Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Comment on Dan's Proposal, and a Question about Frege

I’d like to comment on Dan’s comment on Dan below, and then pose a question about Frege. Dan’s proposal was that properties are fusions of properties of a certain type, and that Benacerraf worries about which entity is the proposition encoded by a sentence can be avoided if we note that certain complexes of properties have a more legitimate claim to being the meaning of a sentence than others. The proposal has it that the sentence (1)

(1) John loves Jane

encodes a proposition, and that this proposition is a complex C consisting of the properties being-John and loving, loving, and being-Jane and being-loved. Dan noted, correctly, I think, that a view according to which the proposition encoded by (1) is C is still going to be vulnerable to a Benacerraf worry. After the talk on Friday, I asked Dan why he didn’t include the considerations voiced last class about which properties might help the propositionalist avoid this worry. Roughly, the idea was that some properties have a stronger claim to being included in the proposition encoded by (1). If I recall correctly, these were properties such as being John and occupying the first position in the fusion, loving and occupying the second position in the fusion, and being-Jane and occupying the third position in the fusion. Let’s call the complex consisting of these properties C’. It seemed like a view according to which (1) encodes C’ might avoid Benacerraf worries, since now we have a fusion of properties that is relevantly similar to the surface structure of the sentence.

But it seems like this won’t work if we want the same proposition to be encoded by synonymous sentences of distinct natural languages that have different surface grammars. Consider (2) and (3)

(2) Dan is a philosophy student.

(3) Dan-eun chul-hak saeng-ibnida.

(2) and (3) mean the same thing, but they have a radically different grammatical structure (for instance, in (3), the copula is the last term. Were we to translate each term of (3) individually, the English equivalent would be something like ‘It is of Dan that philosophy student he is.’ It won’t do to say that the proposition encoded by (2) is something like a fusion consisting of the properties of being-Dan and occupying the first position in the fusion, being and occupying the second position in the fusion, being a philosophy student and occupying the third position in the fusion, since it would be implausible to hold that (3) encodes this same fusion of properties. But (2) and (3) do mean the same thing; since a propositionalist wants this to be the case in virtue of (2) and (3) encoding the same proposition, this seems like a problem for the proposal.

Frege’s view might be subject to similar worries. Frege holds that (i) proper names express saturated senses; (ii) predicates express unsaturated senses; (iii) BBC is true, and (iv) MC is true. Crucially, with respect to (ii), Frege thinks that the ‘degree’ of unsaturatedness of a sense expressed by a predicate corresponds to the adicity of that predicate. Now, the sense of a sentence is a thought for Frege. If BBC is true, then this means that the thought expressed by (1) is going to be built up out of the senses expressed by ‘John,’ ‘loves,’ and ‘Jane.’ If we let ‘S’ denote ‘sense-of’, the thought expressed by (1) will look something like (T):

(T) {S(John), S(loves), S(Jane}.

On Frege’s account, it is the (doubly) unsaturated sense of ‘loves’ that holds (T) together, in virtue of having the saturated senses of ‘John’ and ‘Jane’ filling in its unsaturated positions. But we might wonder why (T’) is not an equally good candidate for the thought expressed by (1):

(T’) {S(loves), S(John), S(Jane)}.

The reason why (T’) is not a candidate for the thought expressed by (1) is that for Frege, MC is true. And MC tells us that the structure of the words in a sentence mirrors the structure of the thought that it expresses. Since (1) has the structure it does, the thought it expresses must have the structure of (T) and not (T’).

But if MC is true, then it seems like Frege is committed to holding that (2) and (3) express distinct thoughts. Is this a worry?


Wes McPherson said...


Very interesting. Perhaps we should look at:

(2) Dan is a philosophy student.

(3) Dan-eun chul-hak saeng-ibnida.

in two distinct ways.

The first way is in terms of the two sentences meaning the same thing; the second as expressing the same thing. We might want to treat these as being distinct.

We might treat the meaning as something functional. So if we take 'means' to be a form of the copula, then we can do a Sellarean analysis of (2) and (3) playing the same role. Just like

Bonjour (in French)


Gutentage (in German)

have the same meaning (role). But we have made no appeal anything being expressed.

Perhaps in the case of (2) and (3) we have the same 'role' being played by entities which end up having distinct 'structures'. So we have distinct token-classes of the same type. Each sentence may play the same roles, but in different ways.

I think this would not make it so very weird to think that (2) and (3) express different thoughts, even if they are 'equal' in their role.

Dan said...

Hi Adam,
I don't see this concern as much of a worry. The property "being the first of the fusion" is misleading. I never intended my proposal to be reduced back to mere ordering. Consider:
J) John loves Jane
The constituents of this proposition are John, loving and Jane. Loving (being a two place relation) has two "slots" open to it (or in Fregian terms, is doubly unsaturated). Let's call the first slot 'A'(the loving slot) and the second slot 'B'(the being loved slot). My proposal would be to have the consituents of the proposition be the following properties:
1) Being John&occupying A
2) Being Jane&occupying B
A and B are semantic objects, not syntactic objects. Suppose it was an english convention that, contrary to what we're used to, the proposition expressed by (J) was actually expressed by (J'):
(J') Jane loves John.
The proposition expressed by (J') would still be the fusion of (1) and (2). All that changed is our convention concerning the syntactic ordering of our terms. The same with your German sentence, all that has changed is the linguistic conventions which determine what properties are expressed.