Truth and Propositional Unity in Early Russell

Thomas Ricketts

in Future Pasts

Published in print September 2001 | ISBN: 9780195139167
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199833214 | DOI:
 Truth and Propositional Unity in Early Russell

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Ricketts treats shifts in Russell’s views about truth and judgment between 1905 and 1910, a period during which Russell attempted to articulate an atomistic, pluralist, and realist metaphysical alternative to the Idealistic Monism of Bradley in which reality is constituted by a plurality of mind-independent entities standing in relations external to them. Russell did not simply dismiss Idealism; significant aspects of the development of his alternative stem from his attempt to answer Bradley’s criticisms. Ricketts focuses on three elements of Russell’s early metaphysics: propositions not facts are metaphysically fundamental; a proposition is not a mere list of its components; and propositions are not representational, so that truth of propositions is not analyzed in terms of relations to truth-makers. Russell’s problem was to explain the unity of the proposition in face of Bradley’s challenge such that unity cannot be accounted for by external relations. Since for Russell truth is not explained by relation to fact, he was driven to a view in which truth and falsity are two irreducible ways in which propositional constituents are related by a relation that is itself one of these constituents. Unfortunately this position is self-thwarting; any attempt to state that truth is a quality of the relation holding the proposition together will, on Russell’s view, express a proposition in which truth is a constituent independent of that relation. This incoherence, on Ricketts’s reading, is what motivates Russell to a metaphysics in which facts are fundamental, in order to serve the role of truth-makers of propositions.

Keywords: Russell F. H. Bradley; G. E. More; monism; pluralism; judgment; fact; metaphysics; truth; correspondence theory of truth; internal relations; external relations; proposition; unity of proposition

Chapter.  11119 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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