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In the
philosophy of language In analytic philosophy, philosophy of language investigates the nature of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writin ...
, the distinction between sense and reference was an innovation of the German philosopher and mathematician
Gottlob Frege Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (; ; 8 November 1848 – 26 July 1925) was a German philosopher, logician, and mathematician. He worked as a mathematics professor at the University of Jena, and is understood by many to be the father of analy ...
in 1892 (in his paper "On Sense and Reference"; German: "Über Sinn und Bedeutung"), reflecting the two ways he believed a
singular termA singular term is a paradigmatic referring device in a language. Singular terms are of philosophical importance for philosophers of language, because they ''refer'' to things in the world, and the ability of words to refer calls for scrutiny. Over ...
may have meaning. The
reference Reference is a relationship between objects in which one object designates, or acts as a means by which to connect to or link to, another object. The first object in this relation is said to ''refer to'' the second object. It is called a ''name ...
(or "referent"; ''Bedeutung'') of a ''proper name'' is the object it means or indicates (''bedeuten''), whereas its sense (''Sinn'') is what the name expresses. The reference of a ''sentence'' is its
truth value Truth is the property of being in accord with fact or reality.Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionarytruth 2005 In everyday language, truth is typically ascribed to things that aim to represent reality or otherwise correspond to it, such as belie ...
, whereas its sense is the thought that it expresses."On Sense and Reference" Über Sinn und Bedeutung" '' Zeitschrift für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik'', vol. 100 (1892), pp. 25–50, esp. p. 31. Frege justified the distinction in a number of ways. #Sense is something possessed by a name, whether or not it has a reference. For example, the name "
Odysseus Odysseus (; grc-gre, Ὀδυσσεύς, Ὀδυσεύς, OdysseúsOdyseús ), also known by the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was origin ...
" is intelligible, and therefore has a sense, even though there is no individual object (its reference) to which the name corresponds. #The sense of different names is different, even when their reference is the same. Frege argued that if an identity statement such as "
Hesperus In Greek mythology Greek mythology is the body of myths originally told by the Ancient Greece, ancient Greeks, and a genre of Ancient Greek folklore. These stories concern the Cosmogony, origin and Cosmology#Metaphysical cosmology, nature of t ...
is the same planet as
Phosphorus Phosphorus is a chemical element with the Symbol (chemistry), symbol P and atomic number 15. Elemental phosphorus exists in two major forms, white phosphorus and red phosphorus, but because it is highly Reactivity (chemistry), reactive, phosphor ...
" is to be informative, the proper names flanking the identity sign must have a different meaning or sense. But clearly, if the statement is true, they must have the same reference. The sense is a 'mode of presentation', which serves to illuminate only a single aspect of the referent. Much of
analytic philosophy Analytic philosophy is a branch and tradition of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy o ...
is traceable to Frege's philosophy of language.Jeff Speaks
"Frege's theory of reference"
(2011)
Frege's views on logic (i.e., his idea that some parts of speech are complete by themselves, and are analogous to the
arguments In logic and philosophy, an argument is a series of statements (in a natural language), called the premises or premisses (both spellings are acceptable), intended to determine the degree of truth of another statement, the conclusion. The logical ...
of a
mathematical function In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). I ...
) led to his views on a
theory of reference In analytic philosophy Analytic philosophy is a branch and tradition of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epistemology, knowledge, E ...
.


