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Encyclopedia > Sense and reference

The distinction between Sinn and Bedeutung (usually but not always translated sense and reference, respectively) was an innovation of the German philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege in his 1892 paper Über Sinn und Bedeutung (On Sense and Reference), which is still widely read today. According to Frege, sense and reference are two different aspects of the meaning of at least some kinds of linguistic expressions. (Frege applied it mainly to proper names and, to a lesser extent, sentences). Roughly, a term's reference is the object it refers to; its sense is the way in which it refers to that object; the thought that it expresses. Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (8 November 1848, Wismar – 26 July 1925, Bad Kleinen) was a German mathematician who evolved into a logician and philosopher. ... 1892 (MDCCCXCII) was a leap year starting on Friday (see link for calendar). ... The introduction to this article provides insufficient context for those unfamiliar with the subject matter. ...


Though the distinction has its home in philosophy of language, it carries over into other areas of philosophy, including philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and metaethics. Philosophy of language is the branch of philosophy that studies language. ... What is the mind? Phrenologists attempted to answer this question by correlating mental functions with specific parts of the brain. ... Plato and Aristotle, by Raphael (Sistine Chapel, Rome). ... In philosophy, ethics is commonly divided into two branches, normative ethics and meta-ethics. ...

Contents


Motivation for and development of the distinction

Frege's distinction rejects a view put forward by John Stuart Mill, according to which a proper name has no meaning above and beyond the object to which it refers (its referent or reference). That is, the word "Aristotle" just means Aristotle, that person, and no more. It does not mean "The writer of De Caelo." Hence, the sentence Aristotle was Greek says only that that person was Greek. It does not say that the writer of De Caelo was Greek. That is, it permits that Aristotle might not have written De Caelo. More generally, for any given proposition about Aristotle, one can use the name without believing that proposition to be true of Aristotle. John Stuart Mill (May 20, 1806 – May 8, 1873), an English philosopher and political economist, was an influential classical liberal thinker of the 19th century. ... A proper name [is] a word that answers the purpose of showing what thing it is that we are talking about writes John Stuart Mill in A System of Logic (1. ...


Frege noted three problems with the view that a name's meaning is no more than its referent. First, on this account, if a and b are names of the same object, then the identity statement a = b must mean the same as a = a. Yet clearly the first can convey information in a way that the second cannot; that Samuel Clemens is Samuel Clemens is just trivial, but Samuel Clemens is Mark Twain is interesting. Why? Or, why is Cicero is Tully more significant than Cicero is Cicero? Second, on Mill's view, two beliefs about the same object, under whatever names, must mean the same thing. So Superman can fly must mean the same as Clark Kent can fly. But obviously someone (Lois Lane) can believe that one is true and the other is false, without being irrational. If they mean the same thing, then it is hard to see how she could: believing one would be believing the other. Third, on Mill's account empty names--names whose referents do not exist, hence which do not refer to anything--must be meaningless. But many sentences involving empty names seem perfectly meaningful. For example, we can understand "Batman wore a cape", and understand that it means something different from "Superman wore a cape"; so they seem to still have some kind of meaning. WordNet gives four main senses for the English noun object: a physical entity; something that is within the grasp of the senses; an aim, target or objective — see Object (task); a grammatical Object — either a direct object or an indirect object the focus of cognitions or feelings. ... // Computer programming In object-oriented programming, object identity is a mechanism for distinguishing different objects from each other. ... Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 - April 21, 1910), better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was a famous and popular American humorist, writer and lecturer. ... Look up trivia on Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Mark Twain Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was a famous American humorist, novelist, writer, and lecturer. ... Superman is a fictional character and superhero of DC Comics who first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938 and is considered one of the three greatest superheroes of the world, the others being Batman, also of DC Comics, and Spider-Man of Marvel Comics. ... Superman and his secret identity Clark Kent being portrayed as distinct individuals. ... Lois Lane is a fictional character who appears in the Superman stories produced by DC Comics. ... The DC Comics superhero Batman (originally and still sometimes referred to as the Batman or the Bat-Man) is a fictional character who first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in May 1939. ... Superman is a fictional character and superhero of DC Comics who first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938 and is considered one of the three greatest superheroes of the world, the others being Batman, also of DC Comics, and Spider-Man of Marvel Comics. ...


