Philosophy | History of Philosophy Seminar - Frege
P710 | 28462 | Weiner, Joan


Many philosophers are first introduced to Frege in a philosophy of
language course.  Typically, his papers, “On Sense and Meaning”
and “The Thought” are read and they are read in the context of a
discussion of their contributions to contemporary thought about
language, logic, and, to some extent, metaphysics.   As a result,
Frege is known as the formulator of a theory of sense and reference
and an unabashed advocate of Platonism.  There are several respects
in which this is odd.  One of these is that Frege’s actual words
don’t entirely support the standard reading.   Another is that, most
supporters of the standard reading agree, Frege made a number of
mistakes that are not only (in the words of one of his most famous
expositors) ‘tragic’ but also inexplicable.  This suggests at the
very least, that we might do well to look at different
interpretation.  How would we go about this?

One of the most important tools for interpreting Frege’s writings is
the recognition that he was a systematic thinker: virtually
everything in his corpus is meant as a contribution to a single
project.  In this course we will be reading Frege as a systematic
thinker and his writings, including “On Sense and Meaning” and “The
Thought”, as the contributions to his overall project that they were
meant to be.  One result will be a very different understanding of
these papers and of the relations between Frege’s views and
contemporary views on such topics as logic, arithmetic, language and
metaphysics.  But there will be no suggestion that we should
reevaluate of Frege’s status as a philosophical hero.  On the
contrary, many statements that conflict with contemporary orthodoxy
will turn out to offer a fresh and interesting perspective on some
of the more vexing problems with contemporary thought on these
topics.

Most of our readings will be from Frege’s work.  For each week’s
discussion, however, several secondary sources will also be
assigned.  Course requirements will include 4 very short (1-2 page)
papers, to be written in the first few weeks of class, one short (4-
5 page) paper due around the middle of the term and a final paper,
to be handed in on the last day of class.

This course can be counted either towards the history area
requirement or towards the epistemology/metaphysics area
requirement.  If you choose to count it towards the
epistemology/metaphysics requirement, the field, depending on paper
topic, can be any of epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of
language, philosophy of logic.

Required texts:
Michael Beaney (ed) The Frege Reader, Blackwell Publishers; (May
1997). ISBN: 0631194452
Gottlob Frege, The Foundations of Arithmetic: A Logico-Mathematical
Enquiry into the Concept of Number, Northwestern University Press;
2nd Revision edition (June 1980) ISBN: 0810106051
Other required readings will be uploaded to the Oncourse page.
Recommended text:  Joan Weiner, Frege Explained, Open Court Press,
(December 2004) ISBN 0812694600