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Posted: February 10th, 2022
Strawson and Russell
(a) The problem of description and egocentricity
Russel defines the problem of description as logical analysis. That is a form of syntax expression by use of logic. Russell’s theory on the description problem was first coined in 1905 in an essay referred to as “On Denoting” (Russell 479-493) Basically, all philosophers, including Russel, have described the problem of description as either define or indefinite. Definite descriptions contain the phrase ‘the F’ while the indefinite expression contains the phrase ‘an F’ (Russell 479-493). According to Russel, the phrases are bound to change depending on the language used. For instance, he claimed that a sentence with (2) plus an indefinite description of its logical expression would be (2′). Here, the expression of indefinite description is presentment as follows; (2) An F is G and (2′) ∃x(Fx & Gx). Likewise, to a sentence that has (3) The F is G plus a definite description, its logical form will be (3′) ∃x(Fx & ∀y(Fy → x=y) & Gx) (Russell 479-493).
To make his work simpler, Russel classified (3) into (3a), (3b), and (3c) to illustrate three significant claims in a definite description. In (3a), there must be an F, in (3b), there must be an ‘F’, and (3c) must have a G for all Fs. Therefore, his definite description of a sentence should have three parts: an existing claim, a unique claim, and a maximum claim. In his critics towards Strawson, Russel claims that a definite description (S2)- “the present King of France” lacks an object; hence it is wrong (Russell 385-389). Therefore, to correct the sentence, there must (S3) which has a claim.
Russel’s problem of egocentricity was a way of eliminating errors that he claimed Mr. Strawson made in his work on “Referring” (Russell 385-389). Egocentricity refers to the state of being self-centered or selfish in one’s actions or speech. Strawson argued that one could not argue that (S1) is true or false unless if it is used to make the true or false claim. According to Russel, Strawson portrayed egocentricity in his idea of the problem of description in language. He claims that Strawson eliminated the word “present” from (S2) to make it (S6). S2 stated, “The present King of France is wise,” while (S6) stated that “The King of France in 1905 is wise” (Russell 385-386). Therefore, based on Russel, the difference between the two sentences is the problem of egocentricity. Eliminating a word to achieve a different sentence.
(b) Russell’s Problem of Description
According to Russell, we can solve the problem with description by applying the definite description in (S3). For a sentence to be well described, it should possess three claims; an existing claim, a unique claim, and a maximal claim. An existence claim in a sentence contains both the singular and the adverse existential claims. Unique claims are a unique expression. On the other hand, a maximal is an expression that provides sufficient details concerning an argument (Russell 385-389). For example, if we say “John Hamilton is the tallest man in the world” and another statement saying that “the tallest man in the world lives in Chicago,” we would have two similar sentences presenting different claims. The different idea will be presented because one sentence is specific while the other is not. “the tallest man in the world living in Chicago” can be anyone as long as no name is attributed to them. But “John Hamilton is the tallest man in the world” gives a more logical description that is unique and has a maximal claim. Russel considered using the three claims as the only way to solve the problem of description.
(c) Part II of Strawson’s “On Referring”
Part II is what Russel has on mind based on Strawson’s article “On Referring” on Mr. Strawson’s method of treating description. Strawson’s method of treating the description problem included substituting a tense with an actual date that Russel considered wrong. He embraced truth in his argument by arguing that one cannot just use “P” to give meaning to a sentence; it has to be a phrase like “it is a fact that P…” in his (S2) the word “present” was false hence replacing it with “in 1905” made more sense (Snowdon & Gomes). Russel terms this as a selfish problem. In his response to Strawson, he got into an argument to the extent that he failed to tell the readers what his term “egocentricity problem” meant (Russell 385). Although from his argument, one can tell that it means being self-centered by justifying a wrong fact that has no basis. Russel thinks that Strawson just eradicated “present” in (S2) and replaced it with “in 1905″ to illustrate truth, yet the sentence remained false. According to Russel, Strawson failed to uphold the rule of (S1), which states that a sentence is meaningful (i.e., is meaningful) if and only if it has a truth value.” Based on Russel, Strawson has no truth value in his statement in (S2) “The present king of France is wise” because there is no King of France (Russell 385-389). So as much as Strawson tries to change tense to replace it with a date, the statement remains false because the king is assumed.
(d) ) Russell argument on ‘present’ and ‘in 1905’ words by Strawson
Russel’s statement is one that Strawson makes that his statements are neither true nor false. Here, Russel refers to the argument of Strawson of his (S2) The present King of France is wise” and (S6) “The King of France in 1905 is wise”. It seems that Strawson substituted the two when introducing a new sentence using the definite description. He argued that use of the word “present” was false since at that point there was no king in France. Substituting the word with a specific date seemed more convincing and real hence giving (S6) truth. Based on Russel, Strawson’s justification is incorrect because his sentence still lacks an object that gives the sentence a claim. Again if his statements are neither true nor false, where does the law of (S1) apply?
(e) Does Strawson confuse the above two problems? If so, describe where the confusion occurs? If not, say why you think not.
Yes, Strawson confuses both the problem of description and egocentricity in his discussion. Most of his argument is not making much sense because he tries to falsify the work of Russel rather than give clear guidelines for his argument. For example, Strawson claims that (S1) extensionalism is false without giving the readers the rationale (Russell 385). He also claims Russel’s treatment of the description problem is wrong without giving clear evidence and reasons. The only reason Strawson gives is that the argument by Russel is neither false nor true. This is vague because it is the assumption that has no basis. Strawson has also argued about egocentricity through an argument with Russel.
