A repair of Frege's theory of thoughts

Synthese 167 (1):105 - 123 (2009)
Frege’s writings contain arguments for the thesis (i) that a thought expressed by a sentence S is a structured object whose composition pictures the composition of S, and for the thesis (ii) that a thought is an unstructured object. I will argue that Frege’s reasons for both (i) and (ii) are strong. Frege’s explanation of the difference in sense between logically equivalent sentences rests on assumption (i), while Frege’s claim that the same thought can be decomposed differently makes (ii) plausible. Thoughts are supposed to do work that requires that they be structured and work that requires that they be unstructured. But this cannot be! While the standard response to this problem is to reject either (i) or (ii), I propose a charitable repair in the spirit of Frege’s theory that accepts both. The key idea can be found in Frege’s Basic Laws of Arithmetic(BL, GGA). Frege argues that the thought expressed by a sentence is determined by the truth-conditions that can be derived from the semantic axioms for the sentence constituents. The fact that the same axiomatic truth-condition can be derived in different ways from different semantic axioms suggests a Fregean solution of the dilemma: A thought is a type that is instantiated by all sequences of senses (decomposed thoughts) that have the same axiomatic truth-conditions. This allows for multiple decomposability of the same thought (for different decomposed thoughts can have the same axiomatic truth-conditions) and for a notion of containment (the decomposed thought contains those senses whose semantic axioms are needed in the derivation of the truth-conditions). My proposal combines the virtues of (i) and (ii) without inheriting their vices.
Keywords Frege  Thoughts  Multople Decomposition
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-008-9304-z
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References found in this work BETA
Paul Horwich (1998). Meaning. Oxford University Press.
Saul A. Kripke (1975). Outline of a Theory of Truth. Journal of Philosophy 72 (19):690-716.

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