Descriptions as restricted free variables

Date
2020-08
Authors
Woolwine, Cassandra Joan
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Abstract

In this dissertation, I provide a referential account of definite descriptions, situated in a static framework. According to that analysis, definite descriptions denote free variable complexes that carry assignment restrictions that are determined by their descriptive content. When all variables in the complex are provided referents through the intentions of the speaker, the proposition expressed by the utterance will be a singular proposition concerning the referent of the variable complex. I additionally provide an accompanying analysis of indefinites as restricted free object variables that may be bound by overt quantifiers or modals, or by a process of existential closure. In the first chapter, I provide some initial motivation for a referential view of definites and vii demonstrate that the variable complex view of definites is better equipped to handle embedded, externally bound variables than a view of definites as simple object variables. In the second chapter, I define a formal framework for my analysis of definites and indefinites, and demonstrate that understanding indefinite descriptions within this framework will provide a solution to a puzzle involving scope islands. In chapter 3, I show how this framework may be extended to provide de re and de dicto readings of definites in the scope of modal operators. I situate my discussion in a longstanding debate over the desired de dicto truth conditions in non-doxastic attitude reports involving definite and indefinite descriptions. I show that my view can achieve the correct readings for both indefinites and definites and that my treatment of indefinites is superior to that of standard Russellian, Dynamic or Fregean views. In the last chapter, I characterize the attributive/referential distinction in terms of features of their conveyed content, and show how both uses can be achieved on the above view of definites.

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