Michael McCourt (Northern Illinois)

"Worrying about Falsehood: Russell on the logical form of belief, 1903 to 1919 and beyond"

Abstract: I first sketch the development, between 1903 and 1919, of Russell's interrelated views on truth, propositions, and the logical form of belief ascriptions. In Principles of mathematics (1903), Russell endorses a view of propositions as structured, abstract entities, containing individuals, relations, and properties. On this account, belief is a relation between a believer and a structured proposition. Russell modifies this theory in two papers on truth from 1905 and 1907, eschewing talk of propositions for talk of complexes of mental entities. In Principia mathematica (1910), Russell abandons the earlier account and endorses the multiple relation theory, according to which belief is a relation between a believer and the objects, properties and relations that were formerly taken to be constituents of intermediary propositions. In The Problems of Philosophy (1912), Theory of Knowledge (1913), The Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1918), and “On propositions” (1919), Russell defends the multiple relation theory. This story is familiar. My aim in the paper is to have contributed to existing discussions (see especially Kirkham 1992, Linsky 1993 and 2002, and Clapp and Stainton 2002) some further consideration of Russell's explicit theorizing about truth and its relation to his shifting views about belief. In particular, I show how Russell's persistent concerns regarding the nature of falsehood drove the development of his views about belief.

I go on to briefly reprise some more recent theorizing about logical form and its relation to the linguist's notion of Logical Form, in particular aiming to provide context for discussion of Larson and Ludlow's (1993) account of Interpreted Logical Forms (ILFs). In brief: ILFs are syntactic structures or trees comprised of lexical parts that compose larger structured units via concatenation. Crucially, the terminal nodes of ILF trees are dominated not only by lexical items but also by the denotations of the lexical items. Hence, the trees are “interpreted.”

Clapp and Stainton (2002) address whether, on the basis of broadly Russellian considerations, we can take ILFs to be the objects of belief. They present and respond to objections to their suggestion that ILFs can do the work that is done by propositions on the 1903 account. I review their dialectic and then raise another problem for Clapp and Stainton's suggestion. I argue that Russell's explicit theorizing about truth and falsity appears to support a negative argument here. Russellian worries about truth and its opposite appear to undermine the proposed identification of ILFs as the objects of belief.

In brief: I show how Russell's developing account of belief is shaped by his persistent worries about falsehood. I then show how familiar Russellian worries about falsehood undermine a recent attempt to revive an early Russellian theory of belief. As Russell laments, such accounts ultimately wreck themselves against the puzzle of error.

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