Russell vs. Frege on definite descriptions as singular terms

In Nicholas Griffin & Dale Jacquette (eds.), Russell Vs. Meinong: The Legacy of "on Denoting". Routledge (2009)
Authors
Bernard Linsky
University of Alberta
Abstract
In ‘On Denoting’ and to some extent in ‘Review of Meinong and Others, Untersuchungen zur Gegenstandstheorie und Psychologie’, published in the same issue of Mind (Russell, 1905a,b), Russell presents not only his famous elimination (or contextual defi nition) of defi nite descriptions, but also a series of considerations against understanding defi nite descriptions as singular terms. At the end of ‘On Denoting’, Russell believes he has shown that all the theories that do treat defi nite descriptions as singular terms fall logically short: Meinong’s, Mally’s, his own earlier (1903) theory, and Frege’s. (He also believes that at least some of them fall short on other grounds—epistemological and metaphysical—but we do not discuss these criticisms except in passing). Our aim in the present paper is to discuss whether his criticisms actually refute Frege’s theory. We fi rst attempt to specify just what Frege’s theory is and present the evidence that has moved scholars to attribute one of three different theories to Frege in this area. We think that each of these theories has some claim to be Fregean, even though they are logically quite different from each other. This raises the issue of determining Frege’s attitude towards these three theories. We consider whether he changed his mind and came to replace one theory with another, or whether he perhaps thought that the different theories applied to different realms, for example, to natural language versus a language for formal logic and arithmetic. We do not come to any hard and fast conclusion here, but instead just note that all these theories treat defi nite descriptions as singular terms, and that Russell proceeds as if he has refuted them all. After taking a brief look at the formal properties of the Fregean theories (particularly the logical status of various sentences containing nonproper defi - nite descriptions) and comparing them to Russell’s theory in this regard, we turn to Russell’s actual criticisms in the above-mentioned articles to examine the extent to which the criticisms hold..
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