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Royal Institute of Philosophy

Is Russell's Paradox Genuine?

Author(s): James Moulder
Source: Philosophy, Vol. 49, No. 189 (Jul., 1974), pp. 295-302
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of Royal Institute of Philosophy
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3750119 .
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Is Russell's Paradox Genuine?
James Moulder

Copi, Quine and van Heijenoort have each claimed that there are two
fundamentally different kinds of logical paradox; namely,genuine para-
doxes like Russell's and pseudo-paradoxeslike the Barber of Seville.1 I
wantto contestthisclaim and will presentmy case in threestages.Firstly,
I will characterizethe logicalparadoxes; statestandardversionsofthreeof
them; and demonstratethat a symbolicformulationof each leads to a
formalcontradiction. Secondly,I will discussthe reasonsCopi, Quine and
van Heijenoorthave givenforthe distinctionbetweengenuineand pseudo-
paradoxes. Thirdly,I will attemptto explain why thereis no such class
as theclass ofall and onlythoseclasseswhicharenotmembersofthemselves.

What is a Logical Paradox?

In general,a paradoxis an argumentwhichhas a conclusionthatstrikes

us as absurd. In logic, however,the word has been given a more precise
meaning.A logical paradox is an apparentlysound argumentwhichleads
to two conclusionswhich contradicteach other.This technicalsense of
the word covers and is exemplifiedby the threeparadoxes which I will
discuss; namely, the Barber of Seville, the Catalogue and Russell's
I will referto these threelogical paradoxes as 'the paradoxes' and will
statestandardversionsofeach ofthemat some lengthbecause ofthecritical
commentsand observationswhich I wish to make at a later stage of the
investigation.At this stage,however,all I wish to establishis thata sym-
bolic formulationof each of themleads to a formalcontradictionvia an
applicationoftheUniversalInstantiation Rule.

The Barberof Seville

A man of Seville is shavedby the Barberof Seville if,and onlyif,the man

does not shave himself.Does the Barberof Seville shave himself?We may
assume eitherthat he does or that he does not. Suppose we assume that
Copi, The Theoryof Logical Types(London, I97I); W. V. Quine,
1 I. 1\M.
'Paradox' in The Waysof Paradox (Cambridge, Mass., i963) pp. 3-zo; and
J. van Heijenoort,'Logical Paradoxes' in The EncyclopediaofPhilosophy,Vol. 5,
ed. P. Edwards (London, I968) pp. 45-5I. I will referto these threediscussions
as C, Q, and H, respectively.
49 1974 295

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James Moulder

he doesnotshavehimself; then,sincehe shavesall thosemenwhodo not

shavethemselves, itfollowsthatheshaveshimself. Supposethenthathedoes
shavehimself; sinceheshavesonlythosemenwhodo notshavethemselves,
it followsthathe doesnotshavehimself.We arein troubleif we assume
thatthe Barberof Sevilleshaveshimself;and we are in troubleif we
assumethathe does not; because,fromthe way in whichhe has been
characterized,it followsthathe shaveshimself if,and onlyif,he doesnot
Like theothertwoparadoxesI willconsider, theBarberis moreper-
spicuouswhenexpressed insymbols. Let b standfor'theBarberofSeville'
ands(x,y) for'x shavesy'. The BarberofSevillecanthenbe characterized
as someonesuchthat
(x) [s(b,x) iff -s(x, x)]. (I)
By UniversalInstantiation we obtain
s(b,b) iff -s(b, b). (2)

BytheusualEquivalenceRuleswe obtain
s(b,b) and -s(b, b). (3)
The argument from(i) to (3) is valid; thatis, therulesof deduction
whichenableus to derive(3) from(i) seemto be reliablewhenused in
othercontexts. Here,however, the application of theserulesleads to a
contradiction;namely, thattheBarberofSevillebothshavesand doesnot

The Catalogue Paradox

In a certainuniversity it is thecustomofdepartmental librariansto list
theirbooksin a loose-leaf catalogue insteadof in a card that
catalogue; is,
thedepartmental catalogueis itselfa book.Some departmental librarians
list theircatalogue the departmental catalogue; others do not. The
university librarycontains twomastercatalogues;oneofall andonlythose
catalogues in theuniversity thatlistthemselves andanother ofall andonly
thosethatdo not.Does themastercatalogueofall thosecatalogues in the
university thatdo notlistthemselves listitself?
We mayassumeeither thatitdoesorthatitdoesnot.Supposeweassume
thatitdoesnotlistitself;then,sinceitlistsall thosecatalogues thatdo not
listthemselves, it followsthatitdoes listitself.Supposethenthatit does
listitself;sinceit listsonlythosecatalogues thatdo notlistthemselves, it
follows thatit doesnotlistitself.Onceagainwe arein trouble;themaster
catalogueof all and onlythosecataloguesin the university thatdo not
listthemselves listsitselfif,andonlyif,itdoesnotlistitself.
The symbolic formulation oftheCataloguerevealsthatit has thesame
formal structureas theBarber.Let c standfor'themastercatalogueofall

