Frege's Philosophy of Language

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 2/25/2016

While pursuing his investigations into mathematics and logic, in order to ground those investigations, Frege was led to develop a philosophy of language. Frege considered two puzzles about language and noticed, in each case, that one cannot account for the meaningfulness or logical behavior of certain sentences simply on the basis of the denotation (reference) of the terms (names and descriptions) in the sentence. One puzzle concerned identity statements and the other concerned sentences with subordinate clauses such as propositional attitude reports. To solve these puzzles, Frege suggested that the terms of a language have both a sense and a denotation (reference).

First Puzzle

The statement ‘a=a’ has a cognitive significance (or meaning) that is different from the cognitive significance of ‘a=b’. We can learn that ‘Mark Twain=Mark Twain’ is true simply by inspecting it (knowable a priori); but we can't learn the truth of ‘Mark Twain=Samuel Clemens’ simply by inspecting it, we have to examine the world to see whether the two persons are the same (discovered a posteriori). So the puzzle Frege discovered is: how do we account for the difference in cognitive significance between ‘a=b’ and ‘a=a’ when they are true? And why ‘Mark Twain=Samuel Clemens’ seems informative?

Second Puzzle

When we report the propositional attitudes of others, these reports all have a similar logical form:
x believes that p
x desires that p
x intends that p
x discovered that p
x knows that p

If John believes that Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn. And Mark Twain=Samuel Clemens, therefore, John believes that Samuel Clemens wrote Huckleberry Finn. But this argument is not valid. There are circumstances in which the premises are true and the conclusion false. John may not believe that Samuel Clemens wrote Huckleberry Finn. The premises of the above argument, therefore, do not logically entail the conclusion. So the Principle of Identity Substitution appears to break down in the context of propositional attitude reports. This law was stated by Leibniz as, "those things are the same of which one can be substituted for another without loss of truth," a sentiment with which Frege was in full agreement. As Frege understands this, it means that if two expressions have the same reference, they should be able to replace each other within any proposition without changing the truth-value of that proposition. Normally, this poses no problem. However, it is not always true that they can replace one another without changing the truth of a sentence. The puzzle, then, is to say what causes the principle to fail in these contexts. Why aren't we still saying something true about the man in question if all we have done is changed the name by which we refer to him?

Frege's Solution

Frege suggested that in addition to having a denotation (reference), names and descriptions also express a sense. The sense of an expression accounts for its cognitive significance, it is the way by which one conceives of the denotation (reference) of the term. The expressions ‘4’ and ‘8/2’ have the same denotation (reference) but express different senses, different ways of conceiving the same number. The descriptions ‘the morning star’ and ‘the evening star’ denote the same planet, namely Venus, but express different ways of conceiving of Venus and so have different senses. The name ‘Pegasus’ and the description ‘the most powerful Greek god’ both have a sense (and their senses are distinct), but neither has a denotation (reference). However, because the senses of these expressions are different--in the first sentence, the object is presented the same way twice, and in the second, it is presented in two different ways, it is informative to learn of the second statement.

Using the distinction between sense and denotation (reference), Frege can account for the difference in cognitive significance between identity statements of the form ‘a=a’ and those of the form ‘a=b’. Since the sense of ‘a’ differs from the sense of ‘b’, the components of the sense of ‘a=a’ and the sense of ‘a=b’ are different. Frege can claim that the sense of the whole expression is different in the two cases. Since the sense of an expression accounts for its cognitive significance, Frege has an explanation of the difference in cognitive significance between ‘a=a’ and ‘a=b’, and thus a solution to the first puzzle.

Moreover, Frege proposed that when a term (name or description) follows a propositional attitude verb, it no longer denotes what it ordinarily denotes. Instead, in such contexts, a term denotes its ordinary sense. This explains why the Principle of Identity Substitution fails for terms following the propositional attitude verbs in propositional attitude reports. The Principle asserts that truth is preserved when we substitute one name for another having the same denotation (reference). But, according to Frege's theory, the names ‘Mark Twain’ and ‘Samuel Clemens’ denote different senses when they occur in the following sentences:

John believes that Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn.
John believes that Samuel Clemens wrote Huckleberry Finn.

If they don't denote the same object, then there is no reason to think that substitution of one name for another would preserve truth.

