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Summary A number of issues have arisen in the course of inquiry into the semantics and pragmatics of descriptions that cross-cut traditional lines of debate.  Such issues include, inter alia: the role of familiarity in distinguishing definite and indefinite descriptions, how to understand the relationship between definite descriptions and complex demonstratives, and how to account for plural descriptions.
Key works The idea that a familiarity presupposition might help to distinguish definite from indefinite descriptions is generally attributed to Christophersen 1939.  This proposal was introduced into more contemporary linguistic discourse in Heim 1982.  For an account of the parallels and differences between definite descriptions and demonstratives, see Roberts 2002.  For attempts to account for plural descriptions, see Sharvy 1980 and Link 1983.
Introductions Ludlow 2008
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  1. Definite and Indefinite According to Muslim Philosophers.Dr Gh Dinani - unknown - Kheradnameh Sadra Quarterly 5.
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  2. Towards World Identification in Description Logics.Farshad Badie - forthcoming - Logical Investigations.
    Logical analysis of the applicability of nominals (which are introduced by hybrid logic) in the formal descriptions of the world (within modern knowledge representation and semantics-based systems) is very important because nominals, as second sorts of propositional symbols, can support logical identification of the described world at specific [temporal and/or spacial] states. This paper will focus on answering the philosophical-logical question of ‘how a fundamental world description in description logic (DL) and a nominal can be related to each other?’. Based (...)
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  3. A Binary Quantifier for Definite Descriptions for Cut Free Free Logics.Nils Kürbis - 2022 - Studia Logica 110 (1):219-239.
    This paper presents rules in sequent calculus for a binary quantifier I to formalise definite descriptions: Ix[F, G] means ‘The F is G’. The rules are suitable to be added to a system of positive free logic. The paper extends the proof of a cut elimination theorem for this system by Indrzejczak by proving the cases for the rules of I. There are also brief comparisons of the present approach to the more common one that formalises definite descriptions with a (...)
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  4. Composition as Identity, Now with All the Pluralities You Could Want.Jonathan D. Payton - 2021 - Synthese 199 (3-4):8047-8068.
    According to ‘composition as identity’, a composite object is identical to all its parts taken together. Thus, a plurality of composite objects is identical to the plurality of those objects’ parts. This has the consequence that, e.g., the bricks which compose a brick wall are identical to the atoms which compose those bricks, and hence that the plurality of bricks must include each of those atoms. This consequence of CAI is in direct conflict with the standard analysis of plural definite (...)
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  5. Demonstratives, Definite Descriptions and Non-Redundancy.Kyle Hammet Blumberg - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (1):39-64.
    In some sentences, demonstratives can be substituted with definite descriptions without any change in meaning. In light of this, many have maintained that demonstratives are just a type of definite description. However, several theorists have drawn attention to a range of cases where definite descriptions are acceptable, but their demonstrative counterparts are not. Some have tried to account for this data by appealing to presupposition. I argue that such presuppositional approaches are problematic, and present a pragmatic account of the target (...)
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  6. Definite Descriptions in Intuitionist Positive Free Logic.Nils Kürbis - 2020 - Logic and Logical Philosophy 30:1.
    This paper presents rules of inference for a binary quantifier I for the formalisation of sentences containing definite descriptions within intuitionist positive free logic. I binds one variable and forms a formula from two formulas. Ix[F, G] means ‘The F is G’. The system is shown to have desirable proof-theoretic properties: it is proved that deductions in it can be brought into normal form. The discussion is rounded up by comparisons between the approach to the formalisation of definite descriptions recommended (...)
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  7. The Presentational Use of Descriptions.Michael R. Hicks - 2019 - Analytic Philosophy 60 (4):361-384.
    Discussing Keith Donnellan's distinction between attributive and referential uses of descriptions, Gareth Evans considered a speaker he found it natural to describe as having “given expression to” a singular thought, though he insisted she was not referring to the person she has in mind. On accounts otherwise similar to Evans's, to express a singular thought just is to refer. Thus, as he does not explain why this speaker might speak this way, it is tempting to ignore this as a slip. (...)