Background

Frege developed his original theory of meaning in early works like ''
Begriffsschrift ''Begriffsschrift'' (German for, roughly, "concept-script") is a book on logic Logic (from Ancient Greek, Greek: grc, wikt:λογική, λογική, label=none, lit=possessed of reason, intellectual, dialectical, argumentative, translit=l ...
'' (concept script) of 1879 and '' Grundlagen'' (foundations of arithmetic) of 1884. On this theory, the meaning of a complete sentence consists in its being true or false, and the meaning of each significant expression in the sentence is an extralinguistic entity which Frege called its ''Bedeutung'', literally meaning or significance, but rendered by Frege's translators as reference, referent, 'Meaning', nominatum, etc. Frege supposed that some parts of speech are complete by themselves, and are analogous to the
arguments In logic and philosophy, an argument is a series of statements (in a natural language), called the premises or premisses (both spellings are acceptable), intended to determine the degree of truth of another statement, the conclusion. The logical ...
of a
mathematical function In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). I ...
, but that other parts are incomplete, and contain an empty place, by analogy with the function itself. Thus "Caesar conquered Gaul" divides into the complete term "Caesar", whose reference is Caesar himself, and the incomplete term "—conquered Gaul", whose reference is a concept. Only when the empty place is filled by a proper name does the reference of the completed sentence – its truth value – appear. This early theory of meaning explains how the significance or reference of a sentence (its truth value) depends on the significance or reference of its parts.


Sense

Frege introduced the notion of "sense" (German: ''Sinn'') to accommodate difficulties in his early theory of meaning. First, if the entire significance of a sentence consists of its truth value, it follows that the sentence will have the same significance if we replace a word of the sentence with one having an identical reference, as this will not change its truth value."On Sense and Reference", p. 32. The reference of the whole is determined by the reference of the parts. If ''the evening star'' has the same reference as ''the morning star'', it follows that ''the evening star is a body illuminated by the Sun'' has the same truth value as ''the morning star is a body illuminated by the Sun''. But it is possible for someone to think that the first sentence is true while also thinking that the second is false. Therefore, the thought corresponding to each sentence cannot be its reference, but something else, which Frege called its ''sense''. Second, sentences that contain proper names with no reference cannot have a truth value at all. Yet the sentence 'Odysseus was set ashore at
Ithaca Ithaca, Ithaki or Ithaka (; Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximatel ...

Ithaca
while sound asleep' obviously has a sense, even though 'Odysseus' has no reference. The thought remains the same whether or not 'Odysseus' has a reference. Furthermore, a thought cannot contain the objects that it is about. For example,
Mont Blanc Mont Blanc (french: Mont Blanc ; it, Monte Bianco , both meaning "white mountain") is the highest mountain in the Alps The Alps ; german: Alpen ; it, Alpi ; rm, Alps; sl, Alpe ) are the highest and most extensive mountain range system ...
, 'with its snowfields', cannot be a component of the thought that Mont Blanc is more than 4,000 metres high. Nor can a thought about Etna contain lumps of solidified lava. Frege's notion of sense is somewhat obscure, and neo-Fregeans have come up with different candidates for its role. Accounts based on the work of Rudolf Carnap, Carnap and Alonzo Church, Church treat sense as an intension, or a function from possible worlds to Extension (semantics), extensions. For example, the intension of ‘number of planets’ is a function that maps any possible world to the number of planets in that world. John McDowell supplies cognitive and reference-determining roles. Michael Devitt treats senses as causal-historical chains connecting names to referents, allowing that repeated "groundings" in an object account for reference change.


Sense and description

In his theory of descriptions, Bertrand Russell held the view that most proper names in ordinary language are in fact disguised definite descriptions. For example, 'Aristotle' can be understood as "The pupil of Plato and teacher of Alexander", or by some other uniquely applying description. This is known as the descriptivist theory of names. Because Frege used definite descriptions in many of his examples, he is often taken to have endorsed the descriptivist theory. Thus Russell's theory of descriptions was conflated with Frege's theory of sense, and for most of the twentieth century this "Frege–Russell" view was the orthodox view of proper name semantics. However, Saul Kripke argued compellingly against the descriptivist theory. According to Kripke, proper names are rigid designators which designate the same object in every possible world. Descriptions such as "the President of the U.S. in 1969" do not designate the same in every possible world. For example, someone other than Richard Nixon, e.g. Lyndon B. Johnson, might have been the President in 1969. Hence a description (or cluster of descriptions) cannot be a rigid designator, and thus a proper name cannot ''mean'' the same as a description. However, the Russellian descriptivist reading of Frege has been rejected by many scholars, in particular by Gareth Evans (philosopher), Gareth Evans in ''The Varieties of Reference'' and by John McDowell in "The Sense and Reference of a Proper Name", following Michael Dummett, who argued 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.


