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Russell’s Theory Of Descriptions Can Be Best Understood As A

1564 words - 7 pages

Russell's Theory of Descriptions can be best understood as a response to the shortcomings in Frege's philosophy. He sought a theory of language which, firstly, would avoid using or relying on any Fregean concept of Sinn and, secondly, would solve the "problem of existence" in a way that allowed the truth-value to be determined for all sentences without committing us to the existence of any reference less constituents.Central to both Frege and Russell's approach to language was the belief that "the apparent grammatical form of a sentence can mislead us about the hidden logical form of the proposition the sentence expresses." For Russell one of the key distinctions that Frege failed to make in ...view middle of the document...

e. "you would understand the meaning [of it] if you had never heard it before." In contrast, you would not understand the meaning of a name if you had never heard the word before "because to know the meaning of a name is to know what it is applied to." Russell's analysis allows that traditionally problematic sentences can be solved by rewriting them in a logically appropriate grammatical form. Let us reconsider the example of S: "The King of France is wise." According to Russell, anyone who asserted S would, in fact, be logically asserting the following three propositions: At least one person is the King of France.At most one person is the King of France.Whoever is the King of France is wise.In other words, while D: "The King of France" is the grammatical subject of S it is not the logical subject. Frege overlooks this distinction. D is not a logically proper name that stands in a subject-predicate relationship with "wise". In fact, logically speaking, S is not a subject-predicate sentence at all, but "a complex kind of existential proposition, part of which might be described as a 'uniquely existential' proposition." Since S is a conjunction of three propositions it follows that if one of them is false, then S is false. Thus Russell demonstrates how the truth-value of S can be determined without necessarily positing any existing object denoted by D.As I have portrayed it thus far, Russell seems to have been quite successful in presenting a solution to the basic problems of identity and reference outlined at the beginning of this essay, while avoiding the problems and shortcomings created by the basic Fregean theory of objective sense and truth-value-determining-reference.I wish to conclude by briefly examining the well-known critique of Russell offered by Strawson. According to Strawson, Russell recognizes only two ways in which sentences which appear from their grammatical structure to be about some particular thing can be significant. The first is that their grammatical form should be misleading as to their logical form, and that they should be analyzable, like S, as a special kind of existential sentence. The second is that their grammatical subject should be a logically proper name, of which the meaning is the individual thing it designates.In contrast Strawson denies that an expression used in "the uniquely referring sense" (e.g. a singular subject predicate sentence) falls into either of the two classes. He contends that there are no logically proper names and no descriptions in the Russellian sense. To support this claim Strawson introduces certain distinctions that he thinks Russell incorrectly overlooked.Firstly, he distinguishes between an expression used in the uniquely referring sense and a sentence beginning with such an expression. Henceforth I shall term both respectively expression and sentence simpliciter. Secondly, he distinguishes: (A1) a sentence (A2) a use of a sentence (A3) an utterance of a sentence (A1) refers to the...

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