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  8. A Binary Quantifier for Definite Descriptions in Intuitionist Negative Free Logic: Natural Deduction and Normalisation.Nils Kürbis - 2019 - Bulletin of the Section of Logic 48 (2):81-97.
    This paper presents a way of formalising definite descriptions with a binary quantifier ι, where ιx[F, G] is read as ‘The F is G’. Introduction and elimination rules for ι in a system of intuitionist negative free logic are formulated. Procedures for removing maximal formulas of the form ιx[F, G] are given, and it is shown that deductions in the system can be brought into normal form.
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  9. Definiteness Projection.Matthew Mandelkern & Daniel Rothschild - 2019 - Natural Language Semantics:1-33.
    We argue that definite noun phrases give rise to uniqueness inferences characterized by a pattern we call definiteness projection. Definiteness projection says that the uniqueness inference of a definite projects out unless there is an indefinite antecedent in a position that filters presuppositions. We argue that definiteness projection poses a serious puzzle for e-type theories of (in)definites; on such theories, indefinites should filter existence presuppositions but not uniqueness presuppositions. We argue that definiteness projection also poses challenges for dynamic approaches, which (...)
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  10. Complex Demonstratives, Hidden Arguments, and Presupposition.Ethan Nowak - 2019 - Synthese (4):1-36.
    Standard semantic theories predict that non-deictic readings for complex demonstratives should be much more widely available than they in fact are. If such readings are the result of a lexical ambiguity, as Kaplan (1977) and others suggest, we should expect them to be available wherever a definite description can be used. The same prediction follows from ‘hidden argument’ theories like the ones described by King (2001) and Elbourne (2005). Wolter (2006), however, has shown that complex demonstratives admit non-deictic interpretations only (...)
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  11. Intensional Relative Clauses and the Semantics of Variable Objects.Friederike Moltmann - 2018 - In Manfred Krifka & Schenner Mathias (eds.), Reconstruction Effects in Relative Clauses. Berlin: De Gruyter. pp. 427-453..
    NPs with intensional relative clauses such as 'the book John needs to write' pose a significant challenge for semantic theory. Such NPs act like referential terms, yet they do not stand for a particular actual object. This paper will develop a semantic analysis of such NPs on the basis of the notion of a variable object. The analysis avoids a range of difficulties that a more standard analysis based on the notion of an individual concept would face. Most importantly, unlike (...)
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  12. Split-Scope Definites: Relative Superlatives and Haddock Descriptions.Dylan Bumford - 2017 - Linguistics and Philosophy 40 (6):549-593.
    This paper argues for a particular semantic decomposition of morphological definiteness. I propose that the meaning of ‘the’ comprises two distinct compositional operations. The first builds a set of witnesses that satisfy the restricting noun phrase. The second tests this set for uniqueness. The motivation for decomposing the denotation of the definite determiner in this way comes from split-scope intervention effects. The two components—the selection of witnesses on the one hand and the counting of witnesses on the other—may take effect (...)
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  13. Russell's Revenge: A Problem for Bivalent Fregean Theories of Descriptions.Jan Heylen - 2017 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 98 (4):636-652.
    Fregean theories of descriptions as terms have to deal with improper descriptions. To save bivalence various proposals have been made that involve assigning referents to improper descriptions. While bivalence is indeed saved, there is a price to be paid. Instantiations of the same general scheme, viz. the one and only individual that is F and G is G, are not only allowed but even required to have different truth values.
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  14. Definiteness and Determinacy.Elizabeth Coppock & David Beaver - 2015 - Linguistics and Philosophy 38 (5):377-435.
    This paper distinguishes between definiteness and determinacy. Definiteness is seen as a morphological category which, in English, marks a uniqueness presupposition, while determinacy consists in denoting an individual. Definite descriptions are argued to be fundamentally predicative, presupposing uniqueness but not existence, and to acquire existential import through general type-shifting operations that apply not only to definites, but also indefinites and possessives. Through these shifts, argumental definite descriptions may become either determinate or indeterminate. The latter option is observed in examples like (...)
