Russell and Moore: The Analytical Heritage by A.J. Ayer

By A.J. Ayer


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We can say of it that it is the one and only object which has such and such properties, or we can simply point to it by the use of a demonstrative symbol. In the first case, the object is identified by description, in the second case by name. It is true that even in the second case what we are pointing to, strictly speaking, is still a set of properties, but our being actually confronted with the complex of properties is held to constitute acquaintance with the object which has them. In short, naming for Russell in the end simply consists in a process of demonstrative identification; and the only objects which can be demonstratively identified are those which are directly presented to us through our observation of their properties.

The realist is open, if not to the charge of dishonesty, at least to that oflaziness. Nevertheless it may be that there are things, like the love-charm in one of Kipling's stories, that only work for those who steal them. The problem then will be to distinguish between the venial and the culpable sorts of theft. How far Russell himself is driven to theft will become clear only when we have gone more deeply into his theories of meaning, truth and knowledge. As I have indicated, the bridge between his work in logic and these other aspects of his philosophy is to be found in his theory of descriptions, and it is to this that I now tum.

It follows that the kinds of objects that are said to exist will depend upon the kinds of propositional functions that are said to be satisfied, and this is the source ofProfessor Quine's celebrated dictum that to be is to be the value of a variable. Although I think that this analysis of existential statements gives an illuminating and correct account of one way, perhaps the most common way, in which they are employed, we have seen that it does not cover their use in philosophical ontology. I have, however, already put forward a theory about the way in which existential statements of this particular sort al,"e to be construed, and I shall not pursue the matter here, though I shall be returning to it at a later stage.

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