Any theory claiming that certain utterances have meaning by describing (or purporting to describe) some aspect of reality rather than in various other ways (for example, prescriptivism and emotivism).

In practice the term is confined to ethical utterances. ‘Lying is wrong’ and ‘You ought not to lie’ both purport to state moral facts, though descriptivism leaves it open whether they are reducible to facts of another kind (naturalism, for example).

R M Hare, ‘Descriptivism’, Proceedings of the British Academy (1963); critical

Descriptivism may refer to:

  • Descriptivist theory of names in philosophy, a view of the nature of meaning and reference generally attributed to Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell
  • Linguistic descriptivism, the practice of objectively analysing and describing how language is spoken

3 thoughts on “Descriptivism

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