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  15. Same but Different.Daniel Hardt & Line Mikkelsen - 2015 - Linguistics and Philosophy 38 (4):289-314.
    In this paper, we argue that same is fundamentally different from different, in that same imposes a discourse condition on eventualities, while different compares individuals. This difference has not been noted in previous literature. Furthermore, in the literature on same, there has been a persistent puzzle about the contribution of the definite article with which same must co-occur. We show that this puzzle is resolved once the contribution of same is adjusted to apply to eventualities: then the definite article can (...)
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  16. Reference to and Via Properties: The View From Dutch.Louise McNally & Henriëtte Swart - 2015 - Linguistics and Philosophy 38 (4):315-362.
    Many languages offer a surprisingly complex range of options for referring to entities using expressions whose main descriptive content is contributed by an adjective, such as Dutch de blinde ‘the blind,’ het besprokene, ‘the discussed,’ or het ongewone van het niet roken ‘the strange about not smoking.’ In this paper, we present a case study of the syntax and compositional semantics of three such constructions in Dutch, one of which we argue has not previously been identified in the literature. The (...)
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  17. Why Indefinites Can Escape Scope Islands.Edgar Onea - 2015 - Linguistics and Philosophy 38 (3):237-267.
    One of the big questions about indefinites is why they can escape scope islands. In the recent approach of Brasoveanu and Farkas :1–55, 2011) scopal relations with syntactically dominating quantifiers are hard wired into the semantic definition of the existential quantifier, which immediately explains why the semantic scope of indefinites may exceed their syntactic scope. In this paper, I argue for the revival of an alternative approach which places the explanatory burden on the idea that indefinites are essentially referential expressions, (...)
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  18. Descriptions Which Have Grown Capital Letters.Brian Rabern - 2015 - Mind and Language 30 (3):292-319.
    Almost entirely ignored in the linguistic theorising on names and descriptions is a hybrid form of expression which, like definite descriptions, begin with 'the' but which, like proper names, are capitalised and seem to lack descriptive content. These are expressions such as the following, 'the Holy Roman Empire', 'the Mississippi River', or 'the Space Needle'. Such capitalised descriptions are ubiquitous in natural language, but to which linguistic categories do they belong? Are they simply proper names? Or are they definite descriptions (...)
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  19. Definite Descriptions and Semantic Pluralism.Brendan Murday - 2014 - Philosophical Papers 43 (2):255-284.
    We pose two arguments for the view that sentences containing definite descriptions semantically express multiple propositions: a general proposition as Russell suggested, and a singular proposition featuring the individual who uniquely satisfies the description at the world-time of utterance. One argument mirrors David Kaplan's arguments that indexicals express singular propositions through a context-sensitive character. The second argument mirrors Kent Bach's and Stephen Neale's arguments for pluralist views about terms putatively triggering conventional implicatures, appositive, and nonrestrictive relative clauses. After presenting these (...)
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  20. Definite Descriptions and the Argument From Inference.Wojciech Rostworowski - 2014 - Philosophia 42 (4):1099-1109.
    This article discusses the “Argument from Inference” raised against the view that definite descriptions are semantically referring expressions. According to this argument, the indicated view is inadequate since it evaluates some invalid inferences with definite descriptions as “valid” and vice versa. I argue that the Argument from Inference is basically wrong. Firstly, it is crucially based on the assumption that a proponent of the view that definite descriptions are referring expressions conceives them as directly referring terms, i.e., the terms which (...)
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  21. Higher‐Level Plurals Versus Articulated Reference, and an Elaboration of Salva Veritate.Hanoch Ben-Yami - 2013 - Dialectica 67 (1):81-102.
    In recent literature on plurals the claim has often been made that the move from singular to plural expressions can be iterated, generating what are occasionally called higher-level plurals or superplurals, often correlated with superplural predicates. I argue that the idea that the singular-to-plural move can be iterated is questionable. I then show that the examples and arguments intended to establish that some expressions of natural language are in some sense higher-level plurals fail. Next, I argue that these and some (...)
