Tuesday 11 August 2020


I don't know where I got the original pointer to the book, but I am reading the biography of the Cambridge genius Frank Ramsey.   Early on in the book, certain differences in philosophers' reasonings were summarised as a difference of opinion as to whether the following phrase was, on the one hand meaningless, or on the other hand simply false:

"The king of France is bald"

 So.  Is it nonsense, or is it false?   Does your answer change when considering the following, and if so, with what justification?

"The Jabberwock has claws that catch" 

Thank you for your consideration.


CherryPie said...

Earlier today I watched and episode of Michael Portillo's Train journey where the passage of the Jaberwock was considered to be delicious nonsense :-)

I enjoyed learning about Lewis Carroll and his inspirations for his stories.

Fascinating :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,

As it happens, and completely by chance, I too came across a new biography on Frank Plumpton Ramsey on an Amazon search. Haven't bought it(yet).

I didn't want to spoil your read on Frank R. So waited a couple of months to reply on this thread. But....

Skinny dipping in the Cam didn't go well for him in the end did it? :(

Have you got any closer to answering your question - if you have finished the book?

I could be wrong, but MacIntyre may well credit FPR with brining down Logical Positivism (Propositions: can be true, false, tautology, meaningless)as a valid doctrine. Does your book touch on these developments? Is it Frank's argument: 'I have in front of me a text.. etc, etc' Brilliant stuff.


Mark In Mayenne said...

Hi Mike W, I don't think the question got answered.

The question disappears quickly into the consideration of what "everyone knows to be true" can be considered to be true or not, even if t applies to things that have never existed.

Everyone knows that dragons can fly and breathe fire, and the fact that they don't exist doesn't change this. The main difference between the king of France and dragons is that dragons have never existed (in human memory), but kings of France have, and might again. So how does this fact change the truth or falsity of his possible baldness?

Anonymous said...


'the fact that they don't exist doesn't change this'

The answer is well above my pay grade. If I tell you what I understand to be the problem, you can move on from that.

King of F is a paradox invented by Russell. It looks at 'existence' as a predicate in a propositional sentence and argues, just because it is grammatically correct - it is not true or false. Also consider the ancient 'Cretan Liar' paradox here. Russell invented problems weekly. The fact that Ramsey is interested, along with all the logicians and mathmaticians at the turn of the century Cambridge, tells you how complex the answer will be to prove. If you look up Russell or 'symbolic logic' you will see the proof (meaningless?) will run to quite a 'calculation'.

At the time Russell - followed by 'Freddie' Ayre, where keen show that metaphysics, sentences like:God exists' were meaningless guff (no more than 'Yippee', 'I like' 'agree with me'. See Aye's, Langauge, Truth and Logic (1933)for the classic, post Vienna treatment of all this, minus the maths :)

The reason way all this is not a dead subject but still a pressing one for all of us, can be found in the book on moral philosophy(of all things) by A MacIntyre called, 'After Virtue' 1980. Up to you now. Good luck!

Mark In Mayenne said...

Well, above my pay grade too. The thing is, "Dragons can fly and breathe fire" is true, regardless of the fact that dragons don't exist. No-one would suggest that it is nonsense. But "The king of France is bald" could well be meaningless, so the question is, what is the difference? A theory of logic would have to account for both of these possibilities.

Mark In Mayenne said...

If "The king of France is bald" is not nonsense, it's false or indeterminate. So one description of something that doesn't exist is true, and a different description of something else that doesn't exist is false, nonsense or indeterminate. So how do we differentiate?

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,



I can only reformulate my observation.

Consider the modern concept of 'stress testing' in banking and finance. The Paradox is a stress test for a theory. Russell and North Whitehead were developing the Theory/logical/mathmatical tools to treat all correctly formed propositions. Everything... the end of Philosohy stuff! See link above,also Google Russell's 'Principia' for the shear scope of this ambition .

I would conclude that, 'solving' the paradox is the other side of learning the logical/mathmatical tools to solve a paradox such as the one you are considering. Good luck with that :)

How about MacIntyre's 'After Virtue' instead?

Best Mike

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