How 'Russellian' was Frege?
Bell (David)
Source: Mind 99.394, Apr. 1990, pp. 267-277
Paper - Abstract

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  1. Gareth Evans begins The Varieties of Reference with three chapters devoted to what he calls 'Historical Preliminaries'.' The first of these, entitled 'Frege', serves to introduce a strikingly unconventional interpretation of Frege's semantic theory and, in particular, of Frege's account of how the sense (Sinn) and the reference (Bedeutung) of singular terms are related to one another.
  2. The gist of Evans's reading is that 'Frege held both before the distinction between sense and [reference] and, despite appearances, after it, a highly Russellian view of singular terms' (p. 38). A theory of singular terms is Russellian, we are told, to the extent that it involves a denial that lack of reference is compatible with possession of sense; and he defines 'Russellian singular term' to mean 'a singular term whose significance depends upon its having a referent' (p. I2). An immediate consequence of these stipulations is that a sentence containing (i.e. using) a Russellian term without reference will itself be without sense: that sentence will fail to express a thought, and so will be simply unintelligible (cf. pp. 35, 29, 7I, etc.). Evans accordingly introduces a convenient extension of terminology, and allows that the term 'Russellian' may also characterize thoughts: a 'thought is Russellian if it is of such a kind that it simply could not exist in the absence of the object or objects which it is about' (p. 71).
  3. In short, then, Evans ascribes to Frege not only a Russellian theory of singular terms, but also a theory of sense compatible with the existence of Russellian thoughts. As an interpretation of Frege this strikes me as indefensible. The purpose of the present note is to explain why.

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