Can We Be Positive About Russell’s Negative Facts?
In his The Philosophy of Logical Atomism, Russell entertained the existence of negative facts such as Socrates not being alive and a hippopotamus not being in this room. He seemed to think that he needed negative facts to serve as truthmakers for statements such as “A hippopotamus is not in this room” and falsemakers for statements such as “Socrates is alive”. In this paper, I explore Russell’s arguments for negative facts as well as the extent of his commitment to them. By looking more closely at a number of his works, I find that his commitment to negative facts was less thoroughgoing than commonly thought. I also outline five different ontological accounts of negative facts—in terms of a negative constituent, an absence, a negative universal, a negative exemplification relation, and a negative particular—and show that, due to Russell’s commitments and constraints, he was not able to embrace any of them. I conclude by considering a couple of alternative non-ontological approaches to negative facts.
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