Ogden and Richards’ The Meaning of Meaning and early analytic philosophy

James McElvenny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

C.K. Ogden (1889–1957) and I.A. Richards’ (1893–1979) The Meaning of Meaning is widely recognised as a classic text of early twentieth-century linguistic semantics and semiotics, but less well known are its links to the ‘logical atomism’ of Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), one of the foundational doctrines of analytic philosophy. In this paper a detailed comparison of The Meaning of Meaning and logical atomism is made, in which several key similarities between the two theories in subject matter and approach are identified: both attempt to describe meaning in terms of the latest psychological doctrines and both pursue a normative program aimed at rectifying the perceived deficiencies of language. But there are also a number of differences between the theories. Ogden and Richards – most probably inspired by Victoria Lady Welby (1837–1912) – offered a pragmatically oriented account of ordinary language, while Russell sought a ‘logically perfect language’ beyond interpretation, and rejected the work of Welby and her allies. These differences contributed significantly to Russell’s largely negative opinion of The Meaning of Meaning. Despite this, several ideas pioneered in The Meaning of Meaning re-appear in Russell’s later writings. The Meaning of Meaning, it would seem, not only drew inspiration from Russell’s philosophy but may have also contributed to its further development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-221
JournalLanguage Sciences
Issue numberPart B
Early online date9 Nov 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • The Meaning of Meaning
  • logical atomism
  • history of semiotics
  • history of semantics
  • history of analytic philosophy


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