There is a Russell impression with a joke on youtube, in which Russell puts the following questions to G. E. Moore:

  1. Do you have any apples in that basket?
  2. Do you have some apples in that basket?
  3. Do you have apples in that basket?

Moore denies the two first and affirms the last. Why?

  • ah i dunno any moore, but i like the joke cos it's all about the apples :) – user6917 Sep 6 '15 at 14:44

Very funny gag.

I don't wish to ruin the gag for others, so hover over the block quote to reveal :

I would say that the joke rests upon the qualifications of "any" and "some". They are not just "any" apples, they are precisely those apple which are in Moore's basket. Similarily, they are not just "some" apples, but precisely those in Moore's basket.

  • Although this fits in a vacuum, considering Russell's life work, I think it's far less likely than the other answer in this thread – Stella Biderman Sep 7 '15 at 3:14
  • @JoshuaBiderman Yes, I think DRobinson's is the correct one, being logic based (set theory). – Nick Sep 7 '15 at 3:15
  • @NickR but then, russell was famous enough for it to just be a joke about philosophy, i think. i go with this answer, the alternative is less funny IMHO, though i suppose there's some comedic mileage in the apparent triviality of set theory – user6917 Sep 7 '15 at 3:56
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    @MATHEMATICIAN I agree. As a founder of analytic philosophy, an important contributor to epistemology, metaphysics, etc.. He was also an important social figure. A real character. Who could not admire the man. – Nick Sep 7 '15 at 4:03
  • @MATHEMATICIAN I have just re-watched the video with a friend and it begins with Miller (as Russell) declaring that he wished to entrap Moore in a "semantic subterfuge", so maybe we are right after all. – Nick Sep 7 '15 at 20:38

To me, this sounds like a set-theory joke resting on existence of the "empty set".

"Some apples" might be taken to ask whether, in the set of apples in your basket, are there multiple elements.

"Any apples" might be taken to ask whether this set has at least one element. As in, if you have no apples, there are no elements in the set, resolving the question false.

"Do you have apples", however, does not quantify a lower bound on the size of the set. So although there are no apples present, the set of apples does exist - it's simply empty.

  • Based on your answer, I would be inclined to reinterpret the quæstions thus: (1) Do you have all apples (‘in the world’) in that basket? (2) Do you have at least one apple in that basket? (3) Do you have at least no apple in that basket? – Toothrot Sep 6 '15 at 18:37
  • Perhaps, though in my (limited) experience with set theory "any" tends to work as "exists", rather than "every" (unless preceded by something like "for", such as "for any"). Does the market have any food? Yes, but it does not have every (neither in sense of instance, nor type) food. – DRobinson Sep 6 '15 at 18:43
  • In my experience, this is true of some. – Toothrot Sep 6 '15 at 18:45
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    the issue i have with this answer is - what's the joke? what are they e.g. poking fun at? also, i assume that neither invented set theory ? – user6917 Sep 7 '15 at 3:35
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    Assuming this is a joke about the semantics of set theory (though I am not familiar with either of those people or their work, nor do I remember the formal terminology) - but wouldn't "any apples" refer to "an arbitrary set of apples" (no, there are apples that are not in my basket); "some apples" refers to "a specific set of known apples" (no, I don't have those apples, I have these apples); and "do you have apples" is actually "are there apples in your basket" (yes, yes I do have apples). Please correct me if I'm wrong? – AviD Nov 3 '16 at 23:00

I thought it might be a joke about the triviality of meta ethics.

The set up is that Russell wants to know if he can have an apple: if Moore is good guy and has left Russell a spare.

  1. Do any apples exist in your basket? No, according to Moore no moral goods really exist.
  2. Is it true that there are apples in your basket? No, according to Moore moral propositions cannot be true or false.
  3. But can I have apple anyway? Moore cheers, and hands Russell an apple because he isn't a moral nihilist.

Which is structured like a joke in the (curious) surprise of 3, and is also a fairly insightful (everyman) satire into meta ethics.

  • @Keelan sorry - i clearly wasn't asking for clarification, i don't know why you would think that. i apologise if my answer wasn't clear enough, i will edit it - but what's that saying about not having to explain jokes ? – user6917 Sep 7 '15 at 5:05

Say the basket is empty:

  1. Do you have any apples in that basket?
    (Does there exist at least one apple in the basket? Clearly no.)

  2. Do you have some apples in that basket?
    (Does there exist at least one apple in the basket? Same as before; clearly no.)

  3. Do you have apples in that basket?
    (Does the basket contain a quantity of apples? Yes; specifically zero.)

Maybe this belongs on math.stackexchange.

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    I'm not sure about the final comment: the issue is more about the nuance of natural language rather than mathematical formalism. – user6559 Sep 7 '15 at 1:32
  • @Hurkyl No; Bertrand Russell was a mathematician, and in any case this is a joke about set membership, which was his most famous mathematical contribution. – imallett Sep 7 '15 at 1:36
  • @imallett Bertran Russell was (foremostly?) a philosopher, just repost the joke if you like it that much :) – user6917 Sep 7 '15 at 3:50
  • @MATHEMATICIAN . . . this entire question is about the joke. And the point is that it's about mathematics. – imallett Sep 7 '15 at 4:53
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    @imallett how is it funny to hear a mathematician talk about set theory? is it funny to see a footballer kick a ball? i'm not saying you're wrong and that it's not about set theory, but you seem really passionately convinced this is the only possible reading of the joke. which is odd – user6917 Sep 7 '15 at 5:23

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