Frege and Analytical Philosophy
- Philosophical and Mathematical Correspondence by Gottlob Frege, translated by Hans Kaal, edited by Brian McGuinness
Blackwell, 214 pp, £15.00, March 1980, ISBN 0 631 19620 X
- Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege edited by Peter Geach and Max Black
Blackwell, 228 pp, £12.00, July 1980, ISBN 0 631 12901 4
- Frege’s Theory of Judgement by David Bell
Oxford, 163 pp, £8.50, July 1979, ISBN 0 19 827423 8
- Gottlob Frege by Hans Sluga
Routledge, 203 pp, £12.95, July 1980, ISBN 0 7100 0474 5
In the course of 1936, Professor Heinrich Scholz of Münster completed the collection of Frege’s unpublished writings, of which he had charge, by obtaining from those, such as Russell and Husserl, whose letters to Frege were included in the collection, the letters Frege had written to them. On 25 March 1945 the US Air Force bombed Münster. I believe that the object was to destroy an important telephone exchange: a large part of the town was destroyed, but the telephone exchange was left intact. Among the things destroyed were all Frege’s manuscripts and the original letters to and from him; there survived typescripts of some of the papers and of part of the correspondence. Even these took a very long time to appear in print: the papers only in 1969, the correspondence not until 1976. An English translation of the former was brought out by Blackwell last year, a decade after the German version. Now we have the correspondence in English, only four years after the German volume, but 44 years after the collection was originally made.
McGuinness has omitted from the English version all those frustrating pages which, in the German one, recorded the dates of letters now lost, together with a certain number of letters with no philosophical or mathematical content. The volume contains much of interest – above all, the famous correspondence between Russell and Frege occasioned by Russell’s discovery of his contradiction, derivable in Frege’s formal system. It is fascinating to watch the emergence, in the course of this long exchange (ten letters from Russell, nine from Frege), of various of Russell’s leading Ideas: fascinating, too, to see the staunchness with which Frege, after the initial shock, defended the fundamental principles of his logic. As is well-known, Russell’s first letter arrived when the second volume of Frege’s Grundgesetze was in press, and necessitated a hasty patching-up of the formal system there used. Even before he has discovered a way of doing this, Frege is writing to Russell in tones of great assurance, rejecting various proposals by Russell to meet the situation. By Frege’s sixth letter, he has discovered the modification to his Axiom V by which, in the Appendix which he added to the Grundgesetze, he hoped, in vain as it was to prove, to avoid contradiction; Russell replies that Frege’s solution is probably correct, though he finds it hard to accept, but by that time he has become too engaged in other lines of thought to give Frege’s proposal the attention he promises. In 1906, Frege was to lose confidence in his own attempted solution, and, therewith, in his principal life’s work, the provision of purely logical foundations for arithmetic and analysts. Russell’s letter of June 1902 had been indeed the turning-point of his career: at once the first tribute from a wholehearted admirer and the announcement of the failure of the task he had set himself to achieve. But, though there is much else in this volume of considerable interest, it is a volume primarily for the specialist; Frege’s published and posthumously published writings are, naturally, of more importance than his correspondence. The translation is, for the most part, accurate and fluent, though Professor Kaal ought to become aware of the difference between ‘forgo’ and ‘forego’; but I deprecate strongly the translation of Satz by ‘proposition’. Frege was obsessively careful to distinguish between a form of words and what it expresses – for instance, taking the trouble, for that purpose, to use both the words Grundsatz and Axiom. A Satz is, for him, always a string of words, and therefore, in his writings, should always be rendered ‘sentence’: ‘proposition’ restores the ambiguity he was at such pains to avoid. Russell’s ambiguous use of Satz does not provide a sufficient reason for this choice; an editorial footnote would have dealt with the difficulty. I think that Kaal has been kind to Husserl in translating the word Sonderling, in the latter’s ludicrously dismissive comment on Frege of 1936, as ‘outsider’: ‘crank’ would surely be more accurate. The volume reproduces the numbering of the letters from the German edition, as well as giving its own; but unfortunately most commentators have cited the German volume by page number, and it will cause great inconvenience to those who have only the English edition that it fails to give the pagination of the German one.
