1905 OnDenoting

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Subject Headings: Referring Expression, Semantics.


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One of the first difficulties that confront us, when we adopt the view that denoting phrases express a meaning and denote a denotation, concerns the cases in which the denotation appears to be absent. If we say `the King of England is bald', that is, it would seem, not a statement about the complex meaning `the King of England', but about the actual man denoted by the meaning. But now consider `the king of France is bald'. By parity of form, this also ought to be about the denotation of the phrase `the King of France'. But this phrase, though it has a meaning provided `the King of England' has a meaning, has certainly no denotation, at least in any obvious sense. Hence one would suppose that `the King of France is bald' ought to be nonsense; but it is not nonsense, since it is plainly false. Or again consider such a proposition as the following: `If u is a class which has only one member, then that one member is a member of u', or as we may state it, `If u is a unit class, the u is a u'. This proposition ought to be always true, since the conclusion is true whenever the hypothesis is true. But `the u' is a denoting phrase, and it is the denotation, not the meaning, that is said to be a u. Now is u is not a unit class, `the u' seems to denote nothing; hence our proposition would seem to become nonsense as soon as u is not a unit class.


In the preceding chapter we saw that there are two sorts of knowledge: knowledge of things, and knowledge of truths. In this chapter we shall be concerned exclusively with knowledge of things, of which in turn we shall have to distinguish two kinds. Knowledge of things, when it is of the kind we call knowledge by acquaintance, is essentially simpler than any knowledge of truths, and logically independent of knowledge of truths, though it would be rash to assume that human beings ever, in fact, have acquaintance with things without at the same time knowing some truth about them. Knowledge of things by description, on the contrary, always involves, as we shall find in the course of the present chapter, some knowledge of truths as its source and ground. But first of all we must make dear what we mean by 'acquaintance' and what we mean by 'description'.,

 AuthorvolumeDate ValuetitletypejournaltitleUrldoinoteyear
1905 OnDenotingBertrand Russell (1878-1970)On DenotingMindhttp://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/Russell/denoting/1905