chapter  2
The collapse of the first theory and the discovery of the theory of descriptions
Pages 30

Given that, as explained in the preceding chapter, denoting complexes are aboutness-shifters, how can there possibly be a proposition about a denoting complex? When trying to spell out the answer to this question Russell noticed that this involved what in OD he describes as ‘certain rather curious difficulties, which seem in themselves sufficient to prove that the theory which leads to such difficulties must be wrong’ (Marsh: p. 48). The exposition of these difficulties – which amount to a decisive argument against the theory expounded in the last chapter – occupies a notoriously obscure passage in OD (pp. 48-50; often dubbed the ‘Gray’s Elegy’ passage). Deciphering this passage and exploring its argument form the chief objectives of the present chapter, and they will occupy us in all but its final section. Making sense of this passage may also be desired on more purely textual grounds: it occurs at the heart of one of the most influential and thoroughly studied essays of the analytic tradition, and so long as we have no satisfactory account of its content and role in the broader scheme of OD, our grip on that essay’s argument as a whole remains precarious.