The Metaphysicians of Meaning: Russell and Frege on Sense and Denotation

By Gideon Makin | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

The Russell-Frege enterprise and natural language

I Introduction

One of the chief themes in our discussion so far has been that Russell’s and Frege’s theories are not concerned in any fundamental sense with language; and our remarks about the relation to language were persistently negative. This gives rise to the following question: conceding that they indeed were not concerned primarily with language, is there not some sense in which they were concerned with it after all? In the present chapter I try to paint what seems to me the correct picture of the matter.

I begin from what seems to me a decisive case for dissociating Russell’s and Frege’s theories from natural language. I then proceed, by a rather roundabout course, to describe how their appeal to linguistic notions (such as ‘proper name’) ought to be understood in the light of general features of the enterprise they were engaged in. The focus on proper names is convenient because the underlying assumption is that what holds for names will apply mutatis mutandis to other kinds of expressions as well, and will thus illuminate the place of language in the enterprise generally. In this discussion I treat Russell and Frege as representing a single standpoint, and I shall accordingly be speaking of the ‘Russell-Frege enterprise’, or a ‘Russell-Frege view’, and so on. This is not to suggest that the differences between them are insignificant; rather, I am addressing the substantial area of agreement between them on broader programmatic issues. Part of this common ground was already delineated in Chapter 6 above, and further reason for grouping Russell and Frege together will emerge in the course of the present chapter.

Except where what is said is applied explicitly only to Russell or only to Frege, I have tried to cite evidence from both to support grouping them together on particular issues as they arise. This has not always been easy. Often one finds, for example, Frege driving home a point of principle which is only casually made by Russell or vice versa. For the most part these are matters of emphasis rather than substance. In some cases I have presumed agreement even in the absence of direct evidence from one, but only when this appeared highly plausible in the light of, first, views on related matters, and second,

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