Russell on Incomplete Symbols

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Abstract

Russell's notion of an incomplete symbol has become a standard against which philosophers compare their views on the relationship between language and the world. But Russell's exact characterization of incomplete symbols and the role they play in his philosophy are still disputed. In this paper, I trace the development of the notion of an incomplete symbol in Russell's philosophy. I suggest – against Kaplan, Evans, and others – that Russell's many characterizations of the notion of an incomplete symbol are compatible. To this end, I examine and reject arguments for the purported incompatibility between declaring an expression to be incomplete and incorporating that symbol into a compositional semantic theory. I then examine how Russell puts the notion of an incomplete symbol to use in metaphysics.

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