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Is Russell's Paradox Genuine?

and only those catalogues in the universitythat do not list themselves'

and l(x, y) for'x listsy'. The mastercatalogueof all and onlythosecata-
logues in the universitythatdo not listthemselvesis, therefore,such that
(x) [l(c, x) iff - l(x, x)]. (I)
By UniversalInstantiationwe obtain
l(c, C) iff -l(c, C). (Z)
By the usual Equivalence Rules we obtain
and -l(c, c).
l(c, c) (3)
The argumentfrom(i) to (3) is valid; but this particularapplication
of the rulesof deductionleads to a contradiction;namely,thatthe master
catalogue of all and only those catalogues in the universitythat do not
list themselvesboth listsand does not list itself.

Russell's Paradox
Russell's Paradox is simplya more generaland more austereversionof
the Catalogue Paradox. Not all classes satisfytheir own membership
condition;thatis, some classesare notmembersofthemselves.For example,
the class of all and onlythosehumanbeingswho are womenis not itselfa
woman and, therefore, is not a memberof the class of all and only those
human beings who are women. But what about the class of all and only
those classes which are not membersof themselves?Is it or is it not a
memberof itself?Suppose we assume that it is not a memberof itself;
then, since all those classes which are not membersof themselvesare
membersofit,it followsthatit is a memberofitself.Suppose thenthatit is
a memberof itself; since only those classes which are not membersof
themselvesare membersof it, it followsthatit is not a memberof itself.
Once again we have plunged into contradiction;the class of all and only
thoseclasseswhichare not membersof themselvesis a memberof itselfif,
and only if,it is not a memberof itself.
Russell's Paradox has the same formalstructureas the Barberand the
Catalogue. Let r stand for 'the class of all and only those classes which
are not membersof themselves'and ni(x,y) for 'x is a memberof y'.
The class ofall and onlythoseclasseswhichare notmembersofthemselves
is, therefore,suchthat
(x) [m(x,r) iff -m (x, x)] (I)

By UniversalInstantiationwe obtain
m(r,r) iff -m(r, r). (Z)
By the usual Equivalence Rules we obtain
m(r,r) and -m(r, r). (3)
Like each of the other two paradoxes, Russell's is obtained from a

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Jaes Moulder

formula,(i), by the usual rules of deduction. These rules seem to be

reliablein othercontexts.Here, however,thisparticularapplicationof the
rules leads to a contradiction;namely,thatthe class of all and onlythose
classes whichare not membersof themselvesboth is and is not a member

Are There BothPseudo- and Genuine Paradoxes?

This suggeststhatthesethreeparadoxesarisebecause of the assumption

that there is a thingof the kind which is characterizedby the formula
whichgeneratesa contradiction via an applicationof the UniversalInstan-
tiationRule. For example,theBarberParadoxarisesbecause oftheassump-
tionthatthereis a man in Seville who shaves all and onlythosemen who
do not shave themselves.And Russell's Paradox arises because of the
assumptionthat there is a class of all and only those classes which are
not membersof themselves.In Quine's words:
We are confrontedwith nothingmore mysteriousthan what logicians
have been referring to for a couple of thousandyears as a reductioad
(Q, p. 4).
More specifically,we can explain and eliminateeach of these threepara-
doxesvia an applicationof the principlethatnothinghas self-contradictory
My appeal to Quine, however,misrepresents his positionon this issue
because, like Copi and van Heijenoort,he is convincedthat thereare at
least two fundamentally different kinds of logical paradox. On the one
hand, thereare genuineparadoxes; for example,Russell's. On the other
hand, thereare pseudo-paradoxes;forexample,the Barberof Seville and,
presumably,the CatalogueParadox. On the basis of thisdistinction,Copi,
Quine and van Heijenoortpropose to explain and eliminatethe pseudo-
paradoxes via an applicationof the principlethat nothinghas self-con-
The genuineparadoxes,however,theypropose
to explainand eliminatein termsof Russell's Simple Theoryof Types or,
perhaps,in termsofan axiomaticsettheory.It is thisdistinctionand double
strategywhichI wantto contest.
Accordingto van Heijenoort,the Barbercontainsan assumptionwhich
was not made explicitin the symbolicformulation of the paradox as
(x)[s(b, x) iff -s(x, x)] (I)

but which was implicitin the applicationof the UniversalInstantiation

Rule to (i). This assumptionbecomes explicitif we allow Sx to stand for
'x is a man of Seville'. The symbolicformulationof the paradox then
(x) {if Sx then[s(b,x) if -s(x, x)]}. (2)

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Is Russell's Paradox Genuine?

