Russell’s Eccentricity

Erkenntnis 86 (2):275-293 (2019)
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Abstract

Russell claims that ordinary proper names are eccentric, i.e. that the semantic referent of a name is determined by the descriptive condition that the individual utterer of the name associates with the name. This is deeply puzzling, for the evidence that names are subject to interpersonal coordination seems irrefutable. One way of making sense of Russell’s view would be to claim that he has been systematically misinterpreted and did not, in fact, offer a semantic theory at all. Such a view is put forward in Sainsbury Departing from Frege, Routledge, London, 2002). Sainsbury claims that Russellian descriptivism is not the theory that the thought in the mind of the speaker determines the semantic reference of a name, but simply a theory about the thought in the mind of the speaker using a name. I argue that the truth is subtly different, and points the way towards an intuitive explanation of Russell’s eccentricity.

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J. P. Smit
University of Stellenbosch

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