Existence and Description

Bertrand Russell, “Existence and Description”


§1 General Propositions and Existence

“Now when you come to ask what really is asserted in a general proposition, such as ‘All Greeks are men’ for instance, you find that what is asserted is the truth of all values of what I call a propositional function. A propositional function is simply any expression containing an undetermined constituent, or several undetermined constituents, and becoming a proposition as soon as the undetermined constituents are determined.” (24a)

“Much false philosophy has arisen out of confusing propositional functions and propositions.” (24b)

A propositional function can be necessary (when it is always true), possible (when it is sometimes true), and impossible (when it is never true).

“Propositions can only be true or false, but propositional functions have these three possibilities.” (24b)

“When you take any propositional function and assert of it that it is possible, that it is sometimes true, that gives you the fundamental meaning ‘existence’…. Existence is essentially a property of a propositional function. It means that the propositional function is true in at least one instance.” (25a)

— Brandon C. Look

— University Research Professor and Chair



2018.10.07 Sunday ACHK