On Frege's Supposed Hierarchy of Senses

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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This paper argues against the claim that Frege is committed to an infinite hierarchy of senses. Carnap and Kripke, along with many others, argue the contrary; I expose where all such arguments go astray. Invariably these arguments assume (without citation) that Frege holds that sense and reference are always distinct. This is the fulcrum upon which the hierarchy is hoisted. The counter to this assumption is based on two important but neglected passages. The locution ‘indirect sense’ has no ontological significance for Frege. It was just a ‘short expression’ (his term) to indicate that the customary relation between sign, sense, and reference is suspended in what he called the exception case of indirect context. Once the hierarchy is abandoned, the alleged problem of just what indirect sense is, as well as questions as to why Frege said so little about it and why he did not examine iterative indirect contexts are resolved. Of course, with no hierarchy, Davidson’s “unlearnability argument” turns out to be a non-starter. Some objections to my interpretation are considered and answered. Additionally, comparisons to Dummett’s one-level view of sense, which is similar to mine are made, as well as to some two-level views (Parsons and Skiba).


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