Sense of a Sentence

The reference of the whole proposition depends on the references of the parts and the sense of the proposition depends of the senses of the parts. Frege even suggests that the sense of a whole proposition is composed of the senses of the component expressions. Frege calls the sense of a sentence a thought, he supposes that there are an infinite number of thoughts and the denotation (reference) of a sentence is one of the two truth values.

On Frege's view, the sentences ‘4=8/2’ and ‘4=4’ both denote the same truth value. The function ( )=( ) maps 4 and 8/2 to The True, i.e., maps 4 and 4 to The True. So d[4=8/2] is identical to d[4=4]; they are both The True. However, the two sentences in question express different thoughts. That is because s[4] is different from s[8/2]. So the thought s[4=8/2] is distinct from the thought s[4=4]. Similarly, ‘Mark Twain=Mark Twain’ and ‘Mark Twain=Samuel Clemens’ denote the same truth value. However, given that s[Mark Twain] is distinct from s[Samuel Clemens], Frege would claim that the thought s[Mark Twain=Mark Twain] is distinct from the thought s[Mark Twain=Samuel Clemens].
Furthermore, recall that Frege proposed that terms following propositional attitude verbs don’t denote their ordinary denotation (reference)s but rather the senses they ordinarily express. For example:

John believes that Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn.
John believes that Samuel Clemens wrote Huckleberry Finn.

Not only do the words ‘Mark Twain’, ‘wrote’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn’ denote their ordinary senses, but also the entire sub-sentence ‘Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn’ also denotes its ordinary sense (namely, a thought). And since the thought denoted by ‘Samuel Clemens wrote Huckleberry Finn’ in this context differs from the thought denoted by ‘Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn’.

Frege's analysis therefore preserves our intuition that John can believe that Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn without believing that Samuel Clemens did. It also preserves the Principle of Identity Substitution—the fact that one cannot substitute ‘Samuel Clemens’ for ‘Mark Twain’ when these names occur after propositional attitude verbs does not constitute evidence against the Principle.

Morals and the Instant

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 2/15/2016

Jankelevitch recognizes three different forms of knowledge: perception, intellection, and intuition. Perception corresponds to the empirical and pertains to appearance; intellection corresponds to the meta-empirical and pertains to essences and necessary principles; and intuition corresponds to the meta-logical and pertains to foundation and creation. Each order is separated qualitatively and categorically, not gradually, and yet each is in relation to the others.

The Empirical Plane

Experience is always finite and perception necessarily partial. Perception is composed of differentiation; it is a mixture of negative and positive. The difference is that which one can perceive. The empirical does not thus lead to the beyond; it leads only to other relations, relativity, and finitude.

The Meta-empirical Plane

The transcendence from the empirical domain to the meta-empirical thus occurs through a sudden and global disinterest with respect to the questions where? and when? To the how?.

The meta-empirical, according to Jankelevitch, involves the plane of essences, ideas, and ideals—the plane of the logos. It includes eternal truths, the principle of identity, and the ideas of universality and necessity. This intelligible plane renders understandable and knowable the empirical and can be verified in the world of things. The empirical world is thus made intelligible. Jankelevitch thus establishes two planes of truth: the truth of perception and essential truth. In accordance with tradition, he maintains that these two orders of truth relate to each other hierarchically: The essential order corrects, verifies, or sometimes contradicts the order of perception. As a result, the order of reason is "truer" than that of perception because it honors rational principles and axioms the negation of which would make thought impossible. The a priori condition, in short, functions to govern thought. It does not stand in a synthetic and natural relation but is the analytic condition sine qua non, the general condition without which thought is impossible and through which every thought is possible, but only possible.

Although the intelligible gives meaning to that which alone as mere inchoate sense experience cannot have meaning, it does not give being to existents. The intelligible plane has to do with thought only, not being. Thought and being remain categorically separated, although in relation.

The Meta-logical Plane

The reasonable human finds everything that there is to know, conforms to the meta-empirical wisdom. The knowledge we can have prevents us from inquiring into or seeking the beyond-truth. We have no need of the beyond. . . . Nothing is missing . . . and yet something is missing, a something that is nothing. What is missing from this complete and incomplete truth? It is missing an inexplicable, unjustifiable, and impalpable thing, that is the principle itself of metaphysical question: the meta-logical human burns with an infinite desire to achieve what appears incomplete to him what-ever he does.

