Descriptions by Stephen Neale

By Stephen Neale

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Russell would have been prepared to say that one and the same denoting phrase might, on the face of it, have one denotation when used by one speaker, and another when used by another speaker, and perhaps none when used by a third speaker. Russell did not regard the denotation of a phrase as invariant between occasions of the use of the phrase, which may make one think that he did not make the mistake Strawson attributed to him (p. 39) . No substantive issue turns on Russell's failure to separate sentences from utterances when talking about descriptions.

I shall call descriptions containing (internally) free variables relativized definite descriptions . 40 Following Russell, discussion of definite descriptions typically cen­ ters on phrases of the form 'the so-and-so' . This fact, coupled with the success we just had in applying the Theory of Descriptions to a complex phrase of that form, suggests that, applied to natural lan­ guage, the domain of the theory is all and only those sentences con­ taining singular noun phrases beginning with the word 'the' .

But it is plain that there is now no sense in which its truth conditions depend upon how things are with David Wiggins, as he is not (in the counterfactual circumstances) the Honorary Librarian. It is clear, then, that David Wiggins does not enter into a proper specification of the truth-conditions of (2) . (This is not, of course, to say that the t r u th of my utterance in the actual world does not depend on how things are with David Wiggins. ) In short, since ( a ) David Wiggins does not enter into a specification of the truth conditions of (2) in certain counterfactual situations, and ( b ) no one else enters the truth conditions in the actual situation, by (R3) the proposition expressed by my original utterance is neither Wiggins-dependent nor anybody­ else-dependent.

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