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ONT Re: Russell -- Philosophy Of Logical Atomism




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POLA.  Note 10

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| 1.  Facts and Propositions (cont.)
|
| A proposition is just a symbol.  It is a complex symbol in the
| sense that it has parts which are also symbols:  a symbol may
| be defined as complex when it has parts that are symbols.
|
| In a sentence containing several words, the several words are each symbols,
| and the sentence comprising them is therefore a complex symbol in that sense.
|
| There is a good deal of importance to philosophy in the theory of symbolism,
| a good deal more than one time I thought.  I think the importance is almost
| entirely negative, i.e., the importance lies in the fact that unless you
| are fairly self-conscious about symbols, unless you are fairly aware of
| the relation of the symbol to what it symbolizes, you will find yourself
| attributing to the thing properties which only belong to the symbol.
|
| That, of course, is especially likely in very abstract studies such as
| philosophical logic, because the subject-matter that you are supposed
| to be thinking of is so exceedingly difficult and elusive that any
| person who has ever tried to think about it knows you do not think
| about it except perhaps once in six months for half a minute.
| The rest of the time you think about the symbols, because
| they are tangible, but the thing you are supposed to be
| thinking about is fearfully difficult and one does not
| often manage to think about it.
|
| The really good philosopher is the one who does
| once in six months think about it for a minute.
| Bad philosophers never do.  That is why the
| theory of symbolism has a certain importance,
| because otherwise you are so certain to
| mistake the properties of the symbolism
| for the properties of the thing.
|
| It has other interesting sides to it too.
| There are different kinds of symbols,
| different kinds of relation between
| symbol and what is symbolized, and
| very important fallacies arise
| from not realizing this.
|
| The sort of contradictions about which
| I shall be speaking in connection with
| types in a later lecture all arise from
| mistakes in symbolism, from putting one
| sort of symbol in the place where another
| sort of symbol ought to be.
|
| Some of the notions that have been thought absolutely fundamental in philosophy
| have arisen, I believe, entirely through mistakes as to symbolism -- e.g. the
| notion of existence, or, if you like, reality.  Those two words stand for a
| great deal that has been discussed in philosophy.  There has been the theory
| about every proposition being really a description of reality as a whole and
| so on, and altogther these notions of reality and existence have played a
| very prominent part in philosophy.  Now my own belief is that as they have
| occurred in philosophy, they have been entirely the outcome of a muddle
| about symbolism, and that when you have cleared up that muddle, you find
| that practically everything that has been said about existence is sheer
| and simple mistake, and that is all you can say about it.  I shall go
| into that in a later lecture, but it is an example of the way in which
| symbolism is important.
|
| Russell, POLA, pp. 44-45.
|
| Bertrand Russell, "The Philosophy of Logical Atomism", pp. 35-155
| in 'The Philosophy of Logical Atomism', edited with an introduction
| by David Pears, Open Court, La Salle, IL, 1985.  First published 1918.

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