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  22. Epsilon-Invariant Substitutions and Indefinite Descriptions.Z. Molnar - 2013 - Logic Journal of the IGPL 21 (5):812-829.
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  23. Reference Through Mental Files : Indexicals and Definite Descriptions.François Recanati - 2013 - In Carlo Penco & Filippo Domaneschi (eds.), What Is Said and What Is Not. Stanford. pp. 159-173.
    Accounts for referential communication (and especially communication by means of definite descriptions and indexicals) in the mental file framework.
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  24. Tropes, Intensional Relative Clauses, and the Notion of a Variable Object.Friederike Moltmann - 2012 - In Aloni Maria, Kimmelman Vadim, Weidman Sassoon Galit, Roloefson Floris, Schulz Katrin & Westera Matthjis (eds.), Proceedings of the 18th Amsterdam Colloquium 2011. Springer.
    NPs with intensional relative clauses such as 'the impact of the book John needs to write' pose a significant challenge for trope theory (the theory of particularized properties), since they seem to refer to tropes that lack an actual bearer. This paper proposes a novel semantic analysis of such NPs on the basis of the notion of a variable object. The analysis avoids a range of difficulties that an alternative analysis based on the notion of an individual concept would face.
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  25. Against the Argument From Convention.Anders J. Schoubye - 2012 - Linguistics and Philosophy 35 (6):515-532.
    In recent years, a new argument in favor of Donnellan’s (Philos Rev 77: 281–304, 1966) semantic distinction between attributive and referential descriptions has been proposed by Michael Devitt and Marga Reimer. This argument is based on two empirical premises concerning regularity of use and processing ease. This paper is an attempt to demonstrate (a) that these empirical observations are dubious and fail to license the conclusion of the argument and (b) that if the argument were sound, it would severely overgenerate. (...)
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  26. Descriptions: An Annotated Bibliography.Berit Brogaard - 2010 - Oxford Annotated Bibliographies Online.
    Descriptions are phrases of the form ‘an F’, ‘the F’, ‘Fs’, ‘the Fs’ and NP's F (e.g. ‘John's mother’). They can be indefinite (e.g., ‘an F’ and ‘Fs’), definite (e.g. ‘the F’ and ‘the Fs’), singular (e.g., ‘an F’, ‘the F’) or plural (e.g., ‘the Fs’, ‘Fs’). In English plural indefinite descriptions lack an article and are for that reason also known as ‘bare plurals’. How to account for the semantics and pragmatics of descriptions has been one of the central (...)
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  27. Carnap’s Theory of Descriptions and its Problems.Jan8 Heylen - 2010 - Studia Logica 94 (3):355-380.
    Carnap's theory of descriptions was restricted in two ways. First, the descriptive conditions had to be non-modal. Second, only primitive predicates or the identity predicate could be used to predicate something of the descriptum . The motivating reasons for these two restrictions that can be found in the literature will be critically discussed. Both restrictions can be relaxed, but Carnap's theory can still be blamed for not dealing adequately with improper descriptions.
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  28. Descriptions, Negation, and Focus.Michael Glanzberg - 2009 - In Robert Stainton & Christopher Viger (eds.), Compositionality, Context, and Semantic Values: Essays in Honor of Ernie Lepore. Springer.
    One of the mainstays of the theory of definite descriptions since Russell (1905) has been their interaction with negation. In particular, Russellians, who advocate the view that definite descriptions are a kind of quantifier, point to these interactions as evidence in favor of the their view. The argument runs roughly as follows.
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  29. Carnapian Arithmetic with Descriptions.Jan Heylen - 2009 - In Erik Weber, Thierry Libert, Geert Vanpaemel & P. Marage (eds.), Logic, Philosophy and History of Science in Belgium. Proceedings of the Young Researchers Days 2008. Brussel: Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten. pp. 28-34.