By UniversalInstantiationwe obtain
if Sb then[s(b, b) iff - s(b, b)]. (3)
Van Heijenoort then claims, correctlybut somewhatvaguely, that (3)
'by the propositionalcalculus' yields
-Sb. (4)
Sb (5)
it is not (I)
we then have a contradiction.For van Heijenoort,therefore,
He thenclaims
but (2) withtheadditionof(5) whichyieldsa contradiction.
withoutthis additionalassumptionwe simplyhave the resultthat the
Barberof Seville is not a man of Seville; he maybe a womanor a boy of
Seville or a man of some other town. Hence the difficulty is merely
apparentand is easilyremoved(H, p. 50).
Quine agrees:
the properconclusionto draw is just thatthereis no such barber.We
are confrontedwith nothingmore mysteriousthan what logicianshave
to fora couple ofthousandyearsas a reductio
been referring ad absurdum.
We disprovethe barber by assuminghim and deducingthe absurdity
thathe shaveshimselfif and onlyifhe does not. The paradoxis simply
a proofthatno villagecan containa man who shaves all and onlythose
men in it who do not shave themselves(Q, p. 4).
On theirown theseclaimsofQuine's and van Heijenoort'sare impeccable
because theyamountto nothingmore nor less than an applicationof the
In symbols:
principlethatnothinghas self-contridictory
(x) (if Ox and - Ox thenx does not exist).
What makestheirclaiman odd one is the factthatit is advancedas a basis
or criterionfordistinguishing paradoxessuch as the Barberfromones such
as Russell's even thoughthe two kindsof paradoxeshave the same formal
structure.For example, van Heijenoort demonstratesthat we can make
similarmoves withinRussell's Paradox. Let Cx stand for 'x is a class'.
(x) {if Cx then[m(x,r) iff -m(x, x)]}. (6)
By UniversalInstantiation we obtain
if Cr then[m(r, r) iff -m (r, r)]. (7)
By the propositionalcalculus we obtain
-Cr (8)
Cr (9)

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gives us a contradiction.But van Heijenoortrefusesto draw the same

kind of conclusionwhich he did in connectionwith the Barber on the
groundsthatit is not clear whythe collectionr is not a class. I, however,
wantto maintainthatit is clearwhyr is not a class; namely,thatnothing,
not even a class, has self-contridctory
characteristics.On these grounds,
therefore,Russell's Paradox is simplya proofthat thereis no such class
as the class of all and only those classes which are not members of

Is r a Class?

AlthoughI regardthis discussion of Quine and van Heijenoortas a

of theirclaim thatthereare bothpseudo- and genuine
paradoxes,some doubt may remain.Van Heijenoort,in particular,may
claim thatI owe him an explanationof whythe collectionr is not a class.
This is a reasonabledemand and I will,therefore, concludemy case with
an attemptto meet it. I propose to do so witha discussionof a necessary
conditionofthespecification of a class by statingitsmembershipcondition
and an elucidationof my claimthatnot even a class has self-contradictory
A good place to begin the discussionof the conditionswhich must be
metwhenone specifiesa class by statingits membershipconditionis with
Copi's reason for drawing a distinctionbetween pseudo- and genuine
paradoxes.Accordingto Copi,
the specificationof a non-mathematical, contingententitycarries no
suggestionthatthereactuallyis anythingansweringto thatspecification.
... But in sharp contrast,specificationsof classes by statingtheir
membershipconditionsdo seem to carrythe implicationthatthereare
such classes(C, p. i6).
Copi's contentionrests on the differencebetween 'non-mathematical,
contingent'entitiesand classes. Presumablybarbersare to be placed on
the firstside of the divide and classes which are not membersof them-
selveson the second. It is not clear,however,on whichside of the division
we should place mastercatalogueswhich do not list themselves.On the
one hand, such catalogues are as non-mathematicaland contingentas
barbers;on theotherhand,the CatalogueParadoxcannotbe statedwithout
an explicitor an implicitemploymentof the notionof a class.
Copi's reasonforthe distinction betweenpseudo- and genuineparadoxes
is, however,open to a more serious objection; namely,that it seems to
rest upon the assumptionthat specificationsof classes by stating any
conditionwhatsoevercarrythe implicationthat there are such classes.
I will argue that this assumptionis untenableand that Russell's Paradox


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Is Russell's Paradox Genuine?

