Volume 10, 1997
Cognitive Semantics I
Descriptions, Indexicals and Speaker Meaning
In his paper, “Descriptions, Indexicals, and Belief Reports: Some Dilemmas (But Not the Ones You Expect)” (Mind 104, (1995)), Stephen Schiffer presents a powerful argument against anyone who accepts a Russellian account of definite descriptions (including incomplete descriptions) and who also accepts a direct referential account of indexicals. On the one hand, the most plausible version of the Theory of Descriptions, namely, the Hidden-Indexical Theory of Descriptions, entails that a speaker who uses an incomplete description, “the F”, referentially means some description-theoretic, object-independent proposition by an utterance of a sentence of the form, “The F is G”. On the other hand, since speaker meaning supervenes on one’s psychological states, what holds for referential uses of incomplete descriptions must also hold for referential uses of indexicals and demonstatives. In other words, speakers who produce literal, referential, indexical utterances of the form, “" is G” also mean some description-theoretic proposition by their utterances. Furthermore, the Russellian has no non-arbitrary reason for preferring a direct referential account of indexicals, which he should accept, to a rival, incompatible account which treats indexicals as disguised descriptions. In my paper, I argue that the Russellian does have such a reason: the rival account cannot explain all the relevant speaker meaning facts that the direct reference theory can. I conclude the paper by defending the Russellian view that, in producing a referential utterance of “the F is G”, a speaker can mean a description-theoretic proposition and, in addition, mean an object-dependent proposition involving the speaker’s referent.