Why Descriptivism Was So Successful
Descriptivism can be seen as an attempt to provide a theoretical simplification based on reducing singular reference to generic reference . This is most evident in Quine ’s proposal (1960) for the elimination of singular terms from his canonical language, a proposal according to which, as we shall see, both proper names and indexicals are descriptions in disguise, so to speak. By contrast, for referentialism, singular reference is not reducible in this way. Since theoretical investigation is typically seen as aiming at reductive explanations, the prospect of an account of singular reference in this spirit should be considered an important motivation in favour of descriptivism, one that has presumably attracted many philosophers. By far the most important motivations for descriptivism spring however from two problems which took centre-stage in contemporary philosophy thanks to Frege and Russell : the co-reference problem and the no-reference problem. In the following sections we shall focus on the former and then we shall turn to the latter.