Russell's Early Metaphysics of Propositions

Prolegomena 8 (2):159-192 (2009)
In Bertrand Russell’s The Principles of Mathematics and related works, the notion of a proposition plays an important role; it is by analyzing <span class='Hi'>propositions</span>, showing what kinds of constituents they have, that Russell arrives at his core logical concepts. At this time, his conception of proposition contains both a conventional and an unconventional part. The former is the view that <span class='Hi'>propositions</span> are the ultimate truth-bearers; the latter is the view that the constituents of <span class='Hi'>propositions</span> are “worldly” entities. In the latter respect, Russellian <span class='Hi'>propositions</span> are akin to states-of-affairs on some robust understanding of these entities. The idea of Russellian <span class='Hi'>propositions</span> is well known, at least in outline. Not so well known is his treatment of truth, which nevertheless grows directly out of this notion of proposition. For the <span class='Hi'>early</span> Russell, the import of truth is primarily metaphysical, rather than semantic; reversing the usual direction of explanation, he holds that truth is explanatory of what is the case rather than vice versa. That is, what properties a thing has and what relations it bears to other things is determined, metaphysically speaking, by there being a suitable array of true and false <span class='Hi'>propositions</span>. In the present paper, this doctrine is examined for its content and motivation. To show that it plays a genuine role in Russell’s <span class='Hi'>early</span> metaphysics and logic, I examine its consequences for (1) the possibility of truth-definitions and (2) the problem of the unity of the proposition. I shall draw a few somewhat tentative conclusions about where Russell stood vis-à-vis his metaphysics of <span class='Hi'>propositions</span>, suggesting a possible source of dissatisfaction that may have played a role in his eventual rejection of his <span class='Hi'>early</span> notion of proposition.
Keywords assertion  facts  propositional unity  propositions  truth  truth-definitions  truth-primitivism
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