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Strawson Russel Essay Research Paper Philosophy

Strawson $ Russel Essay, Research Paper

Philosophy of Language

December 1, 1999

Strawson?s Criticism of Russell

The main point of Strawson?s essay is to essentially to disprove Russell?s theory of descriptions. Strawson felt that Russell, along with the rest, had somehow lost the sense of reality that he now hoped to reestablish in his analysis. As supporting material, he began with a general overview of Russell?s principles.

?The king of France is wise? is the center of most of Strawson?s arguments relating to his refutal of Russell?s theory on descriptions. The only problem with this statement is that since at the present moment there does not exist a king of France, it fails to denote a thing in the real world. The sentence can be easily analyzed in that it can be broken down into premises and a conclusion. In this manner, it makes it more possible to assume that there must exist an unreal king of France to discuss. This line of reasoning is rejected by Russell simply because it fails to introduce a premise concerning the existence of the king of France. In this manner. Russell?s breakdown of the sentence would read:

1) There exists a king of France.

2) There only exists one king of France.

3) There is nothing that is the king of France and not wise.

By utilizing this explanation, Russell simply appeals to the falsity of the first premise and maintains that the statement ?the king of France? is entirely inaccurate.

Russell?s arguments are fundamentally criticized by Strawson?s claim that Russell neglected to acknowledge an actual type-token distinction. Moreover, he failed to recognize the key difference between sentence and expression types and the use of individual sentence fragments. To illustrate this difference, Strawson uses an example of two sentence tokens of the same sentence type occurring in completely different contexts. Depending on when the sentence ?the present king of France? is said, it can have different uses. If someone living during the reign of Louis XIV had said this, then it would have been used in its correct logical context.

On the other hand, if someone in the present time had said this, the use would be considered by Strawson to be invalid. Strawson argues that Russell is incorrect in the assumption that the last sentence is inaccurate and maintains that the sentence cannot have truth-value independently of its referring use. Furthermore, the truth-value should be in accordance with the expressed proposition in the use of the sentence. Since the last sentence lacks a referring use, it would then be considered to be truth-valueless, instead of true or false.

The difference between sentence/expression type and sentence/expression token and the fact that Russell fails to see it is the main point in this paper. According to Strawson, Russell doesn?t realize that the same sentence type with a different sentence token can have a completely different meaning. Strawson credits this distinction to the differing uses of each individual sentence token. He concedes that when using a language, the majority of reference and meaning is context-sensitive even if specific rules of use influence it [language.] He asserts that the meaning of a word behaves as a type of guide to show how some words can be combined to create sentences and express various things.

Of course, there are still skeptics who doubt the need of having to break down a sentence applying Russell?s theory of logical notation. What they fail to see, like

Strawson, is that the logical notation remains a language and although abstract, does not take away from the reality of the sentence and even allows one to arrive at the structure of the language. In a way, in using this method, one is actually using something abstract to obtain something concrete. Also, the fact that the natural language can be deconstructed into the logical notation in order to obtain the actual structure also is a source of skepticism. The words in question do not have to particularly refer to anything in specific, yet at the same time, idealism should be avoided nonetheless. Instead, one should take into account that it is humans who refer to things and not the language. In order for us to communicate, we utilize languages to internally communicate things that the outside world may have different associations to. What that person is thinking may have a completely different meaning to that of what the rest of the world may think, specifically when the same thing is said. The words, spoken or not, merely support the meaning, but do not necessarily do the referring.

Ultimately, the reasoning behind Russell?s logical notation is simply that it is essential in order to approach the surface structure of illusion and into the logical form of meaning in which the actual reference may or may not present itself.


The Philosophy of Language, P.F. Strawson: On Referring 16: (1950) pp.215-230.

The Philosophy of Language, P.F. Strawson: On Referring 16: (1950) pp.215-230.