Demythologizing the Third Realm: Frege on Grasping Thoughts

Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy 3 (1) (2015)
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In this paper, I address some puzzles about Frege’s conception of how we “grasp” thoughts. I focus on an enigmatic passage that appears near the end of Frege’s great essay “The Thought.” In this passage Frege refers to a “non-sensible something” without which “everyone would remain shut up in his inner world.” I consider and criticize Wolfgang Malzkorn’s interpretation of the passage. According to Malzkorn, Frege’s view is that ideas [Vorstellungen] are the means by which we grasp thoughts. My counter-proposal is that language enables us to grasp thoughts (ideas are merely their baggage or “trappings,” as Frege puts it). One significant consequence of my interpretation is that it helps challenge the standard reading of Frege according to which he is a metaphysical platonist about thoughts. My interpretation thus provides support for the deflationary, anti-ontological reading spelled out by readers like Thomas Ricketts and Wolfgang Carl. As Ricketts puts it, Frege’s distinction between the objective and the subjective, rather than being an ontological doctrine, “lodges in the contrast between asserting something and giving vent to a feeling.”

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B. Scot Rousse
University of California, Berkeley


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