Definite Descriptions and the Argument from Inference

Philosophia 42 (4):1099-1109 (2014)
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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 contribute their referents into the semantic content of the sentences in which they occur. However, the framework of direct reference is not essential to the idea that descriptions might have semantic referential interpretation. Secondly, the Argument of Inference - if correct - suffices to establish an overgeneralized conclusion that even paradigmatically referring terms, like proper names, cannot be semantically referential. This fact indicates that the argument is flawed. In the final part of this article, I briefly consider what the source of the problem with the Argument of Inference might be



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