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Definite Descriptions

A Reader
Edited by Gary Ostertag


Bertrand Russell's theory of definite descriptions sparked an ongoing debate concerning the proper logical and linguistic analysis of definite descriptions. While it is now widely acknowledged that, like the indexical expressions 'I', 'here', and 'now', definite descriptions in natural language are context-sensitive, there is significant disagreement as to the ultimate challenge this context-sensitivity poses to Russell's theory.This reader is intended both to introduce students to the philosophy of language via the theory of descriptions, and to provide scholars in analytic philosophy with ready access to some of the central contributions in this area. It includes classic works by Russell, Carnap, Strawson, Lambert, Donnellan, Grice, Peacocke, Kripke, Wettstein, Soames, Neale, and Schiffer.


“Every student of philosophical logic and the philosophy of language needs to know about Russell's theory of defnite descriptions, about objections to it and responses, and about its relations to theories of quantification and reference and to the semantics/pragmatics distinction. Yet general anthologies on logic and language can only include five or six selections, at most, on definite descriptions. Gary Ostertag's fine selection of readings provides upper-level undergraduates, graduate students, and professional philosophers with a rich set of resources that will facilitate a detailed and engaged study of this key topic. Definite Descriptions: A Reader begins with three of Russell's own presentations of his theory, includes not only the classics by Strawson, Donnellan and Kripke, but also well-chosen papers from Carnap, Grice, Lambert, Peacocke, Soame and Wettstein, and ends with pieces by Neale and Schiffer that take the reader to the leading edge of current research.”
Martin Davies, Corpus Christi College, Oxford
“This is an excellent and much needed collection of essential readings on definite descriptions.”
Michael Devitt, Univeristy of Maryland
“Ever since Russell, the subject of definite descriptions has been central to the philosophy of language. Gary Ostertag's excellent anthology brings together the classic writings on the subject and some of the most important recent work. The book will be an invaluable resource to all those working in the field.”
Tim Crane, Univeristy College London
“For philosophy of language classes and seminars that focus on thesemantics and pragmatics of descriptions, this volume provides a very good set of core readings.”
Mark Crimmins, Department of Philosophy University of Michigan