Frege on the importance of clarity of reference

In the middle of his famous discussion of sense and reference, Gottlob Frege drops a somewhat out of place political reference:

A logically perfect language (Begriffsschrift) should satisfy the conditions, that every expression grammatically well constructed as a proper name out of signs already introduced shall in fact designate an object, and that no new sign shall be introduced as a proper name without being secured a Bedeutung [reference]. The logic looks[sic] contain warnings against logical mistakes arising from the ambiguity of expressions. I regard as no less pertinent a warning against apparent proper names that have no Bedeutung. The history of mathematics supplies errors which have arisen in this way. This lends itself to demagogic abuse as easily as ambiguity – perhaps more easily. ‘The will of the people’ can serve as an example; for it is easy to establish that there is at any rate no generally accepted Bedeutung for this expression. It is therefore by no means unimportant to eliminate the source of these mistakes, at least in science, once and for all.

Frege, Gottlob. “On Sinn and Bedeutung”. The Frege Reader. ed. Michael Beaney.  Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 1997. pp. 163-164. (my bold)

While Frege was evidently an ass in a lot of his political views, he is spot on here. So much terrible politics depends on postulating the existence of ghostly, abstract social entities as moral agents.

About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
This entry was posted in Analytic Fun, Politics as Opium. Bookmark the permalink.

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