The Functional Composition of Sense

Synthese 199 (3-4):6917-6942 (2021)


A central dispute in understanding Frege’s philosophy concerns how the sense of a complex expression relates to the senses of its component expressions. According to one reading, the sense of a complex expression is a whole built from the senses of the component expressions. On this interpretation, Frege is an early proponent of structured propositions. A rival reading says that senses compose by functional application: the sense of a complex expression is the value of the function denoted by its functional component for the arguments denoted by its remaining components. I argue that two non-negotiable Fregean theses entail that senses compose by functional application. One thesis is that referents compose by functional application. The other thesis is that an expression in an indirect context refers to its customary sense.

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