On "Props", Wittgenstein's June 1913 Letter, and Russell's "Paralysis"


  • James Connelly Trent University




Recent years have seen a resurgence of scholarly interest in the precise nature of Wittgenstein’s fateful but notoriously obscure criticisms of Russell’s multiple relation theory of judgment, levelled as Russell was furiously composing Theory of Knowledge in May–June 1913. In this paper, I place special expository focus on two controversial documents from the relevant period, whose nature and interrelationships to this point have been inadequately understood in the literature. The first document is a set of working notes composed by Russell under the title “Props”—which I date as on or shortly after 26 May—while the second is a June 1913 letter from Wittgenstein to Russell, often thought to contain a “paralyzing”, if mysterious, objection to Russell’s theory. On the basis of a new interpretation of these two documents and their relationship, I revise the “standard reading” of Wittgenstein’s criticisms. The revision renders that reading invulnerable to certain seemingly devastating criticisms developed by Stevens in 2003. I defend my revised reading against various “non-standard” alternatives which have flourished in the recent literature, in part as the result of Stevens’ criticisms.