Hi there, I have a very basic question about Frege's object/concept distinction. Please don't make fun of me as I'm new to early analytic philosophy. This question has been bugging me for a while, so I'd appreciate a thorough answer. In sentences like "the cat is grey" or "the cat is in the park," do the words 'the cat' designate an object? If you were to formalize these sentences, I would think it would go as something like: there is some x such that x is a cat and x is grey/in a park. There wouldn't be a uniqueness clause, I would think. If the words that designate an object have to pick out something unique, does that mean the words 'the cat' cannot designate an object (since they are not specified enough)? If they don't designate an object, then what is their logical status? Thanks.

Frege did think that definite descriptions, such as "the President of the United States" or "the cat," are (what he called) proper names, or what are more usually now called singular terms. And he thought that singular terms do denote objects. So I think he did believe that "the cat" refers to an object. The logical structure of the sentence "the cat is in the park" would be something like: Pc. The formalization you offer, "there is some x such that x is a cat and x is in the park," would schematize rather the sentence: some cat is in the park. Perhaps Frege would suggest that "the cat," used properly, is really elliptical for something like "the cat my mother owns." If the definite description really doesn't designate anything, then (in Frege's terminology), it might have a sense but lack a reference. Any sentence containing it might express a thought but would lack a truth value. (The latter claim needs to be qualified to deal with non-extensional contexts.) Hope this helps a bit!

What's the difference between saying "John is fat. Mary is tall." and saying "John is fat and Mary is tall."? What does "and" mean here?

I don't see that there is much difference in terms of what you're committing yourself to regarding how the world is. In both cases your claim will be true if "John is fat" is true and "Mary is tall" is true, and false otherwise.

Does Quine's argument that there is no real boundary between analytic and synthetic statements include purely mathematical statements such as 1 + 2 = 3? Granted, sentences in everyday languages contain both analytic and synthetic elements, but cannot formal languages support purely analytical statements? Or does mathematics, being a human creation, inextricably model the natural world around us, and thus contain synthetic information? I'm trying to understand the short and (very difficult for me) book "Knowledge and Reality: A Comparative Study of Quine & Some Buddhist Logicians" by Kaisa Puhakka, which seems to represent Quine's thinking faithfully, but my training as a scientist leaves me ill-prepared for much of it. Thank you.

Richard's response is helpful and interesting, but perhaps I would put matters a bit differently. He makes it sound as if Quine accepts the distinction between analytic and synthetic truth and goes on to argue that nothing counts as a truth of the first kind (perhaps "mellowing" his view about this later on). But Quine's position (early, middle, and late) is rather that he can make no sense of the distinction at all. His challenge isn't to the analyticity of logical or mathematical truth; it's rather to the intelligibility of sorting truths into these categories – to the very categories themselves – as the traditional philosopher conceives of them. Your thought that the distinction can be given some sense in the context of an artificial language is a natural one. Quine explicitly turns to this suggestion in section 4 of "Two Dogmas of Empiricism."

I have trouble understanding what people mean when they use a phrase with the word exception. To me it sounds like a contradiction. So my question has two parts: A) Is using the term exception ever legitimate? B) Does the term "except" usually contradict the general rule that comes before it? For example, All ice cream should be taxed, except vanilla. This seems that the quantifier "all" is false if a member is excluded. For example, All students passed the final exam except Roy. Seems to me this means only Roy failed the final exam and the quantifier "all" makes the sentence false. Please help me make sense of the term exception. Thanks for your help.

I see what you're thinking: that in sentences such as: (1) All teams lost except Spain we give in one hand what we take with the other. We are affirming that all teams lost and also that Spain did not lose. You're right that this would indeed be a contradiction. But I don't think the logical structure of such sentences is as you propose. The issue depends on what logicians call the relative scope of the terms "all" and "except". You understand (1) to mean: (2) (all teams lost) and (Spain did not lose) which is indeed a contradiction. Logicians would actually make a few changes to bring out more clearly the logical structure of (2): (2') (each team is such that it lost) and (it is not the case that Spain lost) Again, this is a contradiction. But a more accurate analysis of how the sentence (1) is usually meant is this: (3) all teams except Spain lost where a more perspicuous representation of the logical structure of this is really: (3') each team is such that...

There is a general consensus that words are merely made up of arbitrary symbols and are thus themselves arbitrary symbols. I agree with the principle of this (the letter 's' is just a squiggly line...). But I have always held that words are "things" and not just symbols or shadows of thoughts. I suppose words simultaneously can be things and symbols just like any other material object--in fact this is partially why I argue that words are things. I can't fully articulate why I feel that words are things, and it seems reductive to merely designate words as the product of a complex system of signs and symbols which we all agree to. Are there any philosophical works (as opposed to linguistic) that examine this subject at length? Thank You.

