Sunday, October 22, 2006

Do Frege and Christopher Columbus Wear Horned Helmets?

I will do my utmost to defend Fregeanism against the Semantic Objection from Error. The objection, as posted below on the weblog, goes:

“Suppose S authoritatively associates being-the-first-European-to-land-in-America with ‘Christopher Columbus’.

18. a If descriptivism is correct, then in S’s language, ‘Christopher Columbus’ refers to some Norse sailor.
b. It’s not the case that in S’s language, ‘Christopher Columbus’ refers to some Norse sailor.
c. Therefore, descriptivism is not correct.

This objection denies (iv).”

Now, it seems that the Fregean will hold to premise B, so I will focus my attention on proving why premise A is wrong. First of all, let us look how the proper names and properties expressed in the problem fit within the rules of (SDT).

Remember that:
Where P is a property, C is a condition, S is an agent, N is a proper name, O is an object, and L is S’s language.

Now let’s begin:
i. P satisfies condition C.
In our case, P = “the-first-European-to-land-in-America”. We must enquire as to whether this satisfies the condition C. We will look only at Frege’s Condition C, as I am defending the strictly Fregean thought (and not successors):

Fregean constraint on P: P must be a purely general property. (Frege held that only purely general properties are constituents of Thoughts; objects themselves are never constituents of Thoughts.).
It is obvious that “the-first-European-to-land-in-America” fits the Fregean constraint. Now, for ii.

ii. S believes that there is exactly one thing that is P.
Naturally, there is exactly one thing that can be “the-first-European-to-land-in-America”. So the problem does not arise here. Let’s see if iii is a problem:

iii. S authoritatively associates P with N.
That “S authoritatively associates being-the-first-European-to-land-in-America with ‘Christopher Columbus’” is what we are assuming, so there can be no problem here. As for iv, it is the rule that is apparently denied. It says:

iv. N refers to O in L iff O is the one and only thing that is P.
Applied, it reads “Christopher Columbus refers to some Norse Sailor(O) in Language iff some Norse Sailor is the one and only thing that is “the-first-European-to-land-in-America”.
As stated in the objection, rule (iv) is where things get ugly. I do not think it is coincidence that in (iv), we are also introduced to the first instance of O. What is O?
Obviously O denotes the object, the material thing referred to when we speak a proper name. But more subtly, when we introduce O to the equation, it makes (iv) operate like a hypothetical syllogism. It works like this:
1. N --> P
2. P --> O
3. Therefore, N --> O.

The problem with this is that we have not established the link from P-->O in any of the prior rules. In fact, the Fregean condition on (i) states that the property cannot be an object. But is it not simply acting as a synonym of an object in this example? In essence, the problem arises from competing claims of O and N for the property “the-first-European-to-land-in-America”.
My solution is this: the rules of SDT say nothing about the link from P-->O. The Fregean will escape difficultly (by denying the syllogistic form) if he denies outright #2, that one can link a property, like “the-first-European-to-land-in-America” to the physical Norseman. An alternative would be to turn the syllogism inside out, like such:
1. P-->N
2. N-->O
3. Therefore, P-->O
While the Fregean could still say of “Christoper Columbus” that he was “the-first-European-to-land-in-America”, he would in the example not say that this “Christopher Columbus” referred to a Norseman. Now, this solution would still allow for one to say of the man x that they were “the-first-European-to-land-in-America”, but this would first require a relation between the person’s proper name and its properties, and a relation between his proper name and the object.
Likely, this inversion of reference will have some chaotic repercussions, but who knows? Maybe it presents a true way out for the Fregean.


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