Russell, Meinong and the Origin of the Theory of Descriptions


  • Harm Boukema Radboud University



According to his own account, Russell was “led to” the Theory of Descriptions by “the desire to avoid Meinong’s unduly populous realm of being”. This “official view” has been subjected to severe criticism. However stimulating this criticism may be, it is too extreme and therefore not critical enough. It fails to fully acknowledge both the way it is itself opposed to Russell and the way Russell and Meinong were opposed to their opponents. In order to avoid these failures, a more “dialectical” kind of analysis will be applied. It leads to unravelling two confusions shared by the official and the unofficial views: the confusion between conception and adoption of the TOD and the confusion between three varieties of Meinongianism. By means of these distinctions both a significant kernel of truth contained in Russell’s account and the underlying motive for his distortion of the historical facts can be laid bare.