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On Denoting

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On Denotingi According to Russell, a phrase is denoting only in virtue of its form (212); it does not have meaning in itself, but rather, its meaning is contextual. For Russell, there are three ways a phrase can be denoting: 1- it may be denoting, yet not represent any real thing, 2- it may denote one definite object, and 3- it may denote something ambiguously. For example, "Human feathers" is a denoting phrase that doesn't stand for anything-there are no such things as human feathers, "The current president of the United States" is a denoting phrase that denotes a definite person-you can specifically name who the current president is, and "An apple" is a phrase that denotes a single apple, but not a specific apple. The next step is interpreting these phrases. In doing so, we have to take into consideration the difference between "acquaintance" and "knowledge about." The distinction between acquaintance and knowledge about is the distinction between the things we have presentations of, verses the things we only reach by denoting phrases (212). ...read more.


What he is affirming is, '"I met x, and x is human" is not always false' (213). Russell goes on to state a theory introduced by Frege, which distinguishes, in a denoting phrase, the difference between "meaning," or complex significance of a phrase, verses "denotation," which is a certain, and rather simple point in a phrase. Denotations, for Frege, are mere constituents of the meaning of the phrase (214). For instance, the phrase, "evidence of life on other planets," is complex in meaning, but its denotation is simple. Life, planets, etc., are constituents of the meaning, whereas denotation has no constituents at all. For Russell, when he wants to speak about the meaning of a denoting phrase, as apposed to its denotation, he uses inverted commas (215). Therefore, if we take C as a denoting phrase, we should take into consideration the relationship between C and 'C', where C represents the denotation, and 'C' expresses the meaning. ...read more.


With Russell's theory of denoting, we are able to presume that there are no unreal individuals, because if there is no entity, there is no truth, so the null-class is the class containing, as members, all unreal individuals; and, since Apollo is an unreal individual, he is contained in this null-class, and the statement "Apollo visited Athens" is false because it does not denote an entity (218-219). Furthermore, if we go back to one of the original statements: C(nothing) means '"C(x) is false" is always true' and we plug in "Apollo visited Athens" for x, then "C(Apollo visited Athens) is false" is always true', then Russell's argument that "Apollo visited Athens" is false, is true! i All information written in this paper was taken from Martinich, A.P. The Language of Philosophy, Fourth Edition. Oxford University Press, 2001. "On Denoting" by Bertrand Russell, pp. 212-220. 1 Karen Ortiz Philosophy 409 Paper #1 October 7th 2004 ...read more.

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