(a) What are their respective positions?
Russel refers to the argument between him and Mr. Strawson as a mere question of verbal convenience’ (Kaplan 151). This is based on their stand in different positions. Strawson argues that his position on both the problem of description and egocentricity is false or true. He has no stand on his opinion. In other words, he does not want to appear wrong in his argument, so he wants to be in the middle. For example, by using the statement “the present King of France is wise,” when in reality there is no king of France and justifies that the statement is either true or false, it does not make any sense at all. On the other hand, Russel argues that Strawson should not have violated the (SI) guidelines, which states that only a statement with actual value is significant (Russell 385). According to Russel, his sentence lacked truth; hence it contributes to the problem of description. one could correct it by adopting some truth by using logical expressions that are real.
(b) How does Russell argue that their dispute is merely verbal?
A verbal argument involves a strong argument in favor of one’s theory. In this case, both Strawson and Russel’s argument is about protecting their views, and it is not meant to solve the problem of description. Russel tells Strawson that, ‘What we have here is the familiar philosophical situation of one party being attracted by one simplified, theoretical – or ‘straightened out’ – the concept of truth and falsity, and the other by another . . . ordinary usage does not deliver a clear verdict for one party or the other’ ((Russell 82). By this statement, it is clear that Russel understands perfectly that their fight is merely verbal and not a debate towards changing the current issue in language. Their argument is hard to understand because it is not meant for the readers but their selfish motives. Therefore, this is why he uses the words merely verbal to show what their argument was based on.
(c) ) Is Russell accurately describing his position in “On Denoting”? Explain
Denoting implies that something stands for another inform of symbols. Russel has described his positioning through denoting. He has used the symbols S and X to stand for words and logical expressions in his argument. Russell also uses symbols to stand for prepositions during denoting. For instance, he says, if ‘N is human,” then we say “–is human” therefore, one can fill the empty slot with any other symbol to act as a preposition; Strawson disagrees with the fact that Russel denotes his position correctly. He says that “Furthermore, the theory can handle the significant, but no denoting instances of definite descriptions, i.e., they are false since the existential claim is unfulfilled.” He criticizes Russel’s work by identifying his weak areas where he fails to denote and fails to fulfill his claim despite having chosen the path of treating the description problem through three central claims mentioned earlier.
a. Strawson’s theory
Yes. I believe Strawson’s theory is intended to analyze the state of the mind of those who utter sentences containing descriptions. This is because, in chapter 1 and chapter 2 of his book, he talks about individual and logical theory. In logical theory, Strawson explains the nature, scope, and formal logic broadly. For example, in his explanation of the problem’s description, he explains the notion of entailment. He defines it through using the letter P & Q where ‘P entails Q’ as ‘‘P and not Q’ (Russell 385-389). He also brings out the notion of contradiction where he states that it is achieved through saying nothing but take back frequently. Other notions include the notion of form and of proof systems which he applies syllogistic logic to describe the propositional logic. Based on individuals, Strawson applied metaphysics to describe and assess the schemes of the world. Further, in chapter 1, Strawson measures whether a group of individuals can think without depending on others’ thoughts.
b. Does Russell’s theory claim to “accuracy”?
Accuracy refers to the state of being correct or knowledgeable. Russell’s theory claim accuracy by agreeing with what we ordinarily say about the truth of sentences possessing definite descriptions. For accuracy, definite description sentences should contain symbols used to present noun phrases in a sentence. For example, Russel uses X to represent prepositions in a phrase format. Since denoting phrases are a determiner for an accurate definite sentence, Russell’s approach to his work is guided by accuracy. His work is also based on truth rather than assumptions. He has formulated sentence 1 (S1), which acts as his reference point regarding the true value of the sentence (Russell 385). It states that a sentence is only right if it has a truth value.
c. Strawson’s theory aim to;
Strawson’s theory does not aim to agree with what we ordinarily know about sentences containing definite descriptions. Ordinarily, statements containing definite sentences refer to a denoting phrase in letters like “the X”, in which X represents a noun phrase. A denoting phrase is a group of words used to show a plain meaning to a single word. Strawson rarely uses denotation in his article; only Russel has used annotation extensively. Therefore, his theory does not necessarily aim at disagreeing or agreeing with the true value of a sentence. Additionally, Strawson claims that neither his sentences nor Russel’s are true or false. This is clear that his goal is not to achieve the effectiveness of definite descriptions rather his argument is for selfish gains.
d. Whose theory comes closest to capturing what we would ordinarily say?
I believe Russel’s theory comes close to what ordinarily we would say is the true value of a sentence containing definite descriptions. His work is well elaborated with denoted phrases that are used to study language in philosophy (Russell 385-389). He has also supported his argument with three claims that make a sentence to be regarded truthful. They include; unique claim and maximal claim. The theory of Strawson is somehow hard to understand because it is based on falsity or truth that lacks detailed information. He also argues that a symbol like S cannot be used alone not unless it is accompanied by other words, only then it can make sense. His argument contradicts with what is known that a symbol can make sense on their its own since it can stand in place of prepositions and noun phrase. Lastly, it is hard to connect between the information given about the mind and the logical forms of how one understands language.
Kaplan, David. “What is Russell’s Theory of Descriptions?” Bertrand Russell: Critical Assessments (1999): 151.
Russell, Bertrand. “Mr. Strawson on referring.” Mind 66.263 (1957): 385-389.
Russell, Bertrand. “On denoting.” Mind 14.56 (1905): 479-493.
Snowdon, Paul, and Anil Gomes. “Peter Frederick Strawson.” (2009).
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