The desire is infinite because the object of desire is that which is absolutely and necessarily missing—the wholly other. The meta-logic wholly other is neither being nor nothing—it is almost-nothing; the wholly other, is the source of creation, is act without being, it will never be rendered an object of knowledge; it will only be glimpsed in the insubstantial instant of intuition. And it is, on the other hand, simultaneously infinitely rich because it gives value and existence to everything. There is not an absolute beginning or an absolute end but grounds of reason, which are eternal: eternal grounds of reason. Necessity and truth are in-stalled as eternally already there and as self-evident. But that which makes the truth the truth is prior to and beyond the dichotomy of true and false. It is not a more profound truth but that which founds truth; it does not serve as the foundation of truth like an ontological plat-form on which the many truths may be constructed but is rather solely the founding of truth itself.

Jankelevitch's distinction between the meta-empirical and the meta-logical planes can be understood in part through Kant's distinction between the transcendental (a priori) and the transcendent. Whereas the transcendental concerns that which enables us to experience objects and which plays a role in the way our mind constitutes objects as the conditions of the possibility of knowledge in general, the transcendent is that which is beyond the categories of reason. The meta-empirical plane begins with itself; it is self-evident to thought and eternal, or, rather, timeless: It is what is always already there, and the meta-logical cannot be thought.

Intuition and the instant

"I can never determine the punctual point of the now." Jankelevitch names this punctual point the instant and says that it is "almost-nothing", given and taken, born and died in an instant. The instant is not nothing and yet is not something, not even the shortest possible duration; it is in between nonbeing and being, including and excluding both. It is a spark that alights as it goes out and that appears in disappearing. The almost-nothing has no tomorrow and no next moment that would make it empirically measurable. Intuition is the mode of consciousness of the instant. Since intuition corresponds to the instant without duration, it, too, is fleeting to the point that it is a thought that dies in arising: Without even flickering it alights and is extinguished. This spark leaves no time for its apprehension. In poetic terms, he explains that "the intuition is a becoming conscious that is loss of consciousness, an awakening that is blacking out, a flash tearing the night; consciousness awakens in the same instant that it blacks out, is resurrected in the instant it dies. The instant is dying rebirth, a death that is a life."

As a relative and finite being, the human has no privileged access to the meta-empirical except in the mystery of the instant. At this finest and most subtle of points there is a coincidence of the absolute and the relative, the infinite and the finite, the divine and the human. Jankelevitch assumes that intuition offers a glimpse of that which one cannot know. Intuition awakens us to the beyond in the form of inquietude, inspiration, desire, and eros. Jankelevitch characterizes the instant of intuition as an imperceptible wink of the absolute. The instant of intuition is at the limits of human strength. Jankelevitch recognizes the paradox of the limit: Human consciousness, on the one hand, is irreconcilable with the unconditional and the absolute, and yet, on the other hand, the human is most truly human in the instant of tangency with the principle of creation. The instant of the coincidence of opposites simultaneously demonstrates the self-transcendence of the individual and the establishment of finite human boundaries. It is a contact with the absolute that he describes as tangential, not nothing but on the threshold to nothing as on the threshold to being, the almost nothing.

He writes that "in the tangency of the instant a wholly drastic evidence is revealed: The tangency with the wholly other generates a certain pneumatic, invisible, and inexpressible transfiguration of being. After the tangential, the person is not the carrier of a secret message; he or she cannot discursively communicate what happened, for it is incommunicable and unverifiable." Rather, he or she is this message. In other words, the lived experience of the moment that escapes our understanding engenders in us a desire to understand what we cannot grasp but only intimate. Jankelevitch establishes a kind of immanent transcendence in which humans have something in them that is greater than themselves even if they do not know what it is. It is something in them but also something that is radically other than them, which remains irreducible to them . The creature, he asserts, is a mixture of supernatural operation and of constituted reality.

Morality in an instant

Jankelevitch rejects the idea that any formula or system can substitute for the moral responsibility demanded by the instant. In the instant, one is compelled to respond immediately but without assurance to the question, "What is the good?" This constant re-creation through action and choice in the instant is the basis of Jankelevitch’s morality. Morality does not consist of theoretical knowledge that allows one to know the good in order to subsequently do the good on the basis of that knowledge. Rather, one must continually choose the good in the rupture of the moment. Offering no laurels or plateaus, moral choice is ever upon us. The moral task is to be endlessly begun again in vigilance and responsibility. "As soon as one wants to seize virtue, it becomes a caricature. Virtue exists only in escaping us."

