A non-Russellian treatment of the referential-attributive distinction
Kripke made a good case that “…the phi…” is not semantically ambiguous between referential and attributive meanings. Russell says that “…the phi…” is always to be analyzed attributively. Many semanticists, agreeing with Kripke that “…the phi…” is not ambiguous, have tried to give a Russellian analysis of the referential-attributive distinction: the gross deviations between what is communicated by “…the phi..”, on the one hand, and what Russell’s theory says it literally means, on the other, are chalked up to implicature. This paper shows that, when the phenomenon of implicature is scrutinized, there is overwhelming reason to doubt that a Russellian analysis can succeed. A positive, non-Russellian analysis is proposed: it is shown that, if definite descriptions are treated as referring expressions, it is easy to deal with the referential-attributive distinction. When “…the phi…” is functioning attributively, the definite description is seen as referring to some object described in an understood, antecedent existence claim.
Published online: 07 January 2005