Tuesday, 8 April 2008

What's wrong with Frege's argument for Senses (Brian Kim)

Brian Kim responds to Jackie Carter's post on Frege puzzles.

I agree with Jackie that much of the motivation for many crazy views about truth, concepts, and intentional content derive from their ability to explain Frege Puzzles. I for one would like to separate my theory of meaning from a theory of intentional content. Like Stalnaker, I think thought is prior to language. I think this is the minority view in philosophy these days so in order to motivate this view, one needs to undermine the main sources of motivation for the alternative - Frege's argument for the distinction between sense and reference. In fact, Frege's argument does show that there is a distinction between sense and reference, but what it does not show is that senses have anything to do with thought.

Here's one way to present Frege's argument:
So the cognitive significance of the sentence P: "Peter Parker is Spiderman" is different than Q: "Peter Parker is Peter Parker". After all they pick out different thoughts. Are thoughts the referent of sentences? Well if they were, then the referent of the sentences P and Q must be determined by the referents of its parts. Thus, if we substituted co-referential names, the referent of the sentences should stay the same. However, if we substitute 'Spiderman' for 'Peter Parker' in P, then referent of P would be the same as Q. Thus, the referent of P and Q cannot be the thoughts they express.

The problem is that Frege simply assumes that only sentence types pick out thoughts. Sure, if we only consider the referent of sentence types, then that must be determined by the expression types 'Peter Parker' and 'Spiderman'. Then if we agree with Kripke, then names (expression types) are rigid designators, the reference of the sentence types P and Q cannot differ. However, sentence tokens can refer to thoughts as well. On this view, the referent of sentence tokens P and Q must be determined by the reference of the expression tokens 'Peter Parker' and 'Spiderman'. However, these two tokens don't have to refer to the same thing. I can use the token 'John' to refer to whomever I want. To Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne, or the dog walking down the street. There aren't any constraints on the reference of tokens. In one context, the token 'Mike' will be taken to be a token of the expression type 'Mike' (Brent) and in another context it will be taken to be a token of type 'Mike' (Seifried). The context plays a large part in determining the reference of expression tokens while the linguistic meaning determines the reference of expression types. So now, P and Q as sentence token clearly can refer to different thoughts because the expression tokens 'Peter Parker' and 'Spiderman' can refer to different people depending on the context.

Now what explains the cognitive significance of identity statements? Well P can be used to pick out different contingent propositions while Q will always pick out the necessary proposition if we are using the tokens 'Peter Parker' the same way. Of course, "Paderwski is Paderwski" can be used to pick out a contingent proposition.

What's the lesson here? Well the lesson is that Frege's assumption that only sentence types refer to thoughts would only be accepted by someone who thought that there was strong connection between thought and langauge. On this view, the way we pick out thoughts is highly dependent upon the nature of language (of expression types). Then of course using Frege's argument we would be forced to accept that thought is fine-grained and language like. However, if we think that sentence tokens plus context pick out thoughts, then we place a greater divide between thought and language. Of course, language is still important, but language is merely a means of picking out thought - it isn't a mirror image of thought.

6 comments:

N. N. said...

I havn't worked it out, but one possible rejoinder to Frege would be to deny that 'Peter Parker' and 'Spider Man' refer to the same thing. Consider 'the Morning Star' and the 'Evening Star.' Are these these the same thing? It depends on what constitutes a thing, doesn't it? If, for example, a complex is a combination of sensory, spatial and temporal elements (as, say, some readings of Wittgenstein's Tractatus have it), then the Morning Star and the Evening Star are not the same complex. Or perhaps I'm letting Wittgenstein's reworking of sense and reference cloud my thinking.

To be honest, I've never had a solid handle on what Frege's means by 'sense.' On one definition, it is the means of fixing a reference. So, 'Peter Parker' and 'Spider Man' are different means of fixing the same reference. Sometimes, I think this might be further explained by saying that sense is mediate reference, i.e., it is reference to one thing via reference to others. I refer to the same guy that is Peter Parker and Spider Man by making reference to different properties in either case. I havn't really thought that through, so it's likely mistaken.

BK said...

That is actually the response I have in mind. While meanings determine reference, meanings don't determine content. Or to use another slogan that Stalnaker uses, what is thought is different from how it is thought. The way you flesh this out is a bit odd. Surely the 'morning star' and 'evening star' are objects - even if defined in some regimented observation language. While there maybe problems with semantic indeterminacy as we do the translation, they would seem to inherit the same indeterminacy.

Senses must determine reference if they are to play a role in individuating propositional contents. That is simply because many states or acts with content must be truth evaluable. But you're right, it's not clear what senses are. Though, I think Kripke showed us that they can't be descriptions.

J said...

Synonymy also an issue: the names "Peter Parker" and "Spiderman" are not synonymous, so use of "is" in sense of synonymous meaning not really accurate:

"Peter Parker's showing at Movies 12"............"Spiderman's showing at Movies 12". Not substitutable.

The Spiderman-concept has various attributes, one of which is his "real name', Peter Parker; he also spins web, fights crime, etc. At the same time, since there is no real Spiderman doesn't the name refer to/denote the movie, or comic strip itself ? Using a fictive character-name complicates matters: Hesperus and Phosphorus are different names for Venus, or 2nd planet. Refer to same object, but not synonymous in meaning, or substitutableness (Hesperus and Phosphorus are used for Venus, but obviously different words). If we stuck to denoting the object aka Venus by "P2" many problems would be eliminated (and astronomers do that with M-objects, do they not)....

vYzion said...

