Sunday, May 27, 2012

Frege on predication

I mentioned Frege's distinction between concept and object earlier, and said I was taking a feature of that distinction as fundamental, namely that the distinction between predicate and sentential negation only applies to concept words (or rather, quantified concept words), and not to object words ('logical subjects').

David Brightly wasn't so sure it was a feature of that distinction, as opposed to a mere accident.  Well, two further reasons. First, it is build into the predicate calculus that simple singular propositions have only one form of negation.  We write '~Fa'.  The syntax of the calculus is designed so that we cannot even represent the difference between 'Socrates is not running' and 'it is not the case that Socrates is running'.

Second, Frege begins his discourse by saying that a concept is predicative, whereas the name of an object, a proper name, is quite incapable of being used as a grammatical predicate.  Now, we can say that someone is Alexander the Great, or is the planet Venus, but this is not predicating the object itself.  For the predicate 'is the planet Venus' is predication not of Venus itself but of the concept of being identical with Venus.  The verb 'is' is not a mere copula, its content is an essential part of the predicate.

Thus for an object-word to signify, it has to signify an object.  It is essential to an object word like 'Venus' that it has to be satisfied, whereas it is essential to a concept word like 'planet' that it can be satisfied, or not. "An equation is reversible; an object's falling under a concept is an irreversible relation.

Thus "‘Venus exists’ is true in virtue of the meaning of the proper name ‘Venus’. Maverick says that this has it precisely backwards. What I should say is that 'Venus' has meaning in virtue of the truth of 'Venus exists'. Not at all. 'Venus' has meaning in virtue of its meaning something, just as you are an employer in virtue of your employing someone.


Anthony said...

"'Venus' has meaning in virtue of its meaning something"

And by "something" you mean "something that exists", no?

Anthony said...

>> it is essential to a concept word like 'planet' that it can be satisfied, or not

If this is Frege's position, then this is where Frege got it wrong.

Whether or not it is Frege's position seems to be the subject of some debate. But I base this in large part on what I've read about it in Wikipedia (

Edward Ockham said...

>>And by "something" you mean "something that exists", no?

"Something that exists" = "Something that is something", so, yes. Everything is something, no?

>>If this is Frege's position, then this is where Frege got it wrong.



Treat Wikipedia with caution - but I am sure you know this. There is considerable debate about whether this is his position.

Anthony said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anthony said...

Yes, I mentioned that I had read it in Wikipedia for the purpose of putting a big fat question mark at the end of it.

What is wrong with the position, is that a concept is the result of abstraction from primary existents or from other concepts. A concept is not the result of just stringing together a bunch of words.

In any case, reading it looks like Frege most certainly did take the position that a concept could be empty (and thus, that there could be sense without reference): "For concepts that do not comprehend anything under them it is quite different; they are entirely legitimate." Seems pretty clear, unless the translation to "concept" was was absolutely horrible.