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One attractive possibility that has emerged from the literature inDiscourse Representation Theory—in particular in work by Heim(1982), Kamp (1984), Deising (1992), Kamp and Reyle (1993)—hasbeen that the appearance of a determiner in an indefinite descriptionis chimeral—‘a man’ in fact comes to an expressioncontaining a predicate and a free variable, as in‘man’. This free variable might then be picked up bysome sort of discourse operator as discussed in the previoussection.

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At the beginning of this article I noted that some uses of theexpressions ‘an ’ and ‘the ’are argued to be predicational, rather than quantificational. So, forexample, consider the following cases.

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This question calls for a serious empirical research program, but wecan already see hints of an analysis. For example, it is plausible tothink that a central function of the definite determiner is to markfor some form of possessive case marking. We know that determinersplay a role in examples of “inalienable possession” inRomance language (for example, “I'm washing the hands”means I'm washing my hands). But is that credible in othercases of definite descriptions?

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Soames (2003) has responded that this particular 2-dimensionalistapproaches is “tantamount to the claim that descriptive theoriesof reference determination are priori irrefutable, since anyrefutation would require a clear, uncontroversial description of apossible scenario in which a name referred to something o notsatisfying the description associated with by speakers likeus, whereas our very judgment that does refer to inthis scenario would be taken…to demonstrate the existence of animplicit description in out minds that does successfully determinereference, whether or not we can successfully state it.” Furthercriticism can be found in Block and Stalnaker (1998), Byrne and Pryor(2006), and Soames (2005).

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Most of the action in the philosophy of language has been withdefinite descriptions, but indefinite descriptions have also generateda fair bit of attention—some of it mirroring the debates aboutdefinite descriptions. For example Chastain (1975), Donnellan (1978),Wilson (1978), and Fodor and Sag (1982), held that indefinitedescriptions are ambiguous between referential and quantificationalinterpretations. That is to say, there are referential andquantificational uses of indefinite descriptions and these are areflex of a genuine semantical ambiguity. The basic structure of theirargument was the following. Referential uses of indefinites must beeither a function of quantifier scope or a semantically referentialindefinite determiner. Since indefinites with the relevant scopalproperties would violate standard syntactic constraints, indefinitesmust in some cases be semantically referential.

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Neale (1990) has argued that whatever we may want to say about theproblem of incompleteness, it is not very effective as an argument forthe referential analysis of descriptions. For example, at the crimescene Detective Brown may simply utter ‘The murderer isinsane’ failing to specify exactly which murderer he is talkingabout (is it the murderer of Smith or Jones or …?). But byhypothesis this case is a canonical example of an attributive use of adefinite description. No reference is possible, so how can appeal toreference bail us out? How can any of this be an argument for definitedescriptions being semantically referential?

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Clearly descriptive anaphora represents a powerful extension ofRussell's theory of descriptions and a useful toolfor presentists and modal antirealists. For all of that, thetheory has encountered a number of objections, many of them related tothe problem of incomplete descriptions discussed in section 4.3. Oneissue that comes in from the start is the principled basis objectiondiscussed earlier. Precisely where does the descriptive material forthese anaphors come from? Is it material that the agent hasin mind? Is it extracted from previous discourse? The difficulties hereare obvious, and if anything they are accentuated in the extension ofthe theory to temporal anaphora in cases like (16). But thedifficulties do not stop here. We also have to struggle with theuniqueness implications that are carried by definite descriptions.