Solving Frege's puzzle

Journal of Philosophy 109 (1-2):728-732 (2012)
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So-called 'Frege cases' pose a challenge for anyone who would hope to treat the contents of beliefs (and similar mental states) as Russellian propositions: It is then impossible to explain people's behavior in Frege cases without invoking non-intentional features of their mental states, and doing that seems to undermine the intentionality of psychological explanation. In the present paper, I develop this sort of objection in what seems to me to be its strongest form, but then offer a response to it. I grant that psychological explanation must invoke non-intentional features of mental states, but it is of crucial importance which such features must be referenced. -/- It emerges from a careful reading of Frege's own view that we need only invoke what I call 'formal' relations between mental states. I then claim that referencing such 'formal' relations within psychological explanation does not undermine its intentionality in the way that invoking, say, neurological features would. The central worry about this view is that either (a) 'formal' relations bring narrow content in through back door or (b) 'formal' relations end up doing all the explanatory work. Various forms of each worry are discussed. The crucial point, ultimately, is that the present strategy for responding to Frege cases is not available either to the 'psycho-Fregean', who would identify the content of a belief with its truth-value, nor even to someone who would identify the content of a belief with a set of possible worlds. It requires the sort of rich semantic structure that is distinctive of Russellian propositions. There is therefore no reason to suppose that the invocation of 'formal' relations threatens to deprive content of any work to do.

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Richard Kimberly Heck
Brown University

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