is a proofof its untenability.In otherwords: thereis a necessarycondition

which must be met when one specifiesa class by statingits membership
conditionsand whichthe collectionr failsto meet.
There are two verycommonways of specifyinga class. The firstway in
whichwe can do so is by simplylistingits members.When this is done,
it is usual to denote the class by enclosingthe names of the membersin
(curly)brackets.Thus {I,
2 3,

denotes the class whose membersare the number i, the number2, the
number3, and the number4. More importantly, we can specifya class by
givinga conditionformembershipin the class. For example,the class of
all and onlythose numberswhichwere knownto the Pythagoreansas the
Tetractysof the Decad and by whichtheysworetheirmostbindingoaths
is preciselythe same class as the class whose membersare the numberi,
the number2, the number3 and the number4. On the basis of thisbrief
reminderofthe twowaysin whichwe specifya class, I wantto makethree
observationswhich are crucialto my claim thatnot even a class has self-
contradictory characteristics.
Firstly,a class containsall and onlythosethingswhichmeetthe condi-
tions for membershipin that class. For example, the class of natural
numbersgreaterthano and less than 5 containsall and onlythosenatural
numbersthat are greaterthan o and less than 5; that is, the number i,
thenumber2, thenumber3 and thenumber4. When,therefore, we specify
a class by givinga conditionformembershipin the class we have to specify
a conditionwhichenablesus to considerbothall the membersof thatclass
and only the membersof that class. This is importantbecause the whole
pointof the specification is to enable us to considerboth all the members
of the class in questionand onlythe membersof the class in question.
Secondly,if the conditionswhichwe specifyformembershipof a class
are ambiguous,uncertainty arisesabout whatis and whatis not a member
of thatclass. For example,it is not clearwhichnaturalnumbersare mem-
bers of the class of all and onlythosenaturalnumbersless than 5 because
some mathematicians include o among the naturalnumberswhile others
do not. A consequenceof this ambiguityis thatif we were asked to con-
siderthe class of all and onlythosenaturalnumbersless than5, we would
not know whetherwe have to consider the class whose members are
{0, I, 2, 3, 4} or the class whose membersare {I, 2, 3, 4}. A mathematician
who includedo amongthe naturalnumbersand who asked us to consider
the class of all and only those naturalnumbersless than 5, would object
if we consideredthe class whose membersare {I, 2, 3, 4}. And the ground
of his objectionwould be that,whilewe had consideredonlynaturalnum-
bers less than 5, we had not consideredall the naturalnumbersless than5
because we had not consideredthe numbero. Similarly,a mathematician
who did not include o among the naturalnumbersand who asked us to

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James Moulder

considerthe class of all and onlythosenaturalnumbersless than 5, would

object if we consideredthe class whose membersare {o, I, 2, 3, 4}. And
he would objecton thegroundthat,whilewe had consideredall thenatural
numbersless than5, we had not consideredonlynaturalnumbersless than
5 becausewe had also consideredo.
Thirdly,a collectionis a class if, and only if, the specificationof its
membershipconditionis such thatit providesan effective criterionor set
of criteriafordeciding,foreach thingthatmightbe a memberof the class,
whetheror not it reallyis a member.More specifically,a collectionis a
class if,and only if,the specification of its membershipconditionis such
that it enables us to considerall the membersof that class and only the
membersof that class. On these grounds,therefore,the phrase 'all and
onlythosenaturalnumbersless than 5' cannotbe used to specifya condi-
tion for membershipin a class because of the ambiguityof the phrase
Armed with these three observations,I now want to make good my
claim thatthe collectionr is not a class. The reasonwhyit is not a class is
thatthephrasewhichis used to specifyitsmembershipcondition-namely,
'all and onlythose classes whichare not membersof themselves'-is self-
contradictory. On the one hand, its membershipconditionrequiresthat
we considerall thoseclasseswhichare not membersof themselves;on the
otherhand, it demandsthatwe consideronlythose classes which are not
membersof themselves.A littlereflectionon these two conditionsor, if
necessary,a carefulstudyof the symbolicformulation of thismembership
conditionis sufficient support the claim thatwe cannotmeetboththese
conditions because they are self-contradictory. More explicitly,if we
suppose thatr is not a memberof itselfand we considerall those classes
which are not membersof themselves,then we will not have considered
onlythose classes which are not membersof themselves;because, if r is
not a memberof itself,thenr is a memberof itselfand we will,therefore,
have consideredat least one class whichis a memberof itself;namely,r.
On the otherhand, if we suppose thatr is a memberof itselfand we con-
sider onlythose classes which are not membersof themselves,then we
will not have consideredall those classeswhichare not membersof them-
selves; because, ifr is a memberof itself,thenit is not a memberof itself
and thereis, therefore, at least one class whichwe should have considered
but did not; namely,r.
For these reasonsI cannotaccept Copi's, Quine's and van Heijenoort's
divisionofthelogicalparadoxesintopseudo- and genuine.More specifically,
I cannotunderstandwhytheyregardtheBarberof Sevillebut not Russell's
Paradox as a reductioad absurdumargumentwhich restson the principle
that nothinghas self-contradictory characteristics.


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