Grandmothers and Founding Mothers of Analytic Philosophy: Constance Jones, Bertrand Russell, and Susan Stebbing on Complete and Incomplete Symbols

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Abstract

Russell's use of incomplete symbols constituted progress in philosophy. They allowed Russell to make true negative existential claims, like 'the present King of France does not exist', and to analyse away logical constructs like tables. Russell's view rested on the availability of complete symbols, logically proper names, which single out objects which we know by acquaintance, which we are committed to, and to whose existence discourse about apparent complexes can be reduced. Susan Stebbing enthusiastically embraced incomplete symbols for use in negative existentials and in her innovative theory of metaphysical analysis. Yet she also raised trenchant objections to Russell's assumption that complete symbols are purely referring expressions, equivalent to mere demonstration or pointing. Stebbing thought it could not be assumed that analysis terminates in objects of acquaintance. In this paper I lay out Stebbing's arguments and argue that they bear a striking similarity to those made by Stebbing's former college's Mistress, Constance Jones, whose influence on Russell is now largely forgotten but worth recovering. Jones defended a sense-reference (signification-denotation) distinction before Frege. Russell's objections to that distinction in 'On Denoting' appear to borrow from Jones' presentation of it. In Russell and Jones' 1911 exchange at the Aristotelian Society, Jones's arguments that names have signification and more than mere noises or shapes, and that unless both signification and denotation are taken into account, all identity statements reduce to the trivial 'a=a' form, foreshadow Stebbing's later arguments against complete symbols.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBertrand Russell, Feminism, and Women Philosophers in his Circle
EditorsLandon Elkind, Alexander Klein
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Pages207-239
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9783031330261
ISBN (Print)9783031330254
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2024

Publication series

NameHistory of Analytic Philosophy
PublisherHistory of Analytic Philosophy
ISSN (Print)2634-5994
ISSN (Electronic)2634-6001

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