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Abstract

According to Donnellan the characteristic mark of a referential use of a definite description is the fact that it can be used to pick out an individual that does not satisfy the attributes in the description. Friends and foes of the referential/attributive distinction have equally dismissed that point as obviously wrong or as a sign that Donnellan's distinction lacks semantic import. I will argue that, on a strict semantic conception of what it is for an expression to be a genuine referential device, Donnellan is right: if a use of a definite description is referential, it must be possible for it to refer to an object independently of any attributes associated with the description, including those that constitute its conventional meaning.