Assertion plays a crucial dual role in Frege's conception of logic, a formal and a transcendental one. A recurrent complaint is that Frege's inclusion of the judgement-stroke in the Begriffsschrift is either in tension with his anti-psychologism or wholly superfluous. Assertion, the objection goes, is at best of merely psychological significance. In this paper, I defend Frege against the objection by giving reasons for recognising the central logical significance of assertion in both its formal and its transcendental role.
Frege seems committed to the thesis that the senses of the fundamental notions of arithmetic remain stable and are stably grasped by thinkers throughout history. Fully competent practitioners grasp those senses clearly and distinctly, while uncertain practitioners see them, the very same senses, “as if through a mist”. There is thus a common object of the understanding apprehended to a greater or lesser degree by thinkers of diverging conceptual competence. Frege takes the thesis to be a condition for the possibility (...) of the rational intelligibility of mathematical practice. I argue however that the idea that senses could be grasped as a matter of degree is in tension with the constitutive theses that Frege held with regard to sense. Given those theses, there can in fact be no such thing as misty grasp of sense, since any uncertainty as to the logical features of a given sense will entail that one is getting hold of a different sense or of no sense at all. I consider various ways of resolving the tension and conclude that Frege’s thesis cannot be defended if we take it to be a thesis about our competence with concepts. This leaves unresolved what I call the problem of normative guidance, that is, the problem of explaining how the fundamental notions of logic and arithmetic can provide inferential guidance to thinkers. (shrink)
Linguistic creativity is the ability to understand indefinitely many previously unencountered sentences. In this paper, I compare Chomsky’s and Ricœur’s contrasting conceptions of this ability, in particular, their divergent views of nonsense. With nonsense, it seems as if syntax is outrunning semantics. Chomsky took this to show that syntax is autonomous of semantics. I propose a reading of Ricœur’s work on metaphor whereby Chomsky’s thesis is modified so that syntax and semantics are declared to be ultimately co-extensive notions.
What does it mean to be a rational language user? What is it to obey linguistic rules? What is the proper account of linguistic competence? A Fregean answer to these questions would make essential appeal to the notion of sense: we are masters of a language to the extent that we are able to recognise the cognitive value of its expressions; we are rational judges regarding truth-value assignments to the extent that we are sensitive to the ways in which the (...) sense of an expression guides us in the semantic evaluation process; and as for obeying rules, it is our ability to respond to how sense directs us, for a particular assertion of a sentence, towards the determination of its truth-value that best exemplifies what it is like to follow a linguistic rule. My thesis explores a cluster of closely interrelated issues arising from these questions. Accordingly, in tracing the routes of sense my dissertation places itself at the intersection of the philosophy of language, linguistics, philosophy of logic, and meta-ethics—and indeed, I end up agreeing with Allan Gibbard that the theory of meaning really belongs to meta-ethical reflection. Chapter 1 introduces some of the main research questions that I try to address in the rest of the thesis. In chapter 2 I state a number of theses which I take to be the defining ones for semanticism. I show that they form a class of jointly incompatible commitments. I choose nonsense as a problem case for compositionality and I argue that it forces the semanticist to abandon either the learnability or the compositionality constraint. The escape route I adopt, going radically minimalist about content, is incompatible with another key semanticist thesis, namely, that grasp of meaning is grasp of truth-conditions. In chapter 3, I consider the account of atomic meanings given by both the semanticist and the pragmaticist and I conclude that on neither account does interpretation come out as a process of rational choice between candidate bearers of content. Again, I suggest the lesson from indeterminacy is that we ought to embrace an ineradicably minimal conception of content. In chapter 4 I turn my attention to the meaning of the logical constants and I argue that indeterminacy worries extend to the very heart of the compositional machinery. Chapter 5 examines the view that logic is the science of reasoning. Unsurprisingly, I conclude that a defence of this claim requires endorsing content-minimalism. In chapter 6 I conclude my dissertation by sketching a radical view of content minimalism and I try to show how it can solve the puzzles I had been considering over the course of the previous chapters. (shrink)