Fregean propositions and their graspability

Grazer Philosophische Studien 72 (1):73-94 (2006)
Abstract
According to Frege a proposition—or, in his terms, a thought—is an abstract structured entity constituted by senses which satisfies, at least, the three following properties: it can be semantically assessed as true or as false, it is the object of so called propositional attitudes and it can be grasped. What Frege meant by 'grasping' is the peculiar way in which we can have epistemic access to propositions. The possibility for propositions to be grasped is put by Frege as a warrant for their existence: to challenge their graspability would amount to jeopardise their ontological reality. But is it true, as Frege uncritically maintained, that the "graspability requirement" is satisfied as far as propositions (as he conceived them) are concerned? This is the topic of the present work. A negative answer to the above mentioned question has been given in recent time by the representatives of what has come to be labelled the "cognitive turn" in analytical philosophy. People such as Fodor and Johnson-Laird patently denied the possibility for propositions, conceived à la Frege, to be accessed by the grasping relation. What grounds their position is, to put it roughly, the following train of thought: in order for something to be the target of the grasping relation it must enter the mind. Nothing which is different from a mental entity can enter the mind. Therefore, what can be grasped must be mental. The upshot of this move implies, among other things, the rejection of that radical anti-psychologism which was characteristic of the forefathers of the analytical tradition. In our work we shall try to resist their conclusion by showing that it is not necessary to zero the distinction between propositions and mental entities in order to provide an adequate account of the grasping relation. What one has to give up, instead, is only Frege's late Platonism of the "third realm" which, in our view, is a wholly unnecessary and dispensable accretion of his picture. For, as we shall show, if Platonism is in place it is difficult to provide an account of the grasping relation which makes no use of the "representationalist hypothesis" — i.e. of the hypothesis that ideas mediate our access to whatever can be given to us. But representationalism, once in place, makes the theoretical role of the notion of sense dispensable or purely additional.
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