Words are made up of arbitrary symbols, letters. I don't see that that threatens the "thingness" of words. We can construct things out of any arbitrarily chosen objects, can't we? The difficult word here, I think, is rather "thing". What qualifies something to be an object? Many people find themselves confident that the Empire State Building is an object, but far less confident that there might be non-physical things, like the number of floors in the Empire State Building - is 102 a thing? - or like the name "the Empire State Building". While the Empire State Building is located in Manhattan, its name is not located anywhere: it's an abstract entity. I wonder whether this is what's behind your concern about whether words are things. On the other hand, you also feel the strong pressures to take words to be things: we can name them after all, we can talk about them - and how can we talk about anything that isn't really a thing!? All this relates to big questions in metaphysics about what an object...

My question concerns the 20th Century doctrine of "logical postivism" and its apparent refutation. Its distinction between analytic and synthetic statements seems to me straight forward and an important one. Wittgenstein's quote seems appropriate: "On what cannot be spoken of one must remain silent." I understand that logical positivism has been successfully refuted by Quine and others. I cannot grasp that refutation. One of those arguments seems to be the "indeterminacy of translation"); an argument I understand and accept. I also understand that ALL language has different connotations to different people. However, it seems impossible to make an understandable "synthetic" statement about metaphysics. That is, if we cannot verify the existence of something empirically, such as a concept (God, for instance), we cannot come to any agreement about it. In other words what I find valuable about logical positivism, as a materialist, is that metaphysics is simply speculation and cannot be...

Yes, many of the logical positivists drew a sharp line between analytic truths and synthetic ones, respectively, those that owe their truth merely to the rules of language that determine meaning and those that also owe their truth to how the world is. The distinction seems to turn on acknowledging that sentences have determinate meanings in the first place - in some cases, those meanings settle the truth of the sentence (the analytic ones) and in other cases they do not (the synthetic ones). Quine's thesis of the indeterminacy of translation claims that sentences do not have such determinate meanings: in addition to facts like how many moons the Earth has, there are no facts about what some string of words means. (This can sound outrageous and much care needs to be taken about the thesis being advanced and the reasons for it - no time for that here!) And so the thesis of indeterminacy rejects a presupposition of the distinction between analytic and synthetic truths. You say there's clearly...

Do these statements mean exactly the same thing: (a) You should not not buy that book. (b) You should buy that book.

(a) sounds a bit awkward and one might wonder whether it's ambiguous. Does it mean: (a1) You should make it be the case that (it is not the case that (you do not buy that book)), or (a2) It is not the case that (you should make it be the case that (you do not buy that book)). Using "S" to stand for "You should make it be the case that" and "N" for "It is not the case that", (a1) has the form: S(N(N( p ))). But (a2) has the form: N(S(N( p ))). (a2) does not mean the same as (b), which has the form: S( p ). But (a1) is arguably identical in meaning to (b). That's because "N(N( p ))" means the same as " p ". A cautionary note: In general, most people would agree that "N(N( p ))" means the same as " p ", that is, that a statement means the same as its double negation. What would a world look like, you might wonder, in which those statements differ in their truth or falsity? We can't even coherently describe it. I say "most people," though, because some have...

Do both the following phrases express a proposition? (1) "Jill is ill." (2) "Jill's being ill." What about these same phrases as part of the following sentences? (3) "I noticed that Jill is ill." (4) "I noticed Jill's being ill." Thanks, Velho

(1) does make a claim about the world. It could be true or false, depending on whether Jill is ill or not. (2) does not assert anything about the world: it does not tell us whether the state of Jill's being ill obtains, or whether it's a state the speaker hopes will not obtain, or believes obtained in the past, or is one the speaker is commanding that you stop from obtaining, etc. Both (3) and (4), like (1), express propositions. "To notice," like other perceptual verbs (e.g., "to observe"), can grammatically take either an embedded clause or a noun phrase. Thus one can observe that the puppet is on fire, but one can also observe the puppet's expression. To my ear, by the way, (4) sounds slightly infelicitous. I can notice Jill's sweating, as her sweating is something observable. But the state of her being ill isn't really observable (though manifestations of that state may be), so there's something odd, again to my ear, in claiming to notice such a state.

Given the difficulty (or perhaps impossibility) of reaching a solid and uncontested 'definition' of art, can it be talked about? More generally, must we know what a thing 'is' in order to talk about it, and if so how do we go about finding out what it is?

Can it be talked about? Well, we do , so it can. If we could talk only of that for which we possessed definitions, there'd be precious little talking. But you raise a puzzling question: What must we know about an object in order to talk about it? You might think you'd need to know some characterizing property of that object, i.e., some property that only that object possessed. But is that so? It seems I can talk about Pliny -- but I couldn't really give you some property that only he possessed. I barely know anything about Pliny and the little that I do know doesn't distinguish him from many people. So, how can I talk about him? These questions are at the center of Saul Kripke's famous lectures, Naming and Necessity . You might also find this article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to be of interest.