Sunday, January 24, 2010


Frege distinguishes between the following meanings of 'is':

(1) the 'is' of identity (e.g., Phosphorus is Hesperus; a=b),

(2) the 'is' of predication, i.e., the copula (e.g., 'Plato is blond'; P(a)) ( Haaparanta may have errored: that would be B(p). If not a definite description--"the philosopher known as Plato"". Not your pet ferret named "Plato")

(3) the 'is' of existence,

(i) expressed by means of the existential quantifier and the symbol for identity (e.g., 'God is'; (∃ x) (G=x)) (also "G*d" even treatable as an object?? unlikely),


(ii) expressed by means of the existential quantifier and the symbol for predication (e.g., 'There are human beings' / 'There is at least one human being'; (∃ x) H (x)),


(4) the 'is' of class-inclusion, i.e., generic implication (e.g., 'A horse is a four-legged animal'; (x) (P(x) → Q(x)))."

(From: Leila Haaparanta - Frege's doctrine of Being - Helsinki, Acta Philosophica Fennica, vol. 39, 1985 pp. 13-14).

So, start over.


Frege's point, however obvious it might seem (at least to those who can remove their ideological spectacles for a few nano-seconds), has broad applications --not only to academics pondering the Klassix in their tax-payer funded ivory towers, but to writers of any type. Poor writers continually conflate the universal with the particular. And perhaps recall the poetical who yawped, "No ideas but in things"?? In a way a call for the particular, instead of the universal (or, bogus universal--integrals might be universals, not sure about egos...).

Another issue with predication (#2) and inclusion (#4): they often seem about the same. Blondness seems quite different than, say, mammal-ness, or triangle-ness, but in many cases the logical form would be the same, that is, if you grant adjectives, or "adjectival classes" exist... "The bike for sale is a Harley" (falls in class of motorcycles aka Harleys) seems quite different than predication: "Harleys are best" (and f**K the rest). Primary/secondary qualities? Metaphysical realism? Or eliminate modifiers from the language.....

Mistaking the particular for the universal may be merely a fallacy of generalization, but it's often sort of a formal error as well: mixing up the universal of class inclusion with the existential gen . A naive leftist might claim (with some justification), that "All Republicans are Oppressors," or, say, "All Mormons are Chesters", and like many, thereby unwittingly offer a quantified universal claim in the Modus Ponens form (ie (x) (M(x)->Ch(x)). But certainly there are some, at least a few mormons, who are ~Chesters (which also shows that premise construction, at least with any observable object/situation/event (apart from the tautologies of logic and mathematics), depends on......verification of some sort, and alas Herr Doktor Frege must deal with Mr. Carnap--er, or really physics and natural science as a whole). So the proper symbolization would be (∃ x) (M(x) & Ch(x)), i.e. "There are Mormon Chesters," which could be confirmed. Of course the class of Chesterness also includes many non-mormons.


Joel said...

I believe the man has a point.

J said...



Yes, Frege had many points, rather troubling ones, especially to naive secularists and anti-rationalists.

Fregean concepts could assist us with becoming better, more precise writers and communicators. It's like with coding, or programming. Many techie people get away with barking vague, sweeping generalizations and emotional rhetoric on blogs, but they couldn't do that when coding for Tandy Corp., or whereever they get their shekels.

Scroll back on your own and note the few comments/posts on avoiding fallacies, even just informal basic sort (identifying formal fallacies a bit more challenging), and sticking to facts.

Alas your McPosse can't quite seem to uphold its own stated values.

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