When Geach and Black’s volume of translations first came out in 1952, there existed hardly anything of Frege’s in English save his Foundations of Arithmetic. Moreover, even for readers of German, his other books were almost inaccessible, and his articles available only in ancient German learned journals. The volume, with its selection of articles and excerpts from the other books, therefore did an immense service by making a representative sample of Frege’s writings available to the philosophical public. The situation now is utterly different. The whole of Begriffsschrift is readily accessible, in German and English: the Grundgesetze is in print in German, and there is an English translation of Part I and of the Appendix; almost all the shorter writings are contained in the volume Kleine Schriften edited by Angelelli, and the rest in an earlier volume edited by him: of most of these, English translations have appeared in various places; and the unpublished writings and correspondence are available in German and English. The point of such a volume as that of Geach and Black must now, therefore, be altogether different: it is no longer adequate for the purposes of a serious scholar, even if not a specialist, but serves only as a useful collection of snippets for undergraduates. The contents have remained unaltered, save for the excision of the article on ‘Negation’, on the ground that this is now contained in another volume, Logical Investigations, translated by Geach and Stoothoff. Why, then, not also excise the selection from Begriffsschrift, on the ground that the whole work is translated in a volume by Bynum, or the Appendix to the Grundgesetze and the excerpts from Volume I of that work, on the ground that they are available in Furth’s translation? I am afraid that the answer is that the translations by Bynum and Furth are not published by Blackwell. The omission of ‘Negation’ leaves the volume a no longer representative sample: there is now nothing from after 1904. But the space saved has not been used to repair any of the earlier omissions – for example, by printing the whole of Frege’s review of Husserl instead of extracts from it; nothing has been added save the index. I suppose that the reply would be that the addition of anything more would have pushed the price up. If the purpose is to serve the needs of the undergraduate, however, he would have been catered for better by the inclusion of ‘Thoughts’ than by being pushed into buying another volume or being deprived altogether of the late works. The needs of others are not well served by this volume. What is now needed is, first, a volume of English translations of Frege’s articles which, if not quite as comprehensive as Kleine Schriften, at least contains everything of major importance, and, secondly, a full translation of Part 111(1) (the prose section) of the Grundgesetze. Geach and Black could have provided us with either, or with both: perhaps they still will.
The translation remains the same, save for the rendering of certain of Frege’s technical terms. Of these changes, by far the most important is the substitution of ‘meaning’ for ‘reference’ as the translation of Bedeutung. It is, to my mind, a great pity that this rendering was not adopted in the original edition. Since then, largely through the influence of the Geach/Black translation, the word ‘reference’ has become standard, in English language philosophical writing that discusses or alludes to Frege, and cannot now be dislodged in deference to a change of mind 28 years later, at least without rendering a great deal of commentary unintelligible.
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
Vol. 2 No. 22 · 20 November 1980
SIR: In his review of the third edition of our Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege (LRB, 18 September), Michael Dummett states: ‘The translation remains the same, save for the rendering of certain of Frege’s technical terms.’ Collation of the second and third editions would have shown very quickly that many small but significant changes were made, for the sake of clarity and accuracy, apart from the new renderings of Frege’s terminology.
A few years ago a committee sat in Oxford to consider the way of rendering Frege’s terminology and to draw up a glossary. We were glad to have Dummett on this committee, and its recommendations mainly had his personal approval: in particular, he approved rendering the verb bedeuten and its derivatives by the verb ‘to mean’ and its derivatives. These renderings of terms were used, as Dummett fails to mention, in the translation of Frege’s Nachlass by my Leeds colleagues White and Long; it was natural that Black and I should follow suit when the second edition of our volume was exhausted.
When Black and I originally chose our renderings for bedeuten and its derivatives, which are quite untechnical in their ordinary German uses, we aimed at giving correspondingly untechnical English renderings. We could not then foresee that during the next quarter-century ‘reference’ would become widely used in philosophy and linguistic theory as a key word in doctrines widely different from Frege’s. Since this did happen, we held that continued use of ‘reference’ to render Frege’s Bedeutung was inexcusably misleading, and fell into line with the White-Long translation. A misleading rendering should not be perpetuated because of current philosophical fashion.
Dummett suggests that when reconsidering which works of Frege ought to go in our selection, Max Black and I were moved by thoughts of whether, when a given work has been translated elsewhere, this was in a volume published by Blackwells or by some other publisher. This suggestion is of course quite unfounded.
University of Leeds
SIR: Professor Dummett pointed out the need for a volume of English translations of Frege’s articles which ‘if not quite as comprehensive as Kleine Schriften, at least contains everything of major importance’. He and your readers may like to know that we have commissioned Brian McGuinness to edit a translation of Angellelli’s edition of Kleine Schriften which we will publish in 1982.
