Toward a referential view of definite descriptions
I argue for a referential view of definite descriptions. According to the view that I advocate, definite descriptions are variables. At the syntactic level, they contribute a free variable that must be assigned a referent in order for the sentence to be truth evaluable. When an assignment is provided, through the referential intentions of the speaker, the semantic content of a given use is a singular proposition involving the object that the assignment assigns to the variable. I show that this view has the resources to accommodate uses of definite descriptions that are bound into by external quantifiers. Using the same resources, I show how one can arrive at the dual readings available for sentences containing definite descriptions embedded in modal and belief operators. I discuss the distinction between referential and attributive uses of definite descriptions and explain how the relevant differences are achieved on this view.