2014 | 22 | 3(87) | 27-42
Article title

The Attributive–Referential Distinction and Uses of Definite Descriptions

Title variants
Languages of publication
The paper discusses various uses of definite descriptions. The aim is to demonstrate that the commonly adopted Donnellan’s dichotomous division into “attributive” and “referential” uses is inadequate. The uses of definite descriptions exhibit a significant variety and do not constitute two homogenous classes. In particular, there are uses which have some features of both referential and attributive uses. These are the cases where the speaker’s use of a description rests on some causal links to a particular object — like in the case of referential uses — but the speaker intends her audience to make an independent identification of that object, which is characteristic of the attributive use. Such uses match Ludlow’s and Neale’s characterization of the specific use of indefinite descriptions. At the end of the article, the author briefly considers the impact of his observations on the widely discussed issue of a proper semantic theory of definite descriptions.
Physical description
  • Instytut Filozofii, Uniwersytet Warszawski, ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 3, 00-927 Warszawa
  • Amaral P. (2008), Definite Descriptions are Ambiguous, „Analysis” 68(300), 288-297.
  • Bach K. (2004), Descriptions. Points of Reference [in:] Descriptions and Beyond, M. Reimer, A. Bezuidenhout (eds.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 189-229.
  • Bach K. (2007), Referentially Used Descriptions. A Reply to Devitt, „European Journal of Analytic Philosophy” 3(2): 33-48.
  • Devitt M. (1981), Designation, New York (NY): Columbia University Press.
  • Devitt M. (2004), The Case for Referential Descriptions [in:] Descriptions and Beyond, M. Reimer, A. Bezuidenhout (eds.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 280-305.
  • Donnellan K. (1966), Reference and Definite Descriptions, „Philosophical Review” 75, 281-304.
  • Donnellan K. (2012), Speaker’s Reference, Descriptions, and Anaphora [in:] Keith Donnellan. Essays on Reference, Language, and Mind, J. Almog, P. Leonardi (eds.), New York (NY): Oxford University Press, 115-146.
  • Kripke S. (1977), Speaker’s Reference and Semantic Reference, „Midwest Studies in Philosophy” 2(1), 255-276.
  • Margolis J., Fales E. (1976), Donnellan on Definite Descriptions, „Philosophia” 6(2), 289-302.
  • Ludlow P. (2011), Descriptions [in:] The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), E. N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
  • Ludlow P., Neale S. (1991), Indefinite Descriptions. In Defense of Russell, „Linguistics and Philosophy” 14, 171-202.
  • Ludlow P., Segal G. (2004), On a Unitary Semantical Analysis for Definite and Indefinite Descriptions [in:] Descriptions and Beyond, M. Reimer, A. Bezuidenhout (eds.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 420-436.
  • Szabo Z. (2000), Descriptions and Uniqueness, „Philosophical Studies” 101(1): 29-57.
  • Tałasiewicz M. (2010), Prolegomena do teorii wyrażeń nominalnych. Rekonstrukcja koncepcji Petera F. Strawsona, „Przegląd Filozoficzny — Nowa Seria” 75(3), 53-75.
Document Type
Publication order reference
YADDA identifier
JavaScript is turned off in your web browser. Turn it on to take full advantage of this site, then refresh the page.