--"language is merely a means of picking out thought"

That sounds ambitious. I couldn't agree more about the role of context in making referential determinations, but doesn't that actually bring language and thought closer together?

1) One must be able to discern that which is linguistically relevant. As such, language ushers your thought in one direction of the other. This ushering of the thought is even more pronounced when we have explicit plans to tell someone (the friend who was too sick to attend the concert).

2)Certainly it must be granted that some thoughts ARE linguistic (perhaps mental calculation falls into this category). In these instances, surely language must be granted more than a MERE role in picking out the correct energy state of some quantum system after performing the requisite calculations. IN fact, I have difficulty imagining what one would be capable of thinking OF that could possible be picked out with a Hamiltonian. When I integrate and such, my only thoughts are of replication "Do it like you've been taught" is probably the only thing going through my thoughts (outside of the calculating). I daresay, that after enough familiarity, one probably integrates as fluently as one speaks one's native tongue. That is, when I do simple arithmetic (e.g., 2+2=4), it comes as naturally as "Good Mornin'"

So, without language, a vast amount of higher order mathematics is not possible. I would contend that without language, a vast amount of higher order social interactions are not possible. Now, I could certainly get by with very simple expressions. For example, if I couldn't, I could IN EFFECT divide a wage in half by simply matching like bills one-to-one. If I didn't want to eat my vegetables, I could scream and thrash about violently. (Of course, why my "parents" should take such thrashing to be indicative of malcontent, in a world without language, is an open question.) But, without language, could I make plans? Perhaps. Could I make plans involving someone other than my myself? Seems less likely.

Now, I don't take these examples to weigh in on one side or the other (or the other other side viz., that they develop simultaneously). But, that sometimes language is prior (that is, it opens up the possibility of thought, as in mathematics) and sometimes thought may be prior (that is, thought gives us something to talk about, or codify for future reference, like the throwing of tantrum fits) indicates that the relationship is more intimate than language MERELY pointing out thoughts.

Enjoyed reading your blog :)

vYzion said...

--"language is merely a means of picking out thought"

That sounds ambitious. I agree about the role of context in making referential determinations, but doesn't that bring language and thought closer?

1) One must be able to discern that which is linguistically relevant. As such, language ushers your thought one way or another. This ushering of the thought is even more pronounced when we have explicit plans to tell someone (the friend who was too sick to attend the concert).

2)Some thoughts ARE linguistic (e.g, mental calculation?). Here, language must be granted more than a MERE role in picking out the correct energy state of some quantum system after performing the requisite calculations. In fact, I have difficulty imagining what prior thought could possibly be picked out with a Hamiltonian. When I integrate and such, "Do it like you've been taught" is probably the only thing going through my thoughts (outside of the calculating). I daresay, that after enough familiarity, one probably integrates as fluently as one speaks one's native tongue. That is, when I do simple arithmetic (e.g., 2+2=4), it comes as naturally as "Good Mornin'"

So, without language, a vast amount of higher order mathematics is not possible. I would contend that without language, a vast amount of higher order social interactions are not possible. I could probably get by, in a practical sense. For example, if I couldn't count, I could IN EFFECT divide a wage in half by simply matching like bills one-to-one. If I didn't want to eat my vegetables, I could scream and thrash about violently until it was no longer required of me to eat them. But, without language, could I make plans? Perhaps. Could I make plans involving someone other than my myself? Seems less likely. Family and children down the line? Probably not.

I don't take these examples to weigh in on one side or the other (or the other other side viz., that they develop simultaneously). But, that sometimes language is prior (that is, it opens up the possibility of thought, as in mathematics) and sometimes thought may be prior (that is, thought gives us something to talk about, or codify for future reference) indicates that the relationship is more intimate than language MERELY pointing out thoughts.

Enjoyed reading your blog :)

vYzion said...

--"language is merely a means of picking out thought"

I agree about the role of context in making referential determinations, but doesn't that bring language and thought closer?

1) One must be able to discern that which is linguistically relevant. As such, language ushers your thought one way or another. This ushering of the thought is even more pronounced when we have explicit plans to tell someone (the friend who was too sick to attend the concert).

2) Language can create thoughts (higher-order mathematics). I think it's a mistake to say that whenever your friend tells you about their day, all that happens is the words of her story point to thoughts you already have and you then piece them together in that order. As if there is a communal cauldron of human thoughts stewing "out there."

3) It would be strange if thoughts, which are supposedly prior, had linguistic constraints. I submit that they do. For example, articles. Not all languages have articles (a/an/the, in English). Incorrect articles can render a thought ambiguous or incoherent ("Go buy dress.") Many South-East Asian languages have 'classifiers.' Classifiers are never used outside of counting. For example, in Thai, "4 dogs" is "ma see tua." The "tua" is a classifier. It's never used outside of counting small animals. However, "ma see" is completely incoherent to Thais. The few that I've spoken to that have been able to guess my meaning all knew English.

SO, I guess I'm not too sure that your wedge cuts all that deep. Whatever the relationship, it's clearly much more intimate than language MERELY pointing out thoughts.

Enjoyed reading your blog :)