SOPhiA 2017

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

The Gray's Elegy Argument: Can Definite Descriptions be Singular Terms?
(Philosophy of Language, English)

Russell famously presents his theory of descriptions as well as a particular argument against other theories thereof in On Denoting (1905). This argument is called 'Gray's Elegy argument' because of Russell's example 'the first line of Gray's Elegy'. It is widely considered as partly cryptic and confused with regards to the use of different types of quotation marks and variables. This has lead Alonzo Church to dismiss the whole argument (1943). Following Nathan Salmon's detailed reconstruction and analysis in On Designating (2005) I take Russell's goal to be to refute the popular view that definite descriptions are singular terms as e.g. held by Frege. Russell claims that definite descriptions do not have the function to designate a single individual, they have ''no meaning in isolation''. Salmon's interpretation of the argument rests on the phenomenon of a collapse within theories which ascribe a content/designatum difference to definite descriptions and take them to be singular terms. It occurs while attempting to form a proposition about the content of a definite description α. When using a name without a content/designatum difference for the content of &alpha, we fail to get a proposition about the content of α and instead get one about the designatum of α. When using a term with a content/designatum difference, e.g. another definite description β, and given a version of compositionality the collapse occurs again within the proposition, since the content of α is part of the content of β. This is what Russell takes to be ''philosophically intolerable'', since there cannot be a road from designatum to content or as Frege would put it from Bedeutung to Sinn.

In my talk I would like to present Salmon's reconstruction of the argument and thus to lift the veil of mystery around the Gray's Elegy argument. I will also try to argue for a way to escape the argument and attempt to show why it eventually fails to refute the view that definite descriptions are singular terms.

Chair: Rares Fogas
Time: 10:00-10:30, 15 September 2017 (Friday)
Location: SR 1.005

Till Gallasch 
(Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Germany)

Till Gallasch is a master's student at the Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, Germany. He finished his B.A. in 2015 with a major in Philosophy and a minor in History. His thesis was about Hilary Putnam's "Brains in the Vat". Philosophy of language, Logic, Epistemology and Metaphysics are his main interests. He is a student assistant since 2014 and has conducted several tutorials on philosophy of language, logic and metaphysics.

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