Russell’s Merit<sup>1</sup>

Michael Kremer

in Wittgenstein's Early Philosophy

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199691524
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191742262 | DOI:
Russell’s Merit1

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At Tractatus 4.0031, Wittgenstein writes that ‘Russell's merit is to have shown that the apparent logical form of a proposition need not be its real form.’ What precisely did Wittgenstein take himself to have learned from Russell? The easy answer is that in ‘On Denoting,’ Russell showed that the logical form of sentences containing denoting phrases differs from that suggested by their surface grammar, but can be displayed perspicuously in a formal language. Thus, Russell's merit is to have shown that ‘colloquial language disguises the thought’ (Tractatus 4.002), while a formal language can reveal the form of the thought which colloquial language occludes. This interpretation faces several difficulties. Given Frege's analysis of universal propositions as containing covert applications of the conditional, why should this be Russell's merit, rather than Frege's? Why is Russell's merit mentioned in a comment (4.0031) on 4.003, which explains that the problems of philosophy are nonsensical, rather than on 4.002? How is Russell's merit related to the ‘critique of language’ identified with ‘all philosophy’ in 4.0031? The chapter develops an alternative interpretation capable of answering these questions, based on a careful account of the development and content of Wittgenstein's account of philosophical nonsense, and of Russell's use of the theory of descriptions to solve philosophical puzzles. Russell's merit is shown to involve the idea that a formal language can be used to reveal categorial equivocations in the nonsensical sentences of philosophers, thus showing those sentences to have no determinate logical form at all.

Keywords: Wittgenstein; Tractatus; form; Russell; Frege; nonsense

Chapter.  19400 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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