Managing Director, Basil Blackwell, Oxford
Michael Dummett writes: In the prefatory note to the third edition of their translations from Frege, Professors Geach and Black say that, in addition to their new renderings of the quasi-technical terms, they have made ‘a few other changes’. In Professor Geach’s letter of complaint, these have now become ‘many small but significant changes’. I regret that, in reviewing the volume, I overlooked the remark in the note. I compared a few sample pages with the second edition, and found no changes other than those recorded in the glossary; since reading Professor Geach’s letter, I have compared another few sample pages, and have found just one stylistic change, small indeed, an improvement probably, but hardly very significant. Probably the estimate of their number in the prefatory note was more accurate. Possibly Professor Geach’s annoyance at my oversight might have been mitigated had he recalled that, for a review of the first edition, I checked the whole translation, sentence by sentence, against the German originals, a labour which resulted in many substantial improvements, there acknowledged, in the second edition. Professor Geach read my review carelessly if he took me as alluding to uses of the word ‘reference’ in non-Fregean senses. Rather, I remarked that as the result of Geach and Black’s adoption of it as their rendering of Frege’s term Bedeutung in the first edition of their volume, it has, for decades, been the standard equivalent of that term in English-language discussions of Frege. I personally regret the choice they made, and, in an encyclopedia article, used ‘meaning’ instead: but I won no converts to this emendation, and concluded that ‘reference’ could no longer be dislodged. As Professor Geach observes, I concurred in the use of ‘meaning’ for the translation of Frege’s posthumous papers, regarding it as the word that ought to have been used from the outset. That did not commit me to believing it right to make the same replacement in the celebrated Geach/Black volume, which, in present circumstances, represents a popular selection rather than a scholarly edition, and, in its original version, was the source of the now standard rendering ‘reference’. There is, in this third edition, no mention of this fact, only a disparaging comment on the use of ‘reference’ to translate Bedeutung. Students who know the translation only from the new edition may well be puzzled by the occurrence of the word ‘reference’ in the literature, and will certainly be unable to guess its origin. It is excellent news that Blackwell intends to issue a translation of the Kleine Schriften. I am sorry that Professor Geach takes offence at the suggestion that he was influenced by his publisher, but am at a loss to know what other relevant differences he saw between the Geach/Stoothoff volume, on the one hand, and those of Bynum and Furth, on the other.
Vol. 2 No. 23 · 4 December 1980
SIR: A very brief note will suffice on Professor Dummett’s further remarks on the Geach-Black volume of selections from Frege (Letters, 20 November). It would be mere quibbling to dispute whether there are few or many changes of renderings in the new edition apart from those dictated by the new glossary. A quick look at ‘On Concept and Object’ would show that there are a dozen there, and the changes are significant: we have deliberately avoided ‘assert, assertion’ for aussagen, Aussage to avoid confusion with behaupten, Behauptung – it’s a pity Dummett failed to notice this; I do not see what his past services to the translation have to do with his present carelessness – they are in any case still acknowledged in this third edition.
My first letter explained why Black and I originally chose our renderings of bedeuten. Bedeutung and why we have now dropped these renderings. A selection’s being ‘popular’, as I hope ours may continue to be, is no reason why it should perpetuate renderings that have by now acquired misleading suggestions. The renderings we now adopt have of course been familiar to generations of young students from John Austin’s use of them in his translation of the Grundlagen, and they will now no longer be puzzled unnecessarily by a switch to other renderings in our selection.
University of Leeds
Vol. 2 No. 24 · 18 December 1980
SIR: No doubt it was careless of me to rely on the result of a spot check to conclude that there were no changes in the translation other than those recorded in the glossary; it was certainly careless to have overlooked the Prefatory Note: but it ill-becomes Professor Geach (Letters, 4 December) to make abusive remarks about carelessness when the first edition contained frequent omissions of phrases and of whole sentences, which might have gone uncorrected for much longer but for the labour undertaken by me of checking every line, and which, in my original review, I recorded, but did not castigate.
Professor Geach knows perfectly well that, in the Grundlagen, Frege was not yet using the word Bedeutung in the quasi-technical sense which prompted the original rendering of it as ‘reference’ in the Geach/Black volume: his mention of Austin’s translation is therefore quite irrelevant. I do not believe that the word ‘reference’ has been used in such divergent senses as to make it more misleading now as a rendering of Frege’s term than it was when the translation was first published: rather, it is now much less misleading, having become standard in discussions of Frege in English. I happen to think both that it would have been better to use ‘meaning’ in the first place, as I said in my review, and that it is now better to go on using ‘reference’. These are matters of opinion: what is hardly a matter of opinion is that it was unfair to leave readers in ignorance that previous editions used the rendering ‘reference’, so giving it general currency.
New College, Oxford
Vol. 3 No. 3 · 19 February 1981
SIR: Professor Dummett (Letters, 18 December 1980) is not of opinion that uses of the term ‘reference’ divergent from Frege’s use of Bedeutung have by now made continued use of that rendering misleading. It is well-known that such uses of ‘referrence’ are widely prevalent in contemporary philosophy of language. Many contemporary writers practise the dubious art of puzzling out the way a sentence works as follows: pick out what your intuition tells you are referring expressions, and then say what they refer to or whether there is ‘referential failure’. Members of Dummett’s own Philosophy Sub-Faculty have been prominent in spreading abroad this sort of view, ever since Strawson published the article ‘On Referring’ in 1950; logic for PPE Prelims at Oxford is currently taught from a textbook (Wilfrid Hodges, Logic) that continually talks of ‘referring expressions’ and ‘referential failure’. One aim of the new translations of Frege is to dissociate Frege, in the minds of young students, from this kind of theorising, to which my own opposition has been a matter of public record for two decades. A change of rendering was of course projected at the committee meeting on Frege translation policy of years ago, on which Dummett and I both sat; the intention could not be carried out till the second edition of the Geach-Black book was exhausted.
Department of Philosophy, University of Leeeds