Philosophical Studies

, Volume 164, Issue 1, pp 41–59 | Cite as

Descriptions as variables

  • Paolo Santorio


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 



For lively discussions and feedback thanks to Raul Saucedo, Jenn Wang, and audiences at the 2012 AAP conference in Wollongong and the 2012 BSPC. Thanks also to Paul Elbourne for a brief but useful email correspondence on D-type theories. Finally, special thanks to Zoltan Gendler Szabó for extended email exchanges on descriptions and the fourth reading.


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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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