Frege's distinction is meant to make sense of these three cases, especially the first two. He postulates that, in addition to its reference (Bedeutung), a proper name possesses what he calls a sense (Sinn), some aspect of the way its reference is thought of that can differ, even between two names that refer to the same object. The important difference between 'a' and 'b' is a "difference in the mode of presentation of that which is designated". The sense of an expression is thus just "that wherein the mode of presentation is contained". Thus, one can know both the names Mark Twain and Samuel Clemens without realizing that they are about the same object, because they "present it in different ways," that is, they have different senses. Likewise, what Lois Lane understands in the two cases has a different sense, and is thus a different thought, even though it is about the same object (Superman, i.e. Clark Kent) and is true in the same circumstances. Finally, empty terms are meaningful because they have senses but no references.

  • The reference is the object that the expression refers to. For instance, the name "Mark Twain" refers to Mark Twain, i.e. Samuel Clemens, the man who lived in the U.S. and wrote satires. The name Samuel Clemens also refers to that man. Hence the two have the same reference.
  • The sense is the "cognitive significance" or "mode of presentation" of the referent. Frege also says that the sense "determines" the reference of an expression. There are two major interpretations of these claims:
    • (1) A sense is equivalent to an identifying description. For example, the name "Mark Twain" might just mean "The man who wrote Tom Sawyer", and Samuel Clemens might mean "The eldest son of John and Jane Clemens". Thus the reference is "determined" as whatever fits the description.
    • (2) A sense is not equivalent to a description, perhaps not to any expression; rather a sense is just whatever difference there is between a person's understading of two terms that could explain his failure to realize that they have the same reference. Here, sense "determines" reference only in that the relation between senses and references is never one-many; each sense is attached to a unique reference.

In either case, Frege expressly did not mean that the sense of a name was merely whatever ideas a user of the word associated with it. Because they figure into the meanings of terms in a public language and can be communicated, senses must be objective. For other uses, see United States (disambiguation) and US (disambiguation). ... Satire is a literary technique of writing or art which principally ridicules its subject (individuals, organizations, states) often as an intended means of provoking or preventing change. ... For Tom Sawyer, British politician and trade unionist, see Tom Sawyer, Baron Sawyer Tom Sawyer is the protagonist of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and a character in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, two Mark Twain novels. ... Template:Wiktionarypar objective Objective may be: Objective lens, an optical element in a camera or microscope. ...


Frege uses an example with a, b, and c as the three lines each of which pass through one vertex of a triangle and the medians of the opposite side: A line, or straight line, can be described as an (infinitely) thin, (infinitely) long, perfectly straight curve (the term curve in mathematics includes straight curves). In Euclidean geometry, exactly one line can be found that passes through any two points. ... A triangle is one of the basic shapes of geometry: a two-dimensional figure with three vertices and three sides which are straight line segments. ... The triangle medians and the centroid. ...

“[t]he point of intersection of a and b is then the same as the point of intersection of b and c. So we have different designations for the same point, and these names ('point of intersection of a and b', 'point of intersection of b and c') likewise indicate the mode of presentation; and hence the statement contains actual knowledge” Centroid of a triangle In geometry, the centroid or barycenter of an object in -dimensional space is the intersection of all hyperplanes that divide into two parts of equal moment about the hyperplane. ...

Gottlob Frege, 'Über Sinn und Bedeutung (On Sense and Reference) Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (8 November 1848, Wismar – 26 July 1925, Bad Kleinen) was a German mathematician who evolved into a logician and philosopher. ...

While Frege initially speaks of sense just as whatever solves the first two of these problems, he eventually makes gestures toward the idea that the sense of a proper name is a description believed to be uniquely satisfied by its referent (which would put him close to agreement with Russell's Theory of Descriptions; see below). Subsequent philosophy of language in the twentieth century (most famously by Kripke) has shown that this move is not innocuous, and it is now disputed to what degree this doctrine should be attributed to Frege. Some scholars,( e.g., Gareth Evans, John McDowell) have claimed that Frege's treatment of the third problem is inconsistent, and that without the need for "senses without references" there is no grounds for attributing a "descriptivist" (i.e. Russellian) view to Frege. But the descriptivist view was taken for granted throughout much of the twentieth century, and is probably still the "orthodox view." Russell is a French name that means anything that is or relates to the color red or a fox. ... The Theory of Descriptions is one of the philosopher Bertrand Russells most significant contributions to the philosophy of language. ... Philosophy of language is the branch of philosophy that studies language. ... Saul Kripke in 1983 Saul Aaron Kripke (b. ... Gareth Evans may refer to: Gareth Evans, a philosopher and linguist. ... John McDowell (born 1942) is a contemporary philosopher, formerly a fellow of University College, Oxford and now University Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. ...


