The double life of ‘The mayor of Oakland’


The Fregean analysis of definite descriptions as referring expressions predicts that copular sentences with definite descriptions in postcopular position are invariably interpreted as identity statements. But as numerous diagnostics show, such sentences are frequently capable of receiving a predicational reading. A uniform Fregean analysis therefore won’t do. Things aren’t that simple, however. I show that descriptions which exhibit the structure [the + N + of + Proper Name] fall into two semantically distinct classes, and that the members of one of these classes of descriptions (those I call “identifying”) pattern with proper names in resisting a predicative reading. I argue that a proposal according to which referring expressions can quite generally undergo a type shift that transforms them into predicates thus fails on grounds of overgeneration. I propose that we can account for the data by instead appealing to two definite determiners: a Fregean determiner ‘the r ’ which forms referring descriptions, and a determiner ‘the p ’ which forms predicative descriptions. I argue that this proposal also correctly predicts that copular sentences with proper names in postcopular position fail to have a predicational reading. I conclude the paper by defending the analysis of names to which I appeal against an alternative view inspired by Burge (J Philos 70(14):425–439, 1973), and suggest a way in which the desired results could be achieved while making do with a single definite article.

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Rieppel, M. The double life of ‘The mayor of Oakland’. Linguist and Philos 36, 417–446 (2013).

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  • Copular clauses
  • Predication and equation
  • Definite descriptions
  • Proper names
  • Reference