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  30. Carnapian Modal and Epistemic Arithmetic.Heylen Jan - 2009 - In Carrara Massimiliano & Morato Vittorio (eds.), Language, Knowledge, and Metaphysics. Selected papers from the First SIFA Graduate Conference. College Publications. pp. 97-121.
    The subject of the first section is Carnapian modal logic. One of the things I will do there is to prove that certain description principles, viz. the ''self-predication principles'', i.e. the principles according to which a descriptive term satisfies its own descriptive condition, are theorems and that others are not. The second section will be devoted to Carnapian modal arithmetic. I will prove that, if the arithmetical theory contains the standard weak principle of induction, modal truth collapses to truth. Then (...)
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  31. The Slingshot Argument and Sentential Identity.Yaroslav Shramko & Heinrich Wansing - 2009 - Studia Logica 91 (3):429-455.
    The famous “slingshot argument” developed by Church, Gödel, Quine and Davidson is often considered to be a formally strict proof of the Fregean conception that all true sentences, as well as all false ones, have one and the same denotation, namely their corresponding truth value: the true or the false . In this paper we examine the analysis of the slingshot argument by means of a non-Fregean logic undertaken recently by A.Wóitowicz and put to the test her claim that the (...)
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  32. Issues in the Semantics and Pragmatics of Definite Descriptions in English.Barbara Abbott - 2008 - In Nancy Hedberg & Jeanette Gundel (eds.), Reference: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Oxford University Press. pp. 61-72.
  33. On Bishops and Donkeys.Nicky Kroll - 2008 - Natural Language Semantics 16 (4):359-372.
    The problem of indistinguishable participants is a well-known problem for D-type theories of donkey pronouns. Recently, Paul Elbourne has offered a D-type theory that purports to dissolve the problem of indistinguishable participants. I argue against Elboune’s solution.
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  34. A Presuppositional Analysis of Definite Descriptions in Proof Theory.Koji Mineshima - 2008 - In Satoh (ed.), New Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence. Springer. pp. 214--227.
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  35. Sharvy's Theory of Definite Descriptions Revisited.Berit Brogaard - 2007 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 88 (2):160–180.
    The paper revisits Sharvy's theory of plural definite descriptions. An alternative account of plural definite descriptions building on the ideas of plural quantification and non-distributive plural predication is developed. Finally, the alternative is extrapolated to account for generic uses of definite descriptions.
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  36. The but Not All: A Partitive Account of Plural Definite Descriptions.Berit Brogaard - 2007 - Mind and Language 22 (4):402–426.
    A number of authors in favor of a unitary account of singular descriptions have alleged that the unitary account can be extrapolated to account for plural definite descriptions. In this paper I take a closer look at this suggestion. I argue that while the unitary account is clearly onto something right, it is in the end empirically inadequate. At the end of the paper I offer a new partitive account of plural definite descriptions that avoids the problems with both the (...)
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  37. Review of Reimer & Bezuidenhout (2004): Descriptions and Beyond. [REVIEW]John-Michael Kuczynski - 2006 - Pragmatics and Cognition 14 (1):196-204.
    In order to understand a sentence, one must know the relevant semantic rules. Those rules are not learned in a vacuum; they are given to one through one's senses. As a result, knowledge of semantic rules sometimes comes bundled with semantically irrelevant, but cognitively non-innocuous, knowledge of the circumstances in which those rules were learned. Thus, one must work through non-semantic information in order to know what is literally meant by a given sentence-token. A consequence is that one's knowledge of (...)
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  38. Identifying Knowledge and Communication.Eduardo Coutinho Lourenço de Lima - 2006 - Principia: An International Journal of Epistemology 10 (2):125-141.
    In this paper, I discuss how the principle of identifying knowledge which Strawson advances in ‘Singular Terms and Predication’ (1961), and in ‘Identifying Reference and Truth-Values’ (1964) turns out to constrain communication. The principle states that a speaker’s use of a referring expression should invoke identifying knowledge on the part of the hearer, if the hearer is to understand what the speaker is saying, and also that, in so referring, speakers are attentive to hearers’ epistemic states. In contrasting it with (...)