Frege also examines (and rejects) the view that identity claims actually express relations between linguistic expressions . In this [1] view, the claim a = b is about the expression 'a' and the expression 'b'. The sentence a = b says: The names a and b denote the same object. This view, Frege says, seems to misrepresent what we mean when we say a = b. First, we seem not to be talking about the expressions, but about the objects. Again, claims like a = b themselves can truly convey important knowledge which is not about words.


Terminology

Sense and reference (Sinn and Bedeutung)

Broadly speaking, the reference (or referent) of a proper name is the object it means or indicates. The sense of a proper name is whatever meaning it has, when there is no object to be indicated.


What this article has called sense and reference are what Frege calls Sinn and Bedeutung, respectively, in the original German. Sometimes the pair of terms is translated as sense and meaning or as sense and nominatum. The precise meaning of these terms can vary quite significantly from writer to writer, so some caution is due.


For Sinn, writers have used the terms sense, meaning, intension, connotation, and content. Senses are the physiological methods of perception. ... The introduction to this article provides insufficient context for those unfamiliar with the subject matter. ... Intension refers to the meanings or characteristics encompassed by a given word. ... The connotation of a word or other expression in a language may be one of several aspects of its meaning. ... Content can mean Comfort and a feeling of satisfaction Creations, as in open content or free content. ...


For Bedeutung, writers have used the terms reference, referent, meaning extension, denotation, nominatum, and designatum. In general, a reference is something that refers or points to something else, or acts as a connection or a link between two things. ... In general, a reference is something that refers or points to something else, or acts as a connection or a link between two things. ... The introduction to this article provides insufficient context for those unfamiliar with the subject matter. ... In metaphysics, extension is the property of taking up space; see Extension (metaphysics). ... This word has distinct meanings in other fields: see denotation (semiotics) and connotation and denotation. ...


Note that (confusingly) each expression has been translated as meaning by someone.


An expression's relation to sense or reference

Terminology has also been applied to capture the relation between

  1. an expression and its sense
  2. an expression and its reference

Frege is typically translated as saying that an expression "expresses its sense" and "stands for or designates its reference". Yet earlier in the essay he offers another verb, refers, writing of "that to which the sign refers, which may be called the reference of the sign". Since then writers have variously said that an expression stands for, designates, refers to, or denotes its reference. We can also say that an expression picks out its reference, or (alternatively) that the sense of an expression is what picks out its reference.


Sense without reference

One application Frege saw for the distinction concerns what are called nonreferring, nondenoting, or empty, expressions. These expressions do not have a reference, for example "the greatest integer" [2]. Since there is not a greatest integer, the expression doesn't refer to anything. But it seems perfectly meaningful, since we seem to understand claims like "The greatest integer is larger than one million". Employing the sense-reference distinction, we can say that the expression has a sense but lacks a reference. The integers consist of the positive natural numbers (1, 2, 3, …), their negatives (−1, −2, −3, ...) and the number zero. ...


Another example is Odysseus. Since he is a fictional character, the name Odysseus does not appear to mean anyone at all; yet sentences like "Odysseus was set down on the beach at Ithaca" are meaningful, in that they can be true or false. If a sentence's meaning is a function of the meanings of its parts[3], then parts of the sentence, such as Odysseus, seemingly do have meaning.


Whether this solution works, and whether it was even seriously intended by Frege, is disputed. In order for it to be work, it must be possible for a term to have a sense without a reference, and this requires that sense cannot be defined simply as the mode of presentation of the reference, since sometimes there is no reference being presented. Thus the view that the sense-reference distinction solves the problem of empty names encourages the view that a sense is an individuating description (which could be understood with or without a reference satisfying it). This makes a sense equivalent to a Russellian description (see below), and makes Frege's position "descriptivist", leaving it prey to a number of difficulties raised against that view. Other philosophers have argued that Frege is not a descriptivist, and hence that the sense-reference distinction does not solve the problem of fictional names. Proponents of this view often claim that sentences using empty names do not in fact express propositions, hence are not literally meaningful, despite appearances. They face the difficulty of explaining the apparent meaningfulness of sentences using the word Odysseus. On one view, fictional names merely pretend to express propositions. Our understanding of sentences about Odysseus consists then in our "playing along" (see Gareth Evans, Saul Kripke). Gareth Evans (12 May 1946 – 10 August 1980) was a British philosopher at Oxford University during the 1970s. ... Saul Aaron Kripke (born in November, 1940, Omaha, Nebraska) is an American philosopher and logician now emeritus from Princeton and professor of philosophy at CUNY Graduate Center. ...


