions
    • Strawson
  2. Referential and attributive uses of definite descriptions
    • Donnellan
    • Kripke's response to Donnellan

The reason I suggest this is because there is a considerable literature on both topics, and plenty more on other related topics to the theory of descriptions. So, on the matter of incomplete definite descriptions, there is work also by Donnellan, Howard Wettstein, Michael Devitt, Ernie Lepore, Scott Soames, Stephen Neale, Grice, Nathan Salmon and many others. It plays into the debate about semantics and pragmatics.

There is a similarly large literature on the referential/attributive distinction and plenty of other topics that ought to be covered. Switching over to have a topic-focussed criticism section enables the article to scale as this literature gets built. I'll be bold and switch it over when I have a few minutes, but I thought it would be best to explain the reasons for it here. —Tom Morris (talk) 16:48, 14 November 2012 (UTC)