Incomplete Descriptions and the Underdetermination Problem
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The purpose of this paper is to discuss two phenomena related to the semantics of definite descriptions: that of incomplete uses of descriptions, and that of the underdetermination of referential uses of descriptions. The Russellian theorist has a way of accounting for incomplete uses of descriptions by appealing to an account of quantifier domain restriction, such as the one proposed in Stanley and Szabó (2000a). But, I argue, the Russellian is not the only one in a position to appeal to such an account of incomplete uses of descriptions. Proponents of other theories, such as the Fregean, which does not treat descriptions as quantifiers, might benefit from this account of domain restriction. In the second part of the paper I discuss referential uses of incomplete definite descriptions. Relative to such uses, Wettstein (1981) and others have argued that the Russellian theory faces a problem of underdetermination of semantic content. Neale (2004) has replied to this objection showing why it does not pose a threat to the Russellian theory. Again, I argue that not only the Russellian, but also the Fregean can subscribe to Neale’s (2004) suggestion.