Friday, 4 November 2011

Frege - Seminar Summary

During the 19th century, Philosophers began to focus their work towards the topic of 'meaning'. They wished to learn about the meaning of words and sentences and what they represented. The relationship between meaning and truth was also closely linked with this.

Gottlob Frege, born in 1848, was a German mathematician, logician and philosopher, studying the construction and ingredients of language. Frege's early work was focused on mathematics and geometry, yet his thoughts soon turned to logic and the philosophy of language. His paper titled 'Sense and Reference', written in 1892, was based upon the question: 'Is identity a relation?', in which he looked at the differences between the significance of an expressions.

Yes, they're clouds, but they're also natural signs!

Frege highlighted two approaches to the theory of 'signs'. Approach 1 claimed there was no relation between signs and what they stood for because, if that were true, when A=B is true then A=A cannot differ from A=B. Approach 2 claimed that on the other hand, there can't be a relationship between signs because names are arbitrary (Based on random choice rather than reason) If A=B expressed a relationship between symbols it could not express any fact about the extra-linguistic world.

Complicated, confusing stuff, but it can be explained in simpler terms. What is a sign? Signs are closely linked with what Frege referred to as a 'sense' and a 'reference'. Frege noticed a distinction between the reference of an expression (the object referred to) and the sense of an expression (the mode in which a sign presents what it designates). The German philosopher felt that all items were at three levels - Signs, their sense and their references.

When we use signs, we express a sense and denote a reference. When we understand a word, we have grasped a sense of the word. For Frege, it is not only proper names that have senses and references, however. Using the example of 'Odyssey', he explained that sentences in works of fiction lack reference. The reason this is the case is because they contain names that lack reference. In this example, it would be the word 'Odyssey'. It's worth remembering that if a name lacks a reference, that doesn't affect the thought. Fiction has sense but no reference, rendering it useless in terms of logic.

Frege is considered one of the founders of modern logic

Towards the end of his life, Frege became interesting in the idea of colouring. The scientific language we use is black and white, yet our expressions of feeling are capable of bringing colour to the sentence. Heartfelt language and sayings such as 'Oh my god!' and 'Alas!' would be examples of expressions that bring such colour.

Frege died in 1925 at the age of 76, ending a life of work that changed the philosophy of mathematics.

Now we move onto Charles Sanders Pierce, the founder of American pragmatism. To be 'pragmatic' is defined as 'dealing with things realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations'. Let's use the example sentence: "Hitler is evil". Pragmatics would argue this is true because it's conventional and widely believed.

Pierce took a great interest in physical science and by the age of 31, he has published a number of papers in the field of logic. He had also written about subjects including the history of philosophy, chemistry and religion. 

Bertrand Russell is a well-know critic of Pragmatism. In 1908 he published an article named 'Transatlantic Truth'. Russell wrote that to say "it is true other people exist" means "it is useful to believe that other people exist". He pointed out, however, that these two phrases are simply different ways of putting forward the same proposition. Russell claimed that one proposition could be true and the other false and in practice, it was much easier to find out if something is true than to decide if it's good to believe in it.

Pierce came up with the general theory of signs - semiotics. The theory states that there are 3 types of signs:

1) Natural signs - Clouds, for example, are a sign of rain
2) Iconic signs - Signified by resembling their objects. For example, sculptures or paintings
3) Symbols - Uniforms and traffic signals, for example. They're determined by convention but don't always resemble their objects

Since Pierce, theorists have divided semiotics into three disciplines:

1) Syntactics - The study of grammar
2) Semantics - The study of the relationship between language and reality
3) Pragmatics - The study of the social context and the purposes and consequences of communication

Pierce passed away in 1914 during a time in which he was still continuing work on his theory of logic.  At this point Pierce was fairly unknown to the public on a large scale. Following his death, his manuscripts were sold to Harvard University by his wife.


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