Philosophical Studies

, Volume 164, Issue 1, pp 41–59

Descriptions as variables


DOI: 10.1007/s11098-013-0095-9

Cite this article as:
Santorio, P. Philos Stud (2013) 164: 41. doi:10.1007/s11098-013-0095-9


On a popular view dating back to Russell, descriptions, both definite and indefinite alike, work syntactically and semantically like quantifiers. I have an argument against Russell's view. The argument supports a different picture: descriptions can behave syntactically and semantically like variables. This basic idea can be implemented in very different systematic analyses, but, whichever way one goes, there will be a significant departure from Russell. The claim that descriptions are variables is not new: what I offer is a new way of defending it. The argument centers on attitude reports. I argue that we should recognize a new reading of descriptions under attitude reports, which I call ‘singular opaque’. The existence of this reading cannot be explained on the traditional Russellian view, and demands a switch to the variable view. Along the way, some interesting new facts about attitude reports come to light.


Descriptions Attitude verbs Variables Anaphora De dicto De re 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LeedsLeedsUK
  2. 2.Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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