Witnesses

Linguistics and Philosophy 45 (5):1091-1117 (2022)
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Abstract

The meaning of definite descriptions (like ‘the King of France’, ‘the girl’, etc.) has been a central topic in philosophy and linguistics for the past century. Indefinites (‘Something is on the floor’, ‘A child sat down’, etc.) have been relatively neglected in philosophy, under the Russellian assumption that they can be unproblematically treated as existential quantifiers. However, an important tradition, drawing from Stoic logic, has pointed to patterns which suggest that indefinites cannot be treated simply as existential quantifiers. The standard dynamic semantic treatment of those phenomena, however, has well-known problems with negation and disjunction. In this paper I develop a new approach to (in)definites. On my theory, truth-conditions are classical. But in addition to truth-conditions, meanings comprise a second dimension of what I call bounds. It is at the level of bounds, not truth-conditions, that I locate the characteristically dynamic coordination between indefinites and definites. The resulting system thus has a classical logic. This approach avoids dynamic semantics’ logical problems, and, more generally, yields a new perspective on the relation between truth-conditional and dynamic effects in natural language.

Author's Profile

Matthew Mandelkern
New York University

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