Topic: denoting phrases and definite descriptions

topics > Group: philosophy


causal theory of names
descriptive naming
encoded names
meaning without reference
meaning vs. reference
names as abbreviations for descriptions
objects as a set of attributes
objects without names
proper names
set definition by extension or intension
using a description as a name


A denoting phrase is a description that identifies something. For example, many things that we learn are only given to us by description.

Some philosophers go on to say that every name is a description.

Russell argues that denoting phrases act as a qualifier without meaning in its own right. Only in the context of a sentence does it acquire meaning.

Denoting phrases can be tricky because the intended referent may differ from the description. (cbb 5/94)

Subtopic: denoting phrases up

Quote: all thinking starts with acquaintance but succeeds for many things that we can only reach by denoting phrases [»russB_1956]
Quote: definite descriptions--its component words determine its meaning; compare with names, e.g., 'Scott is the author of Waverly' [»russB_1919, OK]
Quote: much of what we say is based on what others told us; e.g., our belief that Napoleon was the Emperor of France [»winoT_1986]
Quote: the initial identification of an object is by description; so a name can't have a reference without a sense [»searJR_1958]
Quote: 'that mountaineer' adverts to a body of information that fixes its denotation; the source of the information may fail to fit it [»evanG_1973]
Quote: Frege distinguishes the meaning and denotation of a denoting phrase, e.g., 'the center of mass of the solar system...' [»russB_1956]
Quote: definition arises from stating what we mean; i.e., the statement of which the word is a sign becomes a definition [»aris_322a]
Quote: to argue, every word must indicate one definite thing, a necessary connection; opposite statements are impossible [»aris_322a]

Subtopic: sense up

Quote: sense supplies the means by which a name is recognized as the thing referred to
Quote: the sense of a proper name is the definite description associated with the name [»searJR_1983]

Subtopic: denoting phrase as qualifier up

Quote: a denoting phrase acts as the qualifier of a variable in an expression; e.g., C(everything) means 'C(x) is always true' [»russB_1956]
Quote: denoting phrases include a man, some man, any man, all men, the present King of France [»russB_1956]
Quote: a name may uniquely identify an individual by attributes; uniqueness may be part of the name, e.g., 'only...', 'first...' or 'father of...' [»millJS_1843, OK]
Quote: in a denoting phrase, 'the' becomes an uniqueness qualification; makes for involved rewordings [»russB_1956]
Quote: Russell's translation of 'Scott was the author of Waverly' does not include a constituent 'the author of Waverly'; solves a=b vs. a=a [»russB_1956]
Quote: in Russell's theory of denotation, 'I met a man' means '"I met x, and x is human" is not always false' [»russB_1956]
Quote: meaning vs. reference is wrongly conceived because can't speak about the meaning of a denoting phrase; 'the meaning of "C"' == 'C' [»russB_1956]
Quote: any definite description can be a rigid designator by indexing it to the actual world [»searJR_1983]
Quote: a proper name refers without presupposing a context; demonstratives and singular, referring expressions assume a context [»searJR_1958]

Subtopic: denotation may be not exist up

Quote: a description may not refer to the intended referent; e.g., "the man with champagne is happy"; Kripke ignores this [»kripSA_1980]
Note: consider Nextperson as a proper name; its description fixes its reference but does not give its meaning; i.e., contingent, a priori truth
[»kripSA_1980, OK]

Related Topics up

Group: naming   (32 topics, 789 quotes)

Topic: causal theory of names (21 items)
Topic: descriptive naming (29 items)
Topic: encoded names (7 items)
Topic: meaning without reference (31 items)
Topic: meaning vs. reference (49 items)
Topic: names as abbreviations for descriptions (35 items)
Topic: objects as a set of attributes (39 items)
Topic: objects without names (7 items)
Topic: proper names (35 items)
Topic: reductionism (51 items)
Topic: set definition by extension or intension (18 items)
Topic: using a description as a name
(21 items)

Updated barberCB 4/04
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