"On Denoting" and the Principle of Acquaintance


  • Russell Wahl Idaho State University




While Russell’s concerns in developing the theory of descriptions were primarily with his foundation of logic, he was aware of the epistemological uses of both the theory of denoting concepts and the 1905 theory of definite descriptions. At the end of “On Denoting” he suggests that the principle of acquaintance is a “result” of the new theory of denoting. In this paper I examine the relation between the theory of descriptions and the principle of acquaintance, and I reject two suggestions, one that Russell’s view commits him to the position that quantifiers range only over objects of acquaintance, the other that the principle of acquaintance plays a crucial role in the Gray’s Elegy argument. Russell’s earlier theory of denoting concepts went hand in hand with the principle of acquaintance, as Russell made clear in his “Points about Denoting”. So the principle of acquaintance was neither a motivator for the new account nor a special consequence of it. The new account of “On Denoting”, while dispensing with denoting concepts, preserved the connection that the older denoting theory had with the principle of acquaintance.