Translation of ''Bedeutung''

As noted above, translators of Frege have rendered the German ''Bedeutung'' in various ways. The term 'reference' has been the most widely adopted, but this fails to capture the meaning of the original German ('meaning' or 'significance'), and does not reflect the decision to standardise key terms across different editions of Frege's works published by Wiley-Blackwell#Blackwell Publishing history, Blackwell. The decision was based on the principle of exegetical neutrality, namely that 'if at any point in a text there is a passage that raises for the native speaker legitimate questions of exegesis, then, if at all possible, a translator should strive to confront the reader of his version with the same questions of exegesis and not produce a version which in his mind resolves those questions'. The term 'meaning' best captures the standard German meaning of ''Bedeutung''. However, while Frege's own use of the term can sound as odd in German for modern readers as when translated into English, the related term 'deuten' does mean 'to point towards'. Though 'Bedeutung' is not usually used with this etymological proximity in mind in German, German speakers can well make sense of 'Bedeutung' as signifying 'reference', in the sense of it being what 'Bedeutung' points, i.e. refers to. Moreover, 'meaning' captures Frege's early use of ''Bedeutung'' well, and it would be problematic to translate Frege's early use as 'meaning' and his later use as 'reference', suggesting a change in terminology not evident in the original German.


Precursors


Antisthenes

The Greek philosopher Antisthenes, a pupil of Socrates, apparently distinguished "a general object that can be aligned with the meaning of the utterance” from “a particular object of extensional reference". According to Susan Prince, this "suggests that he makes a distinction between sense and reference". The principal basis of Prince's claim is a passage in Alexander of Aphrodisias' “Comments on Aristotle's 'Topics'” with a three-way distinction: # the semantic medium, δι' ὧν λέγουσι # an object external to the semantic medium, περὶ οὗ λέγουσιν # the direct indication of a thing, σημαίνειν ... τὸ ...


Stoicism

The Stoicism, Stoic theory of ''lektón, lekta'' refers to a correspondence between speech and the object referred to by the speech, as distinct from the speech itself. This has been cited as an anticipation of the distinction between sense and reference.


John Stuart Mill

The sense-reference distinction is commonly confused with that between connotation and denotation, which originates with John Stuart Mill. According to Mill, a common term like 'white' ''denotes'' all white things, as snow, paper. But according to Frege, a common term does not refer to any individual white thing, but rather to an abstract concept (''Begriff''). We must distinguish between the relation of reference, which holds between a proper name and the object it refers to, such as between the name 'Earth', and the planet Earth, and the relation of 'falling under', such as when the Earth falls under the concept ''planet''. The relation of a proper name to the object it designates is direct, whereas a word like 'planet' has no such direct relation to the Earth at all, but only to a concept that the Earth falls under. Moreover, judging ''of'' anything that it falls under this concept is not in any way part of our knowledge of what the word 'planet' means.Frege, "A critical elucidation of some points in E. Schroeder's ''Vorlesungen Ueber Die Algebra der Logik'', ''Archiv fur systematische Philosophie'' 1895, pp. 433-456, transl. Geach, in Geach & Black 86-106. The distinction between connotation and denotation is closer to that between concept and object, than to that between 'sense' and 'reference'.


See also

* Descriptivist theory of names * Definite description * Direct and indirect realism * Frege's puzzles * Mediated reference theory * :Theories of language, Theories of language * Use–mention distinction


Footnotes

{{DEFAULTSORT:Sense And Reference Philosophy of language Philosophical logic Conceptual distinctions Meaning (philosophy of language)