Russell On Denoting

Better Essays

"On Denoting" and Definite Descriptions: Russell’s Puzzle Solutions In his work, "On Denoting", Bertrand Russell proposes a theory of denoting and descriptions, which he summarizes as follows: Everything, nothing, and something, are not assumed to have any meaning in isolation, but a meaning is assigned to every proposition in which they occur. This is the principle of the theory of denoting I wish to advocate: that denoting phrases never have any meaning in themselves, but that every proposition in whose verbal expression they occur has a meaning. (480) Russell contends that the "difficulties concerning denoting are […] all the result of a wrong analysis of propositions whose verbal expressions contain denoting phrases" (480). In …show more content…

In considering this puzzle, Russell first introduces the principle of the indiscernibility of identicals (hereafter the indiscernibility principle), which states that "[i]f a is identical to b, whatever is true of the one is true of the other, and either may be substituted for the other in any proposition without altering the truth or falsehood of that proposition" (485). That is, two identical entities can be used interchangeably in any statement without altering the truth-value of the statement in question. Russell then sets forth the proposition 'George VI wished to know whether Scott was the author of Waverly ' and concludes that, since Scott was in fact the author of Waverly, one can replace 'the author of Waverly ' with 'Scott ' and "thereby prove that George VI wished to know whether Scott was Scott" (485). Under the indiscernibility principle, both propositions are true since the terms 'the author of Waverly ' and 'Scott ' are identical and thus wholly substitutable for one another. However, while Russell finds the first proposition to be true ( 'George VI wished to know whether Scott was the author of Waverly '), Russell concludes that the second proposition, 'George VI wished to know whether Scott was Scott ', is false due to the fact that "an interest in the law of identity can hardly be attributed" to George VI (485). Herein lies the Substitutivity Puzzle. The

Get Access