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Strawsonian vs. Russellian Definite Descriptions

Organon F, 2009, roč. 16, č. 4, s. 587-614.
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In 1905 Bertrand Russell took on the problem of definite descriptions, and his analysis became the standard up until 1950 when Peter Strawson criticised Russell’s solution as inadequate. Since then many opponents as well as proponents of the Russellian solution have been involved in a long-term debate on definite descriptions. In this paper I show that both sides of the contention are partly right and partly wrong, because sentences of the form “The F is a G” are ambiguous. However, the ambiguity does not concern reference shift of the description ‘the F’. Rather, the ambiguity consists in different topic-focus articulations of a given sentence involving occurrences of ‘the F’. I demonstrate that when ‘the F’ is used as part of the topic of such a sentence the existence of the object denoted by ‘the F’ is not only entailed by but also presupposed by the sentence. On the other hand, ‘the F’ used in the focus of a sentence triggers merely existential entailment. Thus sentences differing only in their topic-focus articulation should have assigned different logical forms. In order to make such hidden features explicit, I apply the procedural semantics of Transparent Intensional Logic (TIL), furnishing sentences with hyperpropositions that are precisely defined in terms of TIL constructions. These are procedures assigned to sentences as their context-invariant structured meanings. Moreover, I generalise the phenomenon of the topic-focus distinction to sentences of any form, proposing an adequate analytic schema of sentences that come with a presupposition.

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