An Interpretation of the Gray's Elegy Argument


  • Ryo Ito Waseda University



In this essay, I first argue that the Gray’s Elegy Argument—the dense passage in Bertrand Russell’s ‘On Denoting’—can be interpreted as a single, coherent argument against the notion that a definite description corresponds to what I call a multifaceted object—an object having multiple facets or sides. I then look into some manuscripts Russell wrote in 1904 and in 1905. I show that he had envisaged the notion of a multifaceted object and used it for two different purposes before he discovered various objections to it, which he turned into the Gray’s Elegy Argument.


Blackburn, Simon, and Alan Code. 1978. “The Power of Russell’s Criticism of Frege: ‘On Denoting’ Pp. 48–50.” Analysis 38: 65–77.

Bostock, David. 2012. Russell’s Logical Atomism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Butler, Ronald J. 1954. “The Scaffolding of Russell’s Theory of Descriptions.” Philosophical Review 64: 350–64.

Cassin, Chrystine. 1971. “Russell’s Discussion of Meaning and Denoting: A Reexamination.” In Essays on Frege, edited by E. D. Klemke, 256–72.

Cohen, Wouter Adriaan. 2022. “Denoting Concepts and Ontology in Russell’s Principles of Mathematics.” Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy 10: 1–22.

Demopolous, William. 1999. “The Theory of Meaning of ‘On Denoting’.” Noûs 33: 439–58.

Geach, Peter. 1959. “Russell on Meaning and Denoting.” Analysis 19: 69–72.

Hochberg, Herbert. 1976. “Russell’s Attack on Frege’s Theory of Meaning.” Philosophia 18: 9–34.

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

Jensen, Ronald Björn. 1968. “On the Consistency of a Slight (?) Modification of Quine’s NF.” Synthese 19: 250–63.

Klement, Kevin C. 2003. “Russell’s 1903–05 Anticipation of the Lambda Calculus.” History and Philosophy of Logic 24: 15–37.

Kremer, Michael. 1994. “The Argument of ‘on Denoting’.” Philosophical Review 103: 249–97.

Landini, Gregory. 1998. “‘On Denoting’ Against Denoting.” Russell: The Journal of the Bertrand Russell Archives 18: 43–80.

Levine, James. 2004. “On the Gray’s Elegy’ Argument and Its Bearing on Frege’s Theory of Sense.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 49: 251–95.

———. 2005. “Aboutness and the Argument of ‘On Denoting’.” In On Denoting 1905–2005, edited by Bernard Linsky and Guido Imaguire, 29–97.

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

Noonan, Harold. 1996. “The ‘Gray’s Elegy’ Argument—and Others.” In Bertrand Russell and the Origins of Analytical Philosophy, edited by Ray Monk and Anthony Palmer, 65–102. Bristol: Thoemmes.

Pakaluk, Michael. 1993. “The Interpretation of Russell’s ‘Gray’s Elegy’ Argument.” In Russell and Analytic Philosophy, edited by A. D. Irvine and G. A. Wedeking, 37–65.

Rodriguez-Consuegra, Francisco. 1992. “A New Angle on Russell’s ‘Inextricable Tangle’ over Meaning and Denotation.” Russell: The Journal of the Bertrand Russell Archives 12: 197–207.

Rosenkrantz, Max. 2017. “A Reconstruction of Russell’s Gray’s Elegy Arguments.” Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy 6: 1–31.

Russell, Bertrand. 1903. The Principles of Mathematics. London: W.W. Norton & Company.

———. 1984. The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, VII; Theory of Knowledge: The 1913 Manuscript. Edited by Kenneth Blackwell and Elizabeth Ramsden Eames. London: George Allen & Unwin.

———. 1992. The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell VI; Logical and Philosophical Papers, 1909–13. Edited by John G. Slater. London: Routledge.

———. 1994. The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell IV; Foundations of Logic 1903–1905. Edited by Alasdair Urquhart. London: Routledge.

———. 2014. The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell v; Toward “Principia Mathematica” 1905–1908. Edited by Gregory H. Moore. London: Routledge.

Salmon, Nathan. 2005. “On Designating.” Mind 114: 1069–1133.

Searle, John R. 1958. “Russell’s Objections to Frege’s Theory of Sense and Referring.” Analysis 18: 137–43.

Simons, Peter. 2005. “Gray’s Elegy Without Tears: Russell Simplified.” In On Denoting 1905–2005, edited by Bernard Linsky and Guido Imaguire, 121–35.

Turnau, Pawel. 1991. “Russell’s Argument Against Frege’s Sense–Reference Distinction.” Russell: The Journal of the Bertrand Russell Archives 11: 52–66.

Wahl, Russell. 1993. “Russell’s Theory of Meaning and Denotation and ‘On Denoting’.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 31: 71–94.