PHIL 4150: Analytic Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Tuesday September 11, 2012

 

[2.7.] Customary Reference vs. Indirect Reference.

 

Having introduced the distinction between sense and reference, Frege makes an important point about words in reported speech.

 

Reported speech consists of words that are being reported as having been spoken by someone else, e.g.,

·         “Romney said, ‘Obama is a terrible President.’”

·         “Smith shouted, ‘The house is on fire.’”

·         “A CNN news anchor reported, ‘The economy is in trouble.’”

In these examples, the italicized words are the reported speech.

 

Here’s what Frege says about such speech:

 

                If words are used in the ordinary way, what one intends to speak of is their reference. It can also happen, however, that one wishes to talk about the words themselves or their sense. This happens, for instance, when the words of another are quoted. One’s own words then first designate words of the other speaker, and only the latter have their usual reference. We then have signs of signs. In writing, the words are in this case enclosed in quotation marks. Accordingly, a words standing between quotation marks must not be taken as having its ordinary reference. (10)

 

In reported speech, an expression (either a name or an entire sentence) does not have its customary reference.

 

Instead it has an indirect reference, which is the customary sense of the expression (the sense that the expression normally has).[1]

 

E.g., in “Romney said, ‘Obama is a terrible President’”...

·         “Obama” does not have its customary reference, viz. the man Barack Obama;

·         rather, it has an indirect reference, namely, the customary sense of “Barack Obama,” which is something like “The 44th President of the United States, who was once a Senator from Illinois and who is the husband of Michelle Obama.”

 

 

[2.8.] Substitutivity and Intensional Contexts.

 

[2.8.1.] The Principle of Substitutivity.

 

Like many philosophers, Frege accepts the following principle about language:

 

The Principle of Substitutivity[2] (df.): Co-referring expressions (i.e., expressions that have the same reference) can be substituted for one another without changing the truth-value of the sentence in which the substitution is made.

 

For example, “Barack Obama” and “The 44th US President” are co-referring expressions, i.e., they have the same reference (namely, the man Barack Obama). Suppose we take the sentence...

 

(A) “Barack Obama was a Senator from Illinois.”

 

and replace “Barack Obama” with “The 44th US President,” to get the sentence

 

(B) “The 44th US President was a Senator from Illinois.”

 

According to the Principle of Substitutivity, by replacing one expression with a co-referring expression, we do not change the truth value of the sentence itself. So if (A) is true, then (B) is as well. And if (A) is false, then so is (B).

 

Leibniz’s formulation (quoted approvingly by Frege on p.13): “Eadem sunt, quae sibi mutuo substituti possunt, salva veritate”: “Those things are the same which may be substituted mutually everywhere without change of truth value.” This formulation makes it sound like it is the substitution of things, rather than linguistic expressions, which is at issue. For this reason, the modern statement of the law given above is preferable.

 

 

[2.8.2.] Extensional vs. Intensional Contexts.

 

The standard view among philosophers is that the Principle of Substitutivity is not true about every linguistic context.

 

Philosophers use the following terms to distinguish contexts about which it is true from those about which it is not true:

 

extensional context (df.): a linguistic context, e.g., a sentence, in which you can exchange co-referring expressions and not change the truth value; in other words, it is a context for which the Principle of Substitutivity holds.

 

intensional context (df.): a linguistic context, e.g., a sentence, in which you cannot always exchange co-referring expressions without change of truth value; i.e., it is a context for which the Principle of Substitutivity does not hold. [Such contexts are also called opaque contexts and oblique contexts.]

 

 

[2.8.3] Substitutivity and Propositional Attitudes: the Standard View.

 

The standard view among philosophers is that the Principle of Substitutivity fails for reports of propositional attitudes; i.e., the standard view is that reports of propositional attitudes create intensional contexts.

 

To understand this, we first need to know what a propositional attitude is:

 

propositional attitude (df.): a psychological relationship that a person can have with a proposition (e.g., believing that, knowing that, hoping that, wishing that, desiring that, fearing that...)

 

For example, each of the sentences

·         “Scarlett believes that tomorrow is another day.”

·         “Mike hopes that the killer will be caught.”

·          “Lois suspects that Clark is Superman.”

·         “Bill believes that the Unabomber is in prison.”

reports on a propositional attitude; in other words, it ascribes a propositional attitude to some person.

 

Suppose that Bill believes that the Unabomber is in prison. So the sentence

 

“Bill believes that the Unabomber is in prison.”

