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Saturday, January 06, 2007

APA 2006

A note on my own talk at the APA, which Paul Pietroski chaired. It was a fun session (even though most of us had slept very little the night before because of the fire). Stanley, Graff Fara, Sayball and others in the audience offered constructive criticism, and Zoltan Szabo, my commentator, provided neat comments. I basically defended a new partitive account of plural definite descriptions. Sentences such as 'the students asked questions' cause trouble for a "standard" Russellian account of plural definite descriptions. This is because on a Russellian account of plural definite descriptions, a sentence such as 'the students asked questions' ought to come out as equivalent to 'all the students asked questions'. But it seems that the sentence could be true even if only a handful of students asked questions. I argued that a Russellian analysis is correct at a primary level of analysis but that plural definites function as partitives at a subsequent level. So, at a subsequent level of analysis, 'the students asked questions' might come out as 'some of the students asked questions'. Zoltan was happy with an amended version of the partitive account but argued that plural definite descriptions do not involve a maximality implication (at the primary level of analysis). His main counterexample to the Russellian account:

(1) Two men entered the room with five others. The two men took off their hats and handed them to one of the others.

It seems that (1) may be true. But on the Russellian account it would appear to be contradictory. I am still thinking about a proper response. But, as Zoltan pointed out, there is also the possibility of accepting his (and Ludlow and Segal and others') unitary account in conjunction with my partitive account. That way we can both have what we need (as he put it) -- and perhaps we can both have what we want as well.

My paper (which is forthcoming in Mind and Language) is available here. A revised version will be uploaded soon.


Wolfgang Schwarz said...

hey Brit, can you fix the link to the paper? I get a 404. Thanks.

Brit Brogaard said...

Thanks Wolfgang! I fixed the link.