Whether in his analyses of charm, charity (charnel, love, or forgiveness). Each of these values, which are difficult to locate and thus identify, represents "an animating and mobilizing principle". They are never an idle thing, they are always an operation, a movement, a transitive relation . They do not have an essence, are not phenomena, or potential objects of cognition. They move us; they awaken, quicken, and enlighten concrete human life. In other words, they are almost nothing, but they are not nothing. They are in between being and nothingness. "Goodness is nothing if it is not charity . . . purity is impure if it is not purifying. And conversely, a goodness that improves nothing, a quiescent and idle goodness, is like a flame that does not shine, it does not illuminate anybody, it does not warm anything: this inactive goodness contradicts itself."


Vladimir Jankélévitch: The Time of Forgiveness By Aaron T. Looney - Chapter one - First PhilosophyPhilosophie première: introduction à une philosophie du "presque" by Vladimir Jankélévitch

Music and the Ineffable

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 2/15/2016


Bergson says that there is "something simple, infinitely simple, so extraordinarily simple that the philosopher has never succeeded in saying it. And that is why he has spoken his entire life", and through this meaning we can interpret Jankelevitch's philosophy as the “philosophy of the almost “. The "almost" forms a third category between being and nothingness, because that which is almost is almost-not. As Jankelevitch observes, it is almost something and almost nothing. Things that do not have an essence, are not phenomena, or potential objects of cognition. They move us; they awaken, quicken, and enlighten concrete human life. In other words, they are almost nothing, but they are not nothing. This “almost” in ineffable, it can’t be talked about, it is only revealed through the act of its creation. So it puts the primacy of consciousness into question because the "almost" cannot be thoroughly grasped and, consequently, is not conducive to the order, definitions, conceptual constructions, and categories of systems. Jankelevitch's philosophy is largely a negative philosophy, a philosophy that speaks of one thing only but in many ways and from various approaches because it is that which cannot be wholly said. Jankelevitch uses words to dance around a point without extension, an instant without interval, a tangency without touch. “There are not enough keys on the keyboard of language to be able to describe all the endlessly subtle nuances of thinking and passion. Therefore we have to speak beyond words and induce misty clouds, a twilight zone, a halo around those words where ambivalence simmers and the powers of desire grow.”

But what is this "Ineffable"? Given the lexical meaning of the word as "inexpressible, unspeakable, unutterable, transcendent." a question thus bluntly phrased cannot, of course, be answered. One such area, implied in the word "ineffable," concerns language: the ineffable is that which cannot be uttered, spoken, or even spoken of, because there are no words for it. Jankelevitch makes a distinction between what is untellable, unable to be spoken of because, as in the case of death, 'there is absolutely nothing to say', and the ineffable, which 'cannot be explained because there are infinite and interminable things to be said of it'. “From a negative that is unsayable to a positive that is ineffable is a distance as vast as that between blind shadow and transparent night, or between silence that is mute, throttled, and silence that is tacit, for music takes root in the distant rumor of pianissimo, the border of silence”. Music, he argues, embodies the qualities of the ineffable: it creates a kind of enchantment that bewilders the mind and puts it at a loss for words.  What we are discussing here, then, concerns the limits of language and that which lies beyond.

There is nothing wrong with referring at this point to the ineffable. The mistake is to describe it. Something can be very meaningful, even though its meaning eludes all attempts to put it into words. The smile on the face of the Mona Lisa; so is the evening sunlight on the hill behind my house. Wordsworth would describe such experiences as "intimations”. Anybody who goes through life with open mind and open heart will encounter these moments of revelation, moments that are saturated with meaning, but whose meaning cannot be put into words. These moments are precious to us. Although many philosophers were tempted to describe that moment, it cannot be described but only revealed.


Music is "ineffable", as Jankelevitch puts it, because  music does not express a specific content, it cannot be pinned down, yet it has the capacity to create limitless resonance in several domains because cannot be limited to a specific understanding. He states that “ Directly, in itself, music signifies nothing, unless by convention or association. Music means nothing and yet means everything. Music uses tones without inner meaning, that way staying perpetually new and accessible. One delves without end into such transparent depths and into this heartening plenitude of meanings: if this plenitude is infinitely intelligible, it is also infinitely obscure. The inexpressible-ineffable, being explicable into infinity, is the bearer of an ambiguous message. Music is inexpressive in that it implies innumerable possibilities of interpretation. In the hermeneutics of music, everything is possible, the most fabulous ideologies and unfathomable imputed meanings. Music has broad shoulders. One can make notes say what one will, grant them any power of analogy: they do not protest. In the very measure that one is inclined to attribute a metaphysical significance to musical discourse, music (which expresses no communicable sense) lends itself, complaisant and docile, to the most complex dialectical interpretations”.