Frege and Russell

Propositions and senses

Bertrand Russell famously rejected Frege's sense-reference distinction, though there is some question as to how clearly he understood it. One possibility is that the two were misinterpreting and arguing past one another: Frege talks about (for example) sentences, which have both a sense (a proposition) and a reference (a truth value); Russell on the other hand deals directly with propositions, but construes these not as abstract para-linguistic items but as tuples, or sets, of objects and concepts. In mathematics, a tuple is a finite sequence of objects, that is, a list of a limited number of objects (an infinite sequence is a family). ...


For Russell,



Sense is wholly semantic. Reference by contrast is intimately (and puzzlingly) connected with the named object. Mont Blanc is the referent of the name "Mont Blanc." Frege argues that the thought "Mont Blanc 'with its snowfields'" cannot be a component of the thought that "Mont Blanc is more than 4,000 metres high"[4]. If the same expression "Mont Blanc" is in both sentences then there is something common to each thought, and therefore something corresponding to the name "Mont Blanc." This common element, which cannot be the referent, must be the meaning or "sense."


Senses and descriptions

Russell held the view that most of the apparent proper names in English are in fact "disguised definite descriptions. So "Aristotle" is understood as "The pupil of Plato and teacher of Alexander", or by some other unique description. Although Russell explicitly rejected Frege's notion of sense, he rejected it just for proper names. But Russell also had the idiosyncratic view (not evident in the Mount Blanc example) that most of the "proper names" in English are not names at all, but descriptions in disguise. Possibly the only real proper names were demonstratives pronouns like this and that (directed at an object that can be immediately perceived). So in fact if Frege's view was "descriptivist", then he effectively agrees with Russell on most of the apparent "proper names" of ordinary language: Frege thinks that "Aristotle" is a name, with a sense, which is equivalent to some description. Russell thinks that Aristotle is not really a name, but is (in disguised form) just such a description. The Theory of Descriptions is one of the philosopher Bertrand Russells most significant contributions to the philosophy of language. ... A definite description is a denoting phrase in the form of the X where X is a noun-phrase or a singular common noun that picks out a specific individual or object. ...


Thus for most of the twentieth century the "Frege-Russell" descriptivist view was taken as something of an orthodoxy. In Saul Kripke's famous Naming and Necessity lectures, which largely turned the tide against descriptivism, he treats both Russell and Frege as opposed to Mill's view in the same way. Thus Kripke's argument that names are not equivalent to descriptions was widely construed as the view that names do not have senses; or as a rejection of the sense-reference distinction. (Tellingly, all of the three problems the distinction aimed to solve have subsequently re-emerged as important problems in the philosophy of language.) Saul Aaron Kripke (born in November, 1940, Omaha, Nebraska) is an American philosopher and logician now emeritus from Princeton and professor of philosophy at CUNY Graduate Center. ...


This reading of Frege has been rejected by many scholars, most strongly by Gareth Evans in The Varieties of Reference and by John McDowell in "The Sense and Reference of a Proper Name", following lines developed by Michael Dummett. Dummett argues that Frege's notion of sense should not be equated with a description. Evans further developed this line, arguing that a sense without a referent was not possible. He and McDowell both take the line that Frege's discussion of empty names, and of the idea of sense without reference, are inconsistent, and that his apparent endorsement of descriptivism rests only on a small number of imprecise and perhaps offhand remarks. And both point to the power that the sense-reference distinction 'does have (i.e., to solve at least the first two problems), even if it is not given a descriptivist reading. Gareth Evans (12 May 1946 – 10 August 1980) was a British philosopher at Oxford University during the 1970s. ... Sir Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett (born 1925) is a leading British philosopher. ...