 

is true. According to the Principle of Substitutivity, we ought to be able to substitute the name “Ted Kaczynski” for “the Unabomber” without changing the sentence’s truth value. This is because “Ted Kaczynski” and “the Unabomber” refer to the same individual.

 

But suppose that Bill does not know that Ted Kaczynski is the Unabomber. In fact, he thinks they are different people.

 

So the sentence

 

“Bill believes that Ted Kaczynski is in prison.”

 

is false.

 

Because of this, the standard view is that in reports of propositional attitudes, the Principle of Substitutivity fails.

 

 

[2.8.4.] Substitutivity and Propositional Attitudes: Frege’s View.

 

Frege was one of the first philosophers to notice and comment on this phenomenon. In fact, the attempt to explain what is going on when the Principle of Substitutivity (apparently) fails in reports of propositional attitudes is sometimes called Frege’s Puzzle About Propositional Attitude Reports. [3]

 

Frege’s explanation is very different from the standard view. It relies on his distinction between customary reference and indirect reference. Recall:

 

In reported speech, e.g., the italicized words in

·         “Romney said that Obama is a terrible President.”

·         “Smith shouted that the house is on fire.”

·         “CNN reported that the economy is in trouble.

an expression (either a name or an entire sentence) does not have its customary reference.

 

Instead it has an indirect reference, which is the customary sense of the expression (the sense that the expression normally has).[4] E.g., in “Romney said that Obama is a terrible President”...

·         “Obama” does not have its customary reference, viz. the man Obama;

·         rather, it has an indirect reference, namely, the customary sense of “Obama,” which is something like “The 44th President of the United States who was once a Senator from Illinois and who is the husband on Michelle Obama.”

 

 

The Fregean solution to this problem is this:

 

In reports of propositional attitudes, words (including names) do not have their customary reference.

 

Rather, they have an indirect reference, which is their customary sense.

 

So in

 

“Bill believes that the Unabomber is in prison.”

 

the name “the Unabomber” does not refer to a person. Rather, it refers to the customary sense of that name (the sense conveyed by a long definite description, something like “The American domestic terrorist who, between 1978 and 1995, sent 16 mail-bombs that killed three people and injured 23 others.”)

 

And in the sentence

 

“Bill believes that Ted Kaczynski is in prison.”

 

the name “Ted Kaczynski” does not refer to a person. Rather, it refers to the customary sense of that name (conveyed by a long definite description, something like “The son of Theodore and Wanda Kaczynski who has mathematics degrees from Harvard and the University of Michigan”).

 

So in those two sentences, “Ted Kaczynski” and “the Unabomber” are not really co-referring expressions.

 

So the fact that those sentences have different truth values does not violate the Principle of Substitutivity.

 

 

Almost the last 2/3 of the “On Sense and Reference,” from the middle of the second column on p.13 to the end, is dedicated to defending the view that all true sentences have the same reference (“the True”) and all false ones the same reference (“the False”). It is taken up by detailed considerations of apparent counterexamples to the Principle of Substitutivity, which, if they were not just apparent counterexamples but actual ones, would show Frege’s view about sentence reference to be incorrect.

 

 

Stopping point for Tuesday September 11. For next time, no new reading; we will begin our coverage of Frege’s “Thought,” which you should have already read at least once by now. Go through that reading once more to prepare for the next class.

 



[1] Frege mentions indirect sense (10), but does not say what he takes it to be.

[2] Sometimes known as “the Principle of Substitutivity Salva Veritate” or “the Principle of Substitution.” This is a different principle from both Leibniz’s Law (a.k.a. the Indiscernibility of Identicals), according to which if a = b, then a and b have all their properties in common, and the Identity of Indiscernibles, according to which if a and b have all their properties in common, then a = b. Gallois describes the Principle of Substitutivity as “the linguistic counterpart” of Leibniz’s Law; see Andre Gallois, “Identity Over Time”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2005 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2005/entries/identity-time/>. That version of the article has been superseded by this more recent one: <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2012/entries/identity-time/>.

 

[3] E.g., Edward N. Zalta, “Gottlob Frege,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2012/entries/frege/>. This puzzle is sometimes referred to simply as “Frege’s Puzzle,” which does not distinguish it from the puzzle about identity statements that we covered in previous lectures.

 

[4] Frege mentions indirect sense, but does not say what he takes it to be.

 



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