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Russell and Frege on singular terms

First half of Michaelmas Term 2015, Thursdays at 10 a.m. in LB6

Intended audience

Part IB logic candidates.


Around 1900 Frege and Russell developed fundamentally opposed semantic theories to account for how ordinary names refer. By investigating their reasons we shall be studying one of the central moments in the birth of analytic philosophy.


The two central articles which we shall be studying are:

  • Gottob Frege, 'On sense and reference', in P. Geach & M. Black (eds), Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege (Oxford: Blackwell, 1952); reprinted in A. W. Moore (ed.), Meaning and Reference (OUP, 1993); and in P.Ludlow (ed.), Readings in the Philosophy of Language (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997)
  • Bertrand Russell, 'On denoting', Mind, 14 (1905), 479-93; reprinted in his Logic and Knowledge: essays 1901-1950, ed. by R.C. Marsh (London: Allen & Unwin, 1956); and in his Collected Papers, vol. 4 (London: Routledge, 1994); and in G. Ostertag (ed.), Definite Descriptions: A Reader (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998); and online here

Try to read these before the lectures. I also recommend you to read Frege's draft letter to Jourdain, which I shall be mentioning more than once. My article "The birth of analytic philosophy" (PDF 322kB, Cambridge web addresses only) tries to place this material in a wider historical context.


For anyone who misses a lecture the handout will be available here for downloading (from Cambridge web addresses only) shortly afterwards.

  1. Frege's theories
  2. More on Frege, and Russell's 1903 theory of denoting
  3. Russell's 1905 theory of denoting
  4. Comparison of Russell's and Frege's theories

The material in the lectures is covered in slightly more detail in some draft chapters of a book here and here.