Abstract

Russell had two theories of definite descriptions: one for singular descriptions, another for plural descriptions. We chart its development, in which ‘On Denoting’ plays a part but not the part one might expect, before explaining why it eventually fails. We go on to consider many-valued functions, since they too bring in plural terms—terms such as ‘√4’ or the descriptive ‘the inhabitants of London’ which, like plain plural descriptions, stand for more than one thing. Logicians need to take plural reference seriously if only because mathematicians take many-valued functions seriously. We assess the objection (by Russell, Frege and others) that many-valued functions are illegitimate because the corresponding terms are ambiguous. We also assess the various methods proposed for getting rid of them. Finding the objection ill-founded and the methods ineffective, we introduce a logical framework that admits plural reference, and use it to answer some earlier questions and to raise some more.

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