Russell's Multiple Relation Theory of Judgment: Evolution and Demise
Dolnick, Alexander C.
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At some time between 1906 and 1909 Russell adopts the so-called multiple relation theory of judgment, according to which a belief or judgment is not a two-place relation between a mind and a proposition, but rather a three-or-more-place, or multiple, relation among the mind and the various entities concerning which it judges. The multiple relation theory undergoes various transformations in the period from 1910 through 1913, as Russell encounters difficulties with the view that require modifications. Moreover, in 1913, Wittgenstein obscurely but sharply and effectively criticizes the version of the theory that Russell advances in the manuscript entitled Theory of Knowledge, a projected book on which Russell is hard at work in May and early June of 1913. Wittgenstein’s criticisms convince Russell that the 1913 version of the multiple relation theory is untenable. This leads Russell to reject that version of his theory of judgment, to abandon work on Theory of Knowledge, and, ultimately, to give up the view of judgment as a multiple relation altogether. The exact nature of Wittgenstein’s criticism is not clearly established by surviving documents. This dissertation is a historical study of the evolution of Russell’s multiple relation theory of judgment, and of Wittgenstein’s critique of that theory in 1913, which led to Russell’s abandoning his attempts to formulate a workable version of the theory. I argue that, in his January 1913 letter to Russell, Wittgenstein charges that the 1912 version of the multiple relation theory does not make it impossible for a person to judge nonsense. On my reading, Wittgenstein claims that the 1912 theory does not allow for the fundamental ontological distinctions among the objects that figure in our judgments, so it does not rule out the existence of judgments that represent their objects as combined in a way that they simply cannot be combined in reality. According to my interpretation, Wittgenstein argues that Russell cannot resolve this difficulty by modifying the theory of judgment so as to build in the relevant distinctions and restrictions. Wittgenstein observes that the attempt to state type-restrictions within a theory that is itself subject to such restrictions is self-defeating: it engenders the very nonsensical assertions whose existence it is meant to preclude. This observation contains one crucial point of origin for Wittgenstein’s well-known distinction in the Tractatus between saying and showing. I also argue that Russell modifies the multiple relation theory in 1913, incorporating both logical forms and restrictions of logical type into his analysis of judgments in Theory of Knowledge, in order to overcome Wittgenstein’s objection to the 1912 theory. I maintain, however, that Wittgenstein thinks that even with the modifications in question Russell’s theory of judgment still is vulnerable to the charge that it does not explain why it is impossible to judge nonsense. I contend that, in his June 1913 letter to Russell, Wittgenstein argues that Russell’s method of imposing type-theoretic distinctions and restrictions on judgments makes a judgment’s possession of sense extrinsic to it. Yet Wittgenstein now maintains that the proper analysis of judgment must show that it is intrinsic to the notion of judgment that only sense can be judged. I claim that the view of sentences and representation that Wittgenstein puts forward in his 1913 “Notes on Logic” is designed to satisfy this requirement. I argue, in part, that Wittgenstein’s conception of sentences as facts enables his account of judgment to capture the distinctive role that is played in a judgment by the relation that forms its would-be corresponding fact. I conclude that it is precisely the failure of the multiple relation theory to account for the distinctive role of the subordinate relation in a judgment that convinces Russell that the theory is unsatisfactory, and that leads him, ultimately, to abandon the view of judgment as a multiple relation altogether.
multiple relation theory of judgment