The truth and nothing but the truth, yet never the whole truth: Frege, Russell and the analysis of unities

History and Philosophy of Logic 24 (3):221-240 (2003)
Abstract
It is widely assumed that Russell's problems with the unity of the proposition were recurring and insoluble within the framework of the logical theory of his Principles of Mathematics. By contrast, Frege's functional analysis of thoughts (grounded in a type-theoretic distinction between concepts and objects) is commonly assumed to provide a solution to the problem or, at least, a means of avoiding the difficulty altogether. The Fregean solution is unavailable to Russell because of his commitment to the thesis that there is only one ultimate ontological category. This, combined with Russell's reification of propositions, ensures that he must hold concepts and objects to be of the same logical and ontological type. In this paper I argue that, while Frege's treatment of the unity of the proposition has immediate advantages over Russell's, a deeper consideration of the philosophical underpinnings and metaphysical consequences of the two approaches reveals that Frege's supposed solution is, in fact, far from satisfactory. Russell's repudiation of the Fregean position in the Principles is, I contend, convincing and Russell's own position, despite its problems, conforms to a greater extent than Frege's with common sense and, furthermore, with certain ideas which are central to our understanding of the origins of the analytical tradition
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