Reference in Context: On Donnellan’s Essays on Reference, Language, and MindReport as inadecuate

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Prolegomena : Journal of Philosophy, Vol.12 No.1 June 2013. -

Donnellan’s recently published Essays on Reference, Language, and Mind 2012 collect his seminal papers from 1960s and 1970s. In most of them, he introduces and defends two major, related views in the theory of reference. The first one concerns the functioning of definite descriptions, and the second one the nature of singular reference. Donnellan argues that definite descriptions are ambiguous between their referential and their attributive use, and that descriptions used referentially function more or less as other referring expressions, proper names and indexicals. All referential expressions, Donnellan further argues, do not function according to the principle of identifying descriptions, as most philosophers from Frege onward thought, but rather on the ground of being appropriately historically connected to a thing, which is their referent. Such a referent, Donnellan thinks, does not have to fit the descriptive content or identifying descriptions if there are any associated with these expressions. As such, the referential expressions are directly referring, contributing its referent, not the descriptive material, to the propositional content of sentences they occur within. In my paper I reflect on some important, but controversial points in Donnellan’s papers, having to do with his understanding of the functioning of definite descriptions and proper names, and I relate these points to some subsequent discussions about the matters.

Attributive use; definite descriptions; direct reference; Donnellan; proper names; reference; referential use; the historical explanation theory of reference

Author: Dušan Dožudić - ; Centre for Croatian Studies, University of Zagreb, Croatia



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