The Description Theory of Meaning Essay

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The description theory of meaning was proposed independently by Bertrand Russell and Gottlob Frege as a response to some of the fallacies of the reference theory. Description theorists propose that instead of being a simple ‘word - world relationship’, meaning is derived from descriptions associated with certain objects and stored in our mind (or senses in Frege’s case). Frege and Russell’s accounts of the theory differ subtly in how they view descriptions. Several objections have been made against the theory, but only the most important objections will be raised. These include Strawson’s objection to the attributive use. Also, the problems of ignorance and error raised by Kripke tarnish the description theory’s attractiveness. The…show more content…
This allows him to extend the Description Theory to almost every meaning. The extension of the theory to names seems natural as when one refers to someone, they often add a description. For example, ‘The fat slob of a father on the Simpsons’ explains just who Homer Simpson is. This analysis helps the Description theorist to overcome some of the problems which plagued the Reference Theorist. This theory is an improvement on the reference theory, as it is much better at explaining some of the features of language, such as why we explain proper names with descriptions if asked. Comparing Frege and Russell’s Theories While having essentially a similar message, there are some key differences between the two original Description theorist’s hypotheses. Both the theories can pick out a specific referent indirectly with something like a description. However, while the emphasis is the same, Russell’s analysis appealed to the description as being something within a competent user’s mind, whereas Frege saw these descriptions as senses. He described these as being platonic entities, thus objective, whereas the referents they picked out as being subjective. These abstract objects are used to determine how reference can be made in the concrete world. Russell argues that there are not ‘two levels of semantic significance’ in his theory, so that when his theory is logically formulated, it has a ‘general nature’,
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