Acta Cogitata: An Undergraduate Journal in Philosophy


A well-known critique of Russell’s Theory of Descriptions, offered by P.F. Strawson, is that a central tenet of Russell’s theory, the claim that any particular utterance of a sentence with a non-referring definite description will be either true or false, is mistaken. Strawson provides a similarly well-known argument in support of this claim which at least in part rests on an analysis of such utterances as implying or presupposing, rather than asserting, parts of the logically existential proposition that Russell takes such sentences to be. For Strawson, propositions such as ‘the x is p’ instead presuppose ‘there is an x’ rather than commit to the truth of that proposition. And fulfilling this presupposition is a necessary condition for any such proposition to have a truth value at all. In this paper, I aim to challenge Strawson’s analysis and will argue that (i) we ought to take such utterances to really be asserting the logically existential proposition Russell analyzes them as, and thus that (ii) the utterances of sentences with a non-referring definite description do have truth values. I argue that taking these sentences to be presupposing certain propositions, rather than asserting them, better takes into account certain principles about which utterances ought to be declared false by an agent given their knowledge of other propositions.

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