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A Critique of Bertrand Russell's Essay ‘on Denoting’

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Summary
  3. Criticism
  4. Conclusion

Introduction

Peter Frederick Strawson, in his essay “On Referring” presents arguments for why Bertrand Russell’s essay “On Denoting’ is problematic. Strawson and Russell conflict regarding forming a language that is accurate and can accurately relate the truth value of philosophical statement. Strawson basically wants to remove all senses of “bad metaphysics” or misleading terms that may create logical problems in the field of Philosophy. I will argue that I mostly agree with Strawson’s essay and will provide arguments to strengthen his view.

Summary

Peter Frederick Strawson in his essay “ On Referring” presents arguments for why Bertrand Russell’s essay “On Denoting’ is problematic. First, a way Strawson shows the difference between his view and Russell’s view is through the example of stating an expression “the King of the France is bald” in present day. Russel states that the statement is false if uttered in present day. Strawson, in contrast with Russel, states that the expression is neither true nor false but is instead meaningful. That it is not the meaning of the convention, statement or expression that makes it true or false but rather the context in which the expression is used that makes it true or false. Russel in comparison, argues that meaning is based on the object or property that is being referred. Strawson disagrees, he argues that reference and assertion are different acts, that assertion is an act that is enabled by referencing a thing or expression.

Another difference between Strawson and Russell is that Strawson agrees that we should not subscribe to Russells use of “denoting expressions” where we clearly categorize the meanings of words. In comparison, Strawson argues that we should categorize the uses of certain expression by the basis of their context as “uniquely referring uses”. For example, by stating “a whale” we are not always referring to an individual whale.

Gottlob Frege in his paper ‘On Sense and Reference’, discusses the distinction of sense and reference. He argues that a logical subject can be stated in different senses but still have the same reference, itself. For example, a morning star and an evening star are two different senses for the reference of Venus.

Criticism

First, I agree with Strawson that it is not the use of an expression but rather the general direction of its use, its contextual application that gives an expression meaning or truth value. By advocating for a new type of language where we try to include the definitions or specific uses or references of each term, Russell creates a language where words that have multiple meanings based on their various contextual applications is jeopardized. In my opinion, although Russell is correct in criticizing Russell’s view, Strawson’s paper would be stronger if he included an argument that shows that Russell’s view challenges fields like Metaphysics. First, if we only have rigid guidelines on the use of a word, logical expression or expression as Russel advocates for then it becomes difficult for one to discuss matters related to abstract theories trying to be presented. If one is to define each expression that we have in a certain language when language is ever changing is a task perhaps too difficult if not impossible.

Second, an additional argument or example that might aid Strawson’s paper is that of the word love. For example, one can say that they “love” someone but are not in “love” with them. In the first use of the word love is completely different from the use of love in the second use, in this case Russell’s theory of denoting phrases would not apply as they would be too black or white regarding the use of the word love. One cannot only talk about a thing, for one needs to discuss not only its context but its meaning in a way that is appropriate to what one is referring to. Applying Russell’s “denoting expressions” theory, or the clarifying of the meanings of words, is not enough here as understanding the rigid meaning of “love” would not be enough to understand what the sentence above would mean. I would agree with strawson here that meaning is not what a proper name or logical subject refers to but rather the contexts and uses of an expression.

Last, after reading both Russell and Strawsons paper, it seems that Srawson uses more of a common sense view when making his critiques against Russell’s view. This application of using common sense allows Strawson to think about the everyday, common uses of language more than Russell is and why Russell’s view is oversimplifying the complexity that is a language. A critique that one may have for Strawson is that his discussion of tokens and types as being types of uses for utterances could confuse or overcomplicate philosophy as well. I do not think this is the case as he is only clarifying, showing how we can extrapolate truth from sentences depending on the context. Similarly, I think Strawson parallels Frege as Strawson’s theory of sentences can have the same use but have different utterances is similar to how an expression can have the same reference but have different senses. In my opinion is not an error of Strawson’s to overcomplicate the reform of language but rather Russells.

Conclusion

Although both Russel’s and Strawson’s essays were challenging essays to understand, their efforts to reform the language we use to communicate new ideas for philosophical inquiry are more than commendable. I agree more with Strawson as his arguments, although complex, were able to show the holes in Russells paper. In this essay, since I agree mostly with him. I tried add a few arguments in which Strawson’s arguments could have been strengthened.  

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A Critique Of Bertrand Russell’s Essay ‘on Denoting’. (2021, November 22). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-critique-of-bertrand-russells-essay-on-denoting/
“A Critique Of Bertrand Russell’s Essay ‘on Denoting’.” GradesFixer, 22 Nov. 2021, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-critique-of-bertrand-russells-essay-on-denoting/
A Critique Of Bertrand Russell’s Essay ‘on Denoting’. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-critique-of-bertrand-russells-essay-on-denoting/> [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].
A Critique Of Bertrand Russell’s Essay ‘on Denoting’ [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Nov 22 [cited 2022 Dec 8]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-critique-of-bertrand-russells-essay-on-denoting/
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