Russell on "Disambiguating with the Grain"


  • Kevin C. Klement University of Massachusetts



Fregeans face the difficulty finding a notation for distinguishing statements about the sense or meaning of an expression as opposed to its reference or denotation. Famously, in "On Denoting", Russell rejected methods that begin with an expression designating its denotation, and then alter it with a "the meaning of" operator to designate the meaning. Such methods attempt an impossible "backward road" from denotation to meaning. Contemporary neo-Fregeans, however, have suggested that we can disambiguate with, rather than against, the grain, by using a notation that begins with expressions designating senses or meanings, and then alters them with a "the denotation of" operator to designate the denotation. I show that in his manuscripts of 1903–05, Russell both considered and rejected a similar notation along with the metaphysical suppositions underlying it. This discussion sheds light on the evolution of Russell's thought, and may yet be instructive for ongoing debates.