Frege on demonstratives

Philosophical Review 86 (4):474-497 (1977)
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Demonstratives seem to have posed a severe difficulty for Frege’s philosophy of language, to which his doctrine of incommunicable senses was a reaction. In “The Thought,” Frege briefly discusses sentences containing such demonstratives as “today,” “here,” and “yesterday,” and then turns to certain questions that he says are raised by the occurrence of “I” in sentences (T, 24-26). He is led to say that, when one thinks about oneself, one grasps thoughts that others cannot grasp, that cannot be communicated. However, nothing could be more out of the spirit of Frege’s account of sense and thought than an incommunicable, private thought. In the first part of the paper, I explain the problem demonstratives pose for Frege, and explore three ways he might have dealt with it. I argue that none of these ways provides Frege with a solution to his problem consistent with his philosophy of language. The first two are plausible as solutions, but contradict his identification of the sense expressed by a sentence with a thought. The third preserves the identification, but is implausible. In the second part, I suggest that Frege was led to his doctrine of incommunicable senses as a result of some appreciation of the difficulties his account of demonstratives faces, for these come quickly to the surface when we think about “I.” I argue that incommunicable senses won’t help. I end by trying to identify the central problem with Frege’s approach, and sketching an alternative.

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John Perry
University of California, Riverside


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