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Four Comments on Russell's Theory of Descriptions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Avrum Stroll*
Affiliation:
University of California, San Diego

Extract

In his article, “Stroll on Russell's ‘Proof’” (this Journal VI, (1976), Robert Fahrnkopf takes issue with four comments I made about Russell's theory of descriptions in a paper, “Russell's ‘Proof,’” which appeared in the June 1975 issue of this Journal. Though I disagree with Fahrnkopf on the points in question, there would be no point in washing our private conceptual linen in a public place were it not for the ingenious and highly original suggestions he makes in his defense of Russell. I think some additional discussion may be useful in carrying the current debate about the theory a step further. In what follows, I will therefore deal with each of the four points he speaks to.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Authors 1978

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References

1 An excellent contribution to this extensive literature is to be found in “Russell's Theory of Meaning and Descriptions,” Journal of the History of Philosophy (1976) pp. 183–201, by Professor Martinich, A.P.Google Scholar. The subtle distinctions which Martinich draws between “means,” “names,” “directly represents,” “has the sense of,” etc. illustrate as well as any paper in the recent literature how complex Russell's use of the term “meaning” is with respect to the theory of descriptions.

2 In mentioning that he does not see how any philosopher who holds that the only meaning a proper name has is the object it denotes can distinguish between a name's having meaning and having meaning “in isolation,” Fahrnkopf overlooks the case of Wittgenstein. like Russell, Wittgenstein does not argue, but merely asserts, that proper names have independent meaning, and in having such meaning mean the objects they denote. Yet Wittgenstein also says that they have such meaning only in the context of a proposition (Tractatus, 3.203, 3.3). “Having independent meaning” and “having meaning in isolation” cannot thus in general be equated. In the context of Wittgenstein's philosophy, the distinction is an important one.

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