Are Complex Demonstratives Synonymous with Definite Descriptions?

Felipe Amaral


In this article, I discuss the way in which descriptive material in complex demonstratives contributes to their literal content relative to the context of the utterance. A traditional hypothesis about complex demonstratives in the philosophy of language postulates that the descriptive material ‘F’ in ‘this/that F’ contributes to literal content because an associated definite description containing ‘F’ determines and expresses the literal content of thecomplex demonstrative relative to a context. I claim that this kind of hypothesis is mistaken because no type of definite description,particularly Gödelian descriptions, plays a significant role in the determination of the literal content of complex demonstratives.Instead, I favor an approach according to which the literal content of a complex demonstrative is mainly composed by the non quantificational content of the demonstrative expression (e.g.,‘this’), and by the descriptive content of its nominal (‘F’). Complex demonstratives are thus descriptive designators, that is, terms that refer and describe without quantifying.


Complex demonstratives; definite descriptions; description theory of demonstratives; Gödelian theory; descriptive designators


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