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An Introduction To Non-aristotelian Systems And General Semantics.

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430          VII. THE MECHANISM OF TIME-BINDING
tions'. They found that such totalities, or such 'all' statements, were not legitimate, as they involved a self-contradiction to start with. A proposition cannot be made legitimately about 'all' propositions without some restriction, since it would have to include the new proposition which is being made. If we consider a m.o term like 'propositions', which we can manufacture without known limits, and remember that any statement about propositions takes the form of a proposition, then obviously we cannot make statements about all propositions. In such a case the statement must be limited; such a set has no total, and a statement about 'all its members' cannot be made legitimately. Similarly, we cannot speak about all numbers.
Statements such as 'a proposition about all propositions' have been called by Russell 'illegitimate totalities'. In such cases, it is necessary to break up the set into smaller sets, each of which is capable of having a totality. This represents, in the main, what the theory of types aims to accomplish. In the language of the Principia Mathematica, the principle which enables us to avoid the illegitimate totalities may be expressed as follows: 'Whatever involves all of a collection must not be one of the collection', or, 'If, provided a certain collection had a total, it would have members only definable in terms of that total, then the said collection has no total'.1 The above principle is called the 'vicious-circle principle', because it allows us to evade the vicious circles which the introduction of illegitimate totalities involve. Russell calls the arguments which involve the vicious-circle principle, 'vicious-circle fallacies'.
As an example, Russell gives the two-valued law of 'excluded third', formulated in the form that 'all propositions are true or false'. We involve a vicious-circle fallacy if we argue that the law of excluded third takes the form of a proposition, and, therefore, may be evaluated as true or false. Before we can make any statement about 'all propositions' legitimate, we must limit it in some way so that a statement about this totality must fall outside this totality.
Another example of a vicious-circle fallacy may be given as that of the imaginary sceptic who asserts that he knows nothing, but is refuted by the question - does he know that he knows nothing? Before the statement of the sceptic becomes significant, he must limit, somehow, the number of facts concerning which he asserts his ignorance, which represent an illegitimate totality. When such a limitation is imposed, and he asserts that he is ignorant of an extensional series of propositions, of which the proposition about his ignorance is not a member, then such scepticism cannot be refuted in the above way.