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  39. Descripciones definidas, composicionalidad y forma lógica.J. Acero - 2005 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 24 (3).
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  40. Review of Anne Bezuidenhout (Ed.), Marga Reimer (Ed.), Descriptions and Beyond[REVIEW]Gary Ostertag - 2005 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2005 (8).
  41. Minimize Restrictors!(Notes on Definite Descriptions, Condition Cand Epithets).Philippe Schlenker - 2005 - In Emar Maier, Corien Bary & Janneke Huitink (eds.), Proceedings of Sub9.
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  42. Definiteness and Indefiniteness.Barbara Abbott - 2004 - In Laurence R. Horn & Gregory Ward (eds.), Handbook of Pragmatics. Blackwell.
    The prototypes of definiteness and indefiniteness in English are the definite article the and the indefinite article a/an, and singular noun phrases (NPs)1 determined by them. That being the case it is not to be predicted that the concepts, whatever their content, will extend satisfactorily to other determiners or NP types. However it has become standard to extend these notions. Of the two categories definites have received rather more attention, and more than one researcher has characterized the category of definite (...)
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  43. A Definite No-No.Roy A. Sorensen - 2004 - In J. C. Beall (ed.), Liars and Heaps: New Essays on Paradox. Clarendon Press.
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  44. Dynamic Definite Descriptions, Implicit Arguments, and Familiarity.A. ter Meulen - 2004 - In Marga Reimer & Anne Bezuidenhout (eds.), Descriptions and Beyond. Oxford University Press.
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  45. Anaphoric Definite Descriptions.Alice ter Meulen - 2004 - In Marga Reimer & Anne Bezuidenhout (eds.), Descriptions and Beyond. Clarendon Press.
  46. A Reply to Szabó’s “Descriptions and Uniqueness”.Barbara Abbott - 2003 - Philosophical Studies 113 (3):223 - 231.
    Szabó follows Heim in viewing familiarity, rather than uniqueness, as the essence of the definite article, but attempts to derive both familiarity and uniqueness implications pragmatically, assigning a single semantic interpretation to both the definite and indefinite articles. I argue that if there is no semantic distinction between the articles, then there is no way to derive these differences between them pragmatically.
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  47. Bradley’s Theory of Descriptions.Anthony Manser - 2002 - Bradley Studies 8 (2):114-129.
    A draft copy of this article, dated 13th February 1988, was given by Tony Manser in 1989 to Stewart Candlish, who has edited it for publication in Bradley Studies in the hope that the finished result will not only be of value to students of Bradley and Russell but also stand as a worthy memorial to a valued colleague and friend. Editing has been confined to a minimum, such as correcting errors in punctuation, quotation, referencing and typography; no attempt has (...)
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  48. Demonstratives as Definites.Craige Roberts - 2002 - In K. van Deemter & R. Kibble (eds.), Information Sharing: Reference and Presupposition in Language Generation and Interpretation. CSLI Press. pp. 89-196.
  49. Reciprocals Are Definites.Sigrid Beck - 2001 - Natural Language Semantics 9 (1):69-138.
    This paper proposes that elementary reciprocal sentences have four semantic readings: a strongly reciprocal interpretation, a weakly reciprocal interpretation, a situation-based weakly reciprocal reading, and a collective reading. Interpretational possibilities of reciprocal sentences that have been discussed in the literature are identified as one of these four. A compositional semantic analysis of all of these readings is provided in which the reciprocal expression is uniformly represented as 'the other ones among them' (recasting Heim, Lasnik and May 1991a, b). A reciprocal (...)
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  50. Set Theory and Definite Descriptions: Four Solutions in Search of a Common Problem.Karel Lambert - 2000 - Grazer Philosophische Studien 60 (1):1-11.
    This paper offers an explanation of the maj or traditions in the logical treatment of definite descriptions as reactions to paradoxical naive definite descriptiontheory. The explanation closely parallels that of various set theories as reactions to paradoxical naive set theory. Indeed, naive set theory is derivable from naive definite description theory given an appropriate definition of set abstracts in terms of definite descriptions.
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