Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sinn und Bedeutung

Frege famously classified the semantic function of a proper name into sense (Sinn) and reference (Bedeutung).  But this conceals a difficulty.  The sense of a proper name is clearly part of its meaning, and Frege even says this in a letter to Bertrand Russell written in November 1904.  My father would have been alive then, although only eight months old. Frege writes
Mont Blanc with its snowfields is not itself a component part of the thought that Mont Blanc is more than 4,000 metres high ... The sense of the word 'Moon' is a component part of the thought that the moon is smaller than the earth. The moon itself (i.e. the Bedeutung of the word 'Moon' is not part of the sense of the word 'Moon'; for then it would also be a component part of a thought. We can nevertheless say: 'The Moon is idential with the heavenly body closest to the earth'. What is identical, however, is not a component part but the  Bedeutung of the expression 'the Moon' and 'the heavenly body closest to the earth'. We can say that 3+4 is identical with 8-1; i.e. that the  Bedeutung  of '3+4' coincides with the  Bedeutung  of '8-1'. But this  Bedeutung, namely the number 7, is not a component part of the sense of '3+4'. The identity is not an identity of sense, nor of part of the sense, but of  Bedeutung  ...
But if so, in what sense is the 'Bedeutung' a meaning at all?  Bedeuten: the German for 'mean' or 'signify'.  Frege is clearly disturbed by the idea that Mont Blanc, with its massive snowfields, could be part of a thought. But if it isn't, how could it still be part of the meaning?  If Mont Blanc is destroyed in an enormous eruption (here Frege's other analogy to Etna would have been more appropriate), does the meaning of 'Mont Blanc', or some part of it, remain?

And if Mont Blanc itself isn't part of the meaning of its name, there is a further difficulty for Frege's theory that I commented on yesterday.  If the name retains its sense after the Bedeutung, the referent, is destroyed, then we must suppose the sense of a name is something permanent to which its referent bears an impermanent and external relation.  Let's say the sense is 'satisfied' when the referent exists. So, the sense of 'Mont Blanc' was not satisfied before the enormous geological upheaval created its referent, but is satisfied now, although it would once again not be satisfied if Mont Blanc exploded into nothingness. The difficulty is that his theory depends on the concept-object distinction. According to that distinction, concept words or predicates are fundamentally different from object words or singular terms, in that concept words are sensitive to the scope of negation, whereas singular terms are not.  Take 'a man is not running' and 'it is not the case that a man is running'.  The predicate negation is true when there is at least one man, and he is not running.  The sentential negation is true only when no man runs.  But there is no such distinction with singular propositions, at least as the object-concept distinction requires it. 'Socrates is not running' and 'It is not the case that Socrates is running' is true only when Socrates exists, and he is not running.  There appears to be no room for the possibility of Socrates not existing. Yet if the meaning of a proper name is its sense, and if the sense exists even when the referent does not, 'Socrates is running' is false when Socrates does not exist, yet 'Socrates is not running' is false as well.

Russell replied, a month later in the days before email, that Mont Blanc really is a part of what is asserted by 'Mont Blanc is more than 4,000 metres high'.  I think he changed his mind shortly later, but then Russell often changed his mind (which is a good thing).

As I noted in the page linked above, I  could not then find where Russell was writing from. He moved there in 1904 in order to work out a theory of denoting that could be used in Principia Mathematica, but which would avoid the Paradox (now known as Russell's paradox) that he had discovered while working on the Principles of Mathematics.  He took his first wife Alys there, but this was a disastrous part of a disastrous marriage, and he was probably not very happy there.  Nor actually was she, as Russell seems to have been a beast towards her. Thanks to Google maps I think I have located the place. It certainly is secluded, a short distance from Lower Frensham pond in a fairly exclusive part of the Surrey stockbroker belt.  I don't like Surrey.  Mostly places like that. Small roads in the English countryside, looking as they might have looked two hundred years ago, then suddenly there appears a large, usually Edwardian mansion at the end of a long gated drive.  Inside, they still drink gin and tonic.  But nothing wrong with that, I suppose.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Anthony said...

>> ...'It is not the case that Socrates is running' is true only when Socrates exists...

It's not? Or am I misquoting you?

"Socrates is running" is not true. So it is not the case that Socrates is running. So "It is not the case that Socrates is running." is true.

>> The sense of a proper name is clearly part of its meaning

I don't agree with your analysis of this. I think it rests on the premise that we cannot refer to the past. But clearly we can.

>> Frege is clearly disturbed by the idea that Mont Blanc, with its massive snowfields, could be part of a thought.

I don't know that he's disturbed by it. It's just clearly not the case. We carry our thoughts around with us. We don't carry Mont Blanc around with us.

>> But if it isn't, how could it still be part of the meaning?

The thoughts refer to the meaning. The sense of the thought fixes the reference of the meaning. The thoughts are not the meaning.

>> If the name retains its sense after the Bedeutung, the referent, is destroyed, then we must suppose the sense of a name is something permanent to which its referent bears an impermanent and external relation.

A name can retain its sense, but it does not always do so. The sense of a name, which is contextual, can change. From time to time, from person to person.

>> Let's say the sense is 'satisfied' when the referent exists.

Why?

12:02 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

We can refer to the past.

Next time there is a visible supernova, look up in the sky, point, and say "that supernova". You just referred to something that existed in the past, which no longer exists currently.

12:27 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>It's not? Or am I misquoting you?

You need to read the sentence that precedes it. I.e. "according to the object-concept distinction"

6:16 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

Okay, I thought I might have been misquoting you.

Still, I'm not convinced that you have not misrepresented the object-concept distinction. You seem to be resting your reasoning on the fact that Socrates, when Socrates does not exist, is an empty name. But is this a necessary part of the object-concept distinction? I think it is not necessary, and in fact you seem to show it is incompatible.

Again, your premise seems to be that we cannot refer to the past. But clearly we can.

3:44 am  

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