Relation to connotation and denotation

The sense-reference distinction is commonly confused with that between connotation and denotation, which predates Frege and is famously interpreted by Mill. This distinction is applied mainly to words (particularly predicates) expressing properties (e.g., red, dog, bachelor), rather than naming individuals, so the difference between the two distinctions can be hard to see. The connotation of a predicate is the concept it expresses, or more often, the set of properties that determine whether an individual falls under it. The denotation of a concept is the actual collection of entities that do fall under it. Thus the connotation of bachelor is perhaps "unmarried adult male human" and its denotation is all the bachelors in the world. The distinction between connotation and denotation is commonly associated with the philosopher John Stuart Mill, though it is much older. ... The distinction between connotation and denotation is commonly associated with the philosopher John Stuart Mill, though it is much older. ... John Stuart Mill (May 20, 1806 – May 8, 1873), an English philosopher and political economist, was an influential classical liberal thinker of the 19th century. ... A property is an intrinsic or extrinsic quality of an object—where an object may be of any differing nature, depending on the context and field — be it computing, philosophy, etc. ... Red is any of a number of similar colors at the lowest frequencies of light discernible by the human eye. ... Trinomial name Canis lupus familiaris (Linnaeus, 1758) This article is about the domestic dog. ... A bachelor is traditionally an unmarried but marriageable man, however some restrict the usage to men who have never been married. ... A concept is an abstract, idea, notion, or entity that serves to designate a category or class of entities, events, phenomena or relations between them. ...


Under a descriptivist reading of Frege, sense and reference are probably the same as connotation and denotation. It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Descriptive linguistics. ...


Under a non-descriptivist reading, they are probably not. It is always possible to have a connotation without a denotation, which may not be the case with sense and reference. A given sense always determines the same reference, which might not be the case with connotation and denotation. Most clearly, a single concept--which by definition has only one connotation and denotation (at a time), might be expressed by terms having different senses. For example, "cat" and "feline" have precisely the same connotation (member of the Felidae family of carnivorous mammals), and obviously the same denotation (all the cats; that is, all the felines), but it is perfectly intelligible that someone should fail to realize that cat and feline mean the same--perhaps they have only heard one word applied to housecats, the other two tigers and lions. In that case, the words have different senses. Subfamilies Felinae Pantherinae Acinonychinae Machairodontinae (extinct) Lions, tigers, cats and other felines are members of the family Felidae. ...


See also

The mediated reference theory is a semantic theory that posits that words reference something in the external world, but are mediated by some other process. ... Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (8 November 1848, Wismar – 26 July 1925, Bad Kleinen) was a German mathematician who evolved into a logician and philosopher. ...

Footnotes

  1.  Also called the metalinguistic view. Frege had held to this view previously, and is worked out in his book Begriffsschrift. In addition, Donald Davidson offers a similar view, not of names but of quotation and indirect discourse.
  2.  Frege's example is "the least rapidly convergent series", and there is always "the present King of France")
  3.  See Semantic composition
  4.  This example is from a letter to Russell.

Begriffsschrift is the title of a short book on logic by Gottlob Frege, published in 1879, and is also the name of the formal system set out in that book. ... Donald Davidson (March 6, 1917 – August 30, 2003) was an American philosopher and the Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. ... In mathematics, a series is often represented as the sum of a sequence of terms. ... A definite description is a denoting phrase in the form of the X where X is a noun-phrase or a singular common noun that picks out a specific individual or object. ... Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970), was an influential British logician, philosopher, and mathematician, working mostly in the 20th century. ...

External links

  • Gottlob Frege: Über Sinn und Bedeutung (.pdf) (German Text)
  • Gottlob Frege: On Sense and Reference (English translation by Max Black)
  • David Chalmers: On Sense and Intension (.html)
  • Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Frege and Language.


  Results from FactBites:
 
Sense and reference - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2669 words)
According to Frege, sense and reference are two different aspects of the meaning of at least some kinds of linguistic expressions.
The reference is the object that the expression refers to.
The sense is the "cognitive significance" or "mode of presentation" of the referent.
Mediated reference theory - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (392 words)
One of the paradigm cases of a mediated reference theory was formulated by mathematician and philosopher Gottlob Frege.
The sense of a sentence is a proposition, or state of affairs; the reference is a truth value -- "true" or "false".
The sense of a proper name is a concept that describes some person; the referent of a proper name is the actual individual in the world.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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