Concept

Theory of descriptions

Résumé
The theory of descriptions is the philosopher Bertrand Russell's most significant contribution to the philosophy of language. It is also known as Russell's theory of descriptions (commonly abbreviated as RTD). In short, Russell argued that the syntactic form of descriptions (phrases that took the form of "The aardvark" and "An aardvark") is misleading, as it does not correlate their logical and/or semantic architecture. While descriptions may seem fairly uncontroversial phrases, Russell argued that providing a satisfactory analysis of the linguistic and logical properties of a description is vital to clarity in important philosophical debates, particularly in semantic arguments, epistemology and metaphysical elements. Since the first development of the theory in Russell's 1905 paper "On Denoting", RTD has been hugely influential and well-received within the philosophy of language. However, it has not been without its critics. In particular, the philosophers P. F. Strawson and Keith Donnellan have given notable, well known criticisms of the theory. Most recently, RTD has been defended by various philosophers and even developed in promising ways to bring it into harmony with generative grammar in Noam Chomsky's sense, particularly by Stephen Neale. Such developments have themselves been criticised, and debate continues. Russell viewed his theory of descriptions as a kind of analysis that is now called propositional analysis (not to be confused with propositional calculus). Bertrand Russell's theory of descriptions was initially put forth in his 1905 essay "On Denoting", published in the journal of philosophy Mind. Russell's theory is focused on the logical form of expressions involving denoting phrases, which he divides into three groups: Denoting phrases which do not denote anything, for example "the current Emperor of Kentucky". Phrases which denote one definite object, for example "the present President of the U.S.A." We need not know which object the phrase refers to for it to be unambiguous, for example "the cutest kitten" is a unique individual but his or her actual identity is unknown.
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