The Ground Zero of Semantics

Antonio Capuano

in Having in Mind

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199844845
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199933501 | DOI:
The Ground Zero of Semantics

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This chapter compares two different conceptions of and foundations for semantics. Ultimately the two conceptions and foundations go back to ideas of Frege and Russell. To put it in a nutshell: for Frege, at the ground zero of semantics there is denotation; for Russell, instead, at the ground zero of semantics there is reference. Reference and denotation are two distinct semantic relations that one should not confuse. The first, that of reference, is grounded in natural-historical processes flowing from objects; the other, that of denotation, is grounded in the logical relations of truth and satisfaction. In the past thirty years, most philosophers of language have agreed with Kripke against Donnellan. The prevailing view has been that Donnellan’s distinction between referential and attributive uses of a definite description belongs to pragmatics. Semantics, in fact, deals only with conventional rules of denotation. The chapter suggests that one can look at what Donnellan is doing from a different perspective. Instead of pursuing Frege’s denotation-based semantic project, as Kripke in the end seems to do, Donnellan—distinguishing between referential and attributive uses of definite descriptions—is reviving Russell’s approach to semantics.

Keywords: Frege; Russell; denotation; reference; Keith Donnellan; philosophy of language; definite description

Chapter.  11693 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

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