The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Frege on latest campaign imbroglio
Tom Smith

I try not to focus too much on trumped-up campaign gaffes, but I did study demonstratives (i.e. the meaning of the words "this" and "that") in college and these remarks from Frege in "Thoughts" seem clearly relevant to the controversy over what Obama meant about the interplay between business success and public infrastructure 

[T]he mere wording, as it can be preserved in writing, is not the complete expression of the thought; a knowledge of certain conditions accompanying the utterance, which are used as means of expressing the thought, is needed for us to grasp the thought correctly.  Pointing the finger, hand gestures, glances, may belong here, too.


This is too precious. Matthew Yglesias invokes Frege to support Dem defense of O's embarrassing "you didn't build that" gaffe?! The "that", another Dem story goes, actually refers to "roads and bridges" not the small business somebody started. MY seems to be saying the hand gestures, etc., make it clear O is saying, I'm not sure what exactly, but not what Mitt says O is saying. Heelarious.

Republicans need to respond to this philosophical gambit quickly! Perhaps by invoking the later Wittgenstein -- did he not eschew Frege and those fusty logical positivists in Philosophical Investigations? Isn't what "that" refers to a matter of what people take you to be referring to when you use "that" in a sentence? Well, isn't it? Perhaps check out this excruciatingly dull volume.

I think true Democrats should all sit down at once and read the Groundwork of Arithmetic, learning German first if necessary. After that, the unabridged Principia Mathematica, even though sadly, it turned out to be wrong, or rather, a member of the set of all books that turn out to be wrong, which is OK, because it is not itself a book. Or, if that's not enough fun for you, try pulling out your teeth with a pliers.

Yeah, but I don't think MY's argument works -- many people, maybe most, take O to be saying what it sure seems to me he is saying, that people who are successful in business don't really deserve the credit for their success; that it instead belongs diffusely to the collective, especially as mediated through the state. (Hey, it's a point of view!) I don't think the hand gestures or anything else change that. Or maybe what he meant is really just what was in his brain at the, uh, time, I imagine something like, it's OK to resent the rich because your life sucks! Stick it to them! Vote for me! A rough translation, the discernment of hidden meanings being tricky stuff.

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I wonder what the Harvard Philosophy Department thinks of their alumnus quoting his course work in contexts like this?

Posted by: Michael Tinkler | Jul 19, 2012 1