Synthese

, Volume 195, Issue 5, pp 2175–2204 | Cite as

The argument from convention revisited

Article
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Abstract

The argument from convention contends that the regular use of definite descriptions as referential devices strongly implies that a referential semantic convention underlies such usage. On the presumption that definite descriptions also participate in a quantificational semantic convention, the argument from convention has served as an argument for the thesis that the English definite article is ambiguous. Here, I revisit this relatively new argument. First, I address two recurring criticisms of the argument from convention: (1) its alleged tendency to overgenerate and (2) its apparent evidential inadequacy. These criticisms are found wanting. Second, following Zacharska (Univ Coll Lond Work Pap Linguist 22:56–63, 2010), I argue that while the argument from convention does alter the landscape of logical possibilities insofar as it provides good grounds for treating Donnellan’s (Philos Rev 75:281–304, 1966) referential–attributive distinction as having truth-conditional consequences, the argument from convention nonetheless fails to demonstrate that ‘the’ requires two lexical entries.

Keywords

Definite descriptions The referential–attributive distinction The semantics–pragmatics divide The argument from convention 

Notes

Acknowledgements

I benefitted greatly from suggestions by Michael Devitt, Amanda Favia, Gary Ostertag, Jennifer Pupa, and two anonymous referees at Synthese.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentNassau Community CollegeGarden CityUSA

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