Today Laine and I had lunch with the fantastic Ian Proops.  I was sad to learn he will be leaving U-M for the University of Texas next year, but I guess I’m getting out of here, too.  (Had some good news about Brown, but I can get into that later.)  Being two philosophers of language and a linguist, we talked a lot about language.  In the course we’re taking with him, we’ve started talking about Russell’s theory of descriptions.

You can read more in-depth about the theory here, but Proops brought up an interesting point.  While Russell deals with definite descriptions that take the form “an F is G” and “the F is G,” the phrase “Joe the Plumber” seems to contain a similar definite description that doesn’t really fall into the traditional set of Russellian definite descriptions.  How might Russell deal with “Joe the Plumber”?

At first blush it seems to me that an epithet like “Joe the Plumber” or “Peter the Great” can be treated just like a definite description, but I’m unsure how you’d put “Joe the Plumber” into a form like “the F is G.”

I don’t really have the mental energy to do more work on this at the moment, but there it is.  If you have any ideas, let me know.  More on this later, I promise.