This movement away from a specific meaning, places the emphasis on the human to create the meaning, rather than on disembodied meaning. In the intangible way music can be said to exist and not to exist, it inhabits an abstract and ephemeral realm. Each listener associates sounds with personal images and feelings, which can be discussed in ornate—yet ultimately obscure—detail. Music is a self-contained phenomenon, occurring apart from our attempts to decipher or characterize it. For this reason, Jankélévitch considers the music-language relationship a one-way affair: music can elicit endless talk, but talk gives nothing back to the music.

Jankélévitch says that music is made to be created through hearing which is creating meaning or playing, not to be talked about. Study led him to a profound gratitude best expressed in silence. He encouraged readers to enter the “mystery” for themselves. He states that “Music is not made to be spoken of, but for one to do: it is not made to be said, but to be played”. Music is an act of doing that demonstrates the difference between saying and making, "making is of an entirely different order from saying”. The fragility of its ontology is disarming, as is its temporal specificity and the physical spatiality of its occurrences. To relate this separation to music is to consider the vibrations of air that are the sounds of music as the scattered relics of past, embodied actions like the operation of instruments. Humans are responsible for continued creation, and this re-creation is open to human freedom. This opening or this openness itself marks, for Jankelevitch, the similarity between God and the human. Human beings tried to make sounds (music, conversation) to escape from their anxieties and the seeming silence of the universe and of eternity. As Pascal famously wrote, “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me”.

Metaphysics of music that claims to transmit messages from the other world retraces the incantatory action of enchantment upon the enchanted in the form of an illicit relocation of the here-and-now to the Beyond. But why should hearing, alone among all the senses, have the privilege of accessing the “thing in itself” for us, and thus destroy the limits of our finitude? What monopoly will enable certain perceptions, those we call auditory, those alone, to be uncapped into the realm of noumena? And why should our critical faculties, which pull our thinking back within the phenomenal world, be somehow suspended for the sake of pure sound sensations, sensations that are above all subject to the temporal?

The invisible harmony, which is obscure and can’t be defined, is more powerful than the visible. This makes music a kind of magic, as Plato says, “it penetrates to the center of the soul”, It addresses the passions not the mind. The man inhabited and possessed by this intruder, the man robbed of a self, is no longer himself: he has become nothing more than a vibrating string, a sounding pipe. Music does not allow the discursive, reciprocal communication of meaning but rather an immediate and ineffable communication; and this can only take place in the penumbra of melancholia, unilaterally, from hypnotist to the hypnotized.

Thus, when a human being reaches the age of reason, he struggles against this unseemly and illegal seizure of his person, not wanting to give in to enchantment, that is, to go where the songs are leading. The magical induction becomes a seduction and thus trickery, and an adult refuses to be captivated. Being bewitched is not worthy of a rational person. Just as Will insists that its decisions are made on concrete grounds. What is science for if not to sustain us against the intoxications of night and the temptations exercised by the enchantress appearance?

The mermaid sirens had only one goal: to reroute, mislead, and delay Odysseus. In other words, they derail the dialectic, the law of the itinerary that leads our mind toward duty and truth. That made Plato say that the power to drive onlookers mad should not be left to any random flutist; that the musician, like the orator, plays with dangerous forms of enchantment; and that the state should regulate the use of musical influences and contain them within a framework of sound medicine.

But music is not simply a captivating and fallacious ruse, subjugating without violence, capturing without captivating; it is also gentleness that makes gentle: in itself gentle, it makes those who hear it gentler since music pacifies the monsters of instinct in all of us and tames passion’s wild animals. The music of the Muses exists as a truth because it imposes the mathematical law of number— which is harmony—on the savage tumult of hunger, the law of measure—which is the beat—on the disorder of measureless chaos, and rhythm across time. Music is a kind of temporal metrics.


Music and the Ineffable by By Vladimir Jankelevich