Russell’s Use Theory of Meaning


  • Nicholas Griffin



Russell is often accused of having a naive ‘Fido’–Fido theory of meaning of the sort Wittgenstein attacked at the beginning of the Philosophical Investigations. In this paper I argue that he never held such a theory though I concede that, prior to 1918, he said various things that might lead a very careless reader to suppose that he had. However, in The Analysis of Mind (1921), a book which (from the work of Garth Hallett) we know Wittgenstein studied closely, Russell put forward an account of understanding an utterance which clearly anticipates the use theory of meaning usually attributed to Wittgenstein. The paper concludes with some problems for understanding the use theory of meaning as presented by both Russell and, derivatively, Wittgenstein.


Works by Russell and Wittgenstein

[AMa] Russell, Bertrand, 1927. The Analysis of Matter. London: Allen and Unwin. Reprinted New York: Dover, 1954.

[AMi] Russell, Bertrand, 1921. The Analysis of Mind. London: Allen and Unwin.

[BBB] Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 1958. The Blue and Brown Books. Oxford: Blackwell. Reprint New York: Harper, 1965.

[CL] Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 1995. Cambridge Letters: Correspondence with Russell, Keynes, Moore, Ramsey and Sraffa. Oxford: Blackwell.

[CPBR4] Russell, Bertrand, 1994. The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, vol. 4: Foundations of Logic, 1903–05, edited by Alasdair Urquhart. London: Routledge.

[CPBR5] Russell, Bertrand, 2014. The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, vol. 5: Toward ‘Principia Mathematica’, 1905–08, edited by G. H. Moore. London: Routledge.

[CPBR8] Russell, Bertrand, 1986. The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, vol. 8: The Philosophy of Logical Atomism and Other Essays, 1914–19, edited by J. G. Slater. London: Routledge.

[IMT] Russell, Bertrand, 1940. Inquiry into Meaning and Truth. London: Allen and Unwin.

[MN] Russell, Bertrand, 1918. ‘Manuscript Notes.’ In Russell (1986), 252–71.

[MPD] Russell, Bertrand, 1959. My Philosophical Development. London: Allen and Unwin.

[OD] Russell, Bertrand, 1905. ‘On Denoting.’ Mind 14: 479–93. Reprinted in Russell (1986), 415–27.

[OOP] Russell, Bertrand, 1927. An Outline of Philosophy. London: Allen and Unwin.

[OP] Russell, Bertrand, 1919. ‘On Propositions: What They Are and How They Mean.’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes 2: 1–43. Reprinted in Russell (1986), 278–306.

[PAD] Russell, Bertrand, 1903. ‘Points about Denoting.’ In Russell (1994), 306–13.

[PI] Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 1953. Philosophical Investigations, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell.

[PLA] Russell, Bertrand, 1918. ‘The Philosophy of Logical Atomism.’ The Monist 28: 495–527. Reprinted in Russell (1986), 153–244.

[PM] Whitehead, Alfred North and Bertrand Russell, 1925–27. Principia Mathematica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. First edition 1910–13.

[POM] Russell, Bertrand, 1903. The Principles of Mathematics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Reprinted London: Allen and Unwin, 1964.

[POP] Russell, Bertrand, 1912. The Problems of Philosophy. London: Williams and Norgate.

[RTC] Russell, Bertrand, 1944. ‘Reply to Criticisms.’ In Schilpp (1944), 681–741.

[TLP] Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 1921. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, translated by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961.

[WJCT] Russell, Bertrand, 1908. ‘William James’s Conception of Truth.’ In Russell (2014), 472–85.

Works by other authors

de Almeida, Claudio, 1998. Russell on the Foundations of Logic. Porto Alegre: Coleção Filosofia, EDIPUCRS.

Black, Max, 1944. ‘Russell’s Philosophy of Language.’ In Schilpp (1944), pp. 229–55.

Burnyeat, M. F., 1987. ‘Wittgenstein and Augustine De magistro.’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 61: 1–24.

Dummett, Michael, 1975. ‘What is a Theory of Meaning? (I).’ In The Seas of Language, pp. 1–33. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Field, Harty, 2004. ‘The Consistency of the Naive Theory of Properties.’ In One Hundred Years of Russell’s Paradox, edited by Godehard Link, pp. 285–310. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Fogelin, Robert J., 1976. Wittgenstein. London: Routledge. Second edition, 1987.

Godden, David M. and Nicholas Griffin, 2009. ‘Psychologism and the Development of Russell’s Account of Propositions.’ History and Philosophy of Logic 30: 171–86.

Griffin, Nicholas, 1996. ‘Denoting Concepts in The Principles of Mathematics.’ In Bertrand Russell and the Origin of Analytical Philosophy, edited by Ray Monk and Anthony Palmer, pp. 23–64. Bristol: Thoemmes Press.

Hacker, P. M. S., 2010. ‘Meaning and Use.’ In The Later Wittgenstein on Language, edited by Daniel Whiting, pp. 26–44. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hallett, Garth, 1967. Wittgenstein’s Definition of Meaning as Use. New York: Fordham University Press.

———, 1977. A Companion to Wittgenstein’s “Philosophical Investigations”. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Hunter, J. F. M., 1971. ‘Wittgenstein on Meaning and Use.’ In Essays on Wittgenstein, edited by E. D. Klemke, pp. 374–93. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Jager, Ronald, 1972. The Development of Bertrand Russell’s Philosophy. London: Allen and Unwin.

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

Martinich, A. P., 1997. ‘The Philosophy of Language.’ In Routledge History of Philosophy, vol. 10: Philosophy of Meaning, Knowledge and Value in the Twentieth Century, edited by John V. Canfield, pp. 11–38. London: Routledge.

Pears, D. F., 1967. Bertrand Russell and the British Tradition in Philosophy. New York: Random House.

Ryle, Gilbert, 1957. ‘The Theory of Meaning.’ In British Philosophy in the Mid-Century: A Cambridge Symposium, edited by C. A. Mace, pp. 239–64. London: Allen and Unwin. Reprinted in Gilbert Ryle: Collected Papers, vol. 2, pp. 350–72. London: Hutchinson, 1971.

Schilpp, Paul Arthur, ed., 1944. The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell. (Library of Living Philosophers 5). La Salle: Open Court.

Schmitz, H. Walter, 2013. “ ‘It is confusion and misunderstanding that we must first attack or we must fail hopelessly in the long run.” Taking Stock of the Published Correspondence of Victoria, Lady Welby.’ Kodikas/Code: Ars Semeiotica 36: 203–26.

Soames, Scott, 2003. Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century. Vol. 1:) The Dawn of Analysis. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Stevens, Graham, 2006. ‘On Russell’s Naturalism.’ Bertrand Russell Society Quarterly 130–31: 21–30.

Strawson, P. F., 1950. ‘On Referring.’ Mind 59: 320–44. Reprinted in Definite Descriptions: A Reader, edited by Gary Ostertag, pp. 135–60. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998.