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The bounds of Fregean sense

Grant number: 23/12570-8
Support Opportunities:Scholarships abroad - Research Internship - Doctorate
Effective date (Start): January 12, 2024
Effective date (End): July 08, 2024
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Philosophy - History of Philosophy
Principal Investigator:João Vergílio Gallerani Cuter
Grantee:João Lucas Pimenta da Silva Pinto
Supervisor: Mark Textor
Host Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Research place: King's College London, England  
Associated to the scholarship:21/00063-9 - Saying and understanding in Frege, BP.DR


As a visiting research student, I intend to investigate a central topic of my broader doctoral research: the limits of Fregean sense. More specifically, my goal is to answer the following questions:(A) Does Frege's account of linguistic sense afford the possibility of drawing limits to what can be meaningfully said or thought?(B) Supposing (A) to be answered in the affirmative, how might those limits be drawn?There are a couple of reasons for my considering these questions worthy of investigation. First, although Frege's theses about language have given shape to much of contemporary thinking on the topic, there has been little explicit focus on the issue of whether our describing the workings of language through a Fregean lens should urge us to recognize significant limits to language's expressive powers. Second, to the extent that the literature on Frege did touch on this issue, I believe the answers offered so far have been either misleading or incomplete.To be sure, several authors have effectively claimed that the answer to question (A) must be 'no' by showing the hopelessness, from a Fregean standpoint, of any attempt at establishing criteria for the meaningfulness of linguistic utterances stemming from a logical source. Indeed, the different proposals denounced by these authors for drawing boundaries to the meaningfulness of utterances all seem to suffer from a single, general difficulty which can be described in the following terms: each such proposal, insofar as it relies upon some picture of what "illogical thought" amounts to, itself lapses into the territory it purports to rule out as meaningless.But the occurrence of this "logocentric predicament" is not apt to demonstrate the impossibility of drawing any sort of boundary to Fregean sense. On the contrary, it seems to me that Frege's account of linguistic sense is amenable to considerations which are immune to that predicament, since they take into account factors in the constitution of Fregean senses which neither pertain to language in general nor constrain in any other way our attempts to describe these very factors. Such considerations can give rise, then, to criteria for the meaningfulness of linguistic utterances which can be seen as stemming, not from a logical source, but from sources of other kinds, and which can thus serve as Fregean limits to what can be said or thought. I am inclined to suggest, then, that the answer to question (A) should be 'yes.'To answer question (B), I plan to look for "extra-logical" conditions for the assignment of Fregean senses to linguistic expressions of different types - in particular, demonstratives and proper names. With regards to at least some demonstratives, a cognitive element seems to be inherently involved in the constitution of their senses: an utterance of the form 'this S is P' arguably lacks a sense when, in the context, no object is identifiable as the referent of 'this S', either because the object purportedly denoted by this term does not exist or because the conditions for its contextual identification are not met. In the case of proper names, I suggest that assignments of sense are subject to a requirement of a conventional nature: if one assumes that a name becomes part of a language in virtue of its role in a name-using practice established within a linguistic community, a decision as to whether that name has a sense may hinge on the undisturbed continuation of such a practice.I also intend to ponder the prospects of formulating criteria of meaningfulness applicable to the use of concept words and definite descriptions. Inasmusch as these prospects seem less than rosy, I would suggest this is due to an analogous difficulty as the one obstructing the attempts at establishing logical boundaries to Fregean sense: namely, that here we seem restricted to viewing language (as it were) from within, with no help from the cognitive and conventional elements available in other scenarios.

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