Sidgwick’s Legacy? Russell and Moore on Meaning and Philosophical Inquiry

  • Sébastien Gandon Université Clermont Auvergne


James Levine has recently argued (1998, 2009, 2016) that there is a tension between Russell’s Moorean semantical framework and Russell’s Peano-inspired analytical practice. According to Levine, this discrepancy runs deep in Russell’s thought from 1900 to 1918, and underlies many of the doctrinal changes occurring during this period. In this paper, I suggest that, contrary to what Levine claims, there is no incompatibility between Moore’s theory of meaning and the idea of informative conceptual analysis. I show this by relating Moore’s view of meaning to his Sidgwick-inspired criticism of the so-called naturalistic fallacy. I maintain that Moore’s semantical framework has a methodological intent: following Sidgwick, Moore wants to block any attempt to justify ethical principles through setting ad hoc conditions on the meaning of the terms involved. Thus, far from grounding philosophical knowledge on subjective intuitions, as Levine suggests, Moore’s framework would provide us with the means to make room for a discursive and dialectic conception of philosophical inquiry.


Baldwin, Thomas, 1990. G. E. Moore. London: Routledge.

Burge, Tyler, 1990. “Frege on Sense and Linguistic Meaning.” In The Analytic Tradition, edited by D. Bell and N. Cooper, pp. 30–60. Oxford: Blackwell.

Gandon, Sébastien, 2012. Russell’s Unknown Logicism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Griffin, Nicholas, 1989. “Russell and Sidgwick.” Russell 9: 12–25.

Hylton, Peter, 1990. Russell, Idealism and the Emergence of Analytic Philosophy. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Levine, James, 1998. “From Absolute Idealism to The Principles of Mathematics.” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 6: 87–127.

———, 2007. “Analysis and Abstraction Principles in Russell and Frege.” In The Analytic Turn, edited by M. Beaney, pp. 51–74. New York and London: Routledge.

———, 2009. “From Moore to Peano to Watson: The Mathematical Roots of Russell’s Naturalism and Behaviorism.” The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication 4: 1–126.

———, 2016. “The Place of Vagueness in Russell’s Philosophical Development.” In Early Analytic Philosophy: New Perspectives on the Tradition, edited by S. Costreie, pp. 161–212. New York: Springer.

Makin, Gideon, 2000. The Metaphysicians of Meaning: Russell and Frege on Sense and Denotation. London and New York: Routledge.

Mill, J. S., 1861. Utilitarianism. Reprinted in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, vol. 10, Essays on Ethics, Religion and Society, edited by John Robson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969.

Moore, G. E., 1901–1902. “Mr. McTaggart’s ‘Studies in Hegelian Cosmology’.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society n. s. 2: 177–214.

———, 1903a. Principia Ethica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———, 1903b. “The Refutation of Idealism.” Reprinted in Philosophical Studies, pp. 1–30. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1922.

———, 1905–06. “Russell’s Principles of Mathematics.” Unpublished typescript. Bertrand Russell Archives, McMaster University.

———, 1942. “A Reply to My Critics.” In The Philosophy of G. E. Moore, edited by P. A. Schilpp, pp. 535–677. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

———, 1953. Some Main Problems of Philosophy. London: George Allen & Unwin.

Proops, Ian, 2014. “Russellian Acquaintance Revisited.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 52: 779–811.

———, 2015. “Certainty, Error, and Acquaintance in The Problems of Philosophy.” In Acquaintance, Knowledge, and Logic: New Essays on Bertrand Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy, edited by D. Wishon and B. Linsky, pp. 45–63. Stanford: CSLI Publications.

Rawls, John, 1999. A Theory of Justice, 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (First edition 1971.)

———, 2000. Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy, edited by S. Freeman. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Russell, Bertrand, 1900. A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———, 1903a. The Principles of Mathematics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———, 1903b. “On Meaning and Denotation.” In The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, vol. 4, Foundations of Logic 1903–05, edited by A. Urquhart, pp. 314–58. London: Routledge, 1994.

———, 1907. “The Regressive Method of Discovering the Premises of Mathematics.” Reprinted in Essays in Analysis, edited by Douglas Lackey, pp. 272–83. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1973.

———, 1912. The Problems of Philosophy. London: Williams and Norgate.

———, 1992. The Theory of Knowledge: The 1913 Manuscript, edited by E. R. Eames and K. Blackwell. London: Routledge.

Schmid, A. F., 2001. Bertrand Russell / Louis Couturat (1897–1913). Correspondance sur la philosophie, la logique et la politique. Paris: Kimé.

Schneewind, J. B., 1977. Sidgwick’s Ethics and Victorian Moral Philosophy. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Sidgwick, Henry, 1874. The Methods of Ethics. London: Macmillan.

Wishon, Donovan, 2017. “Russellian Acquaintance and Frege’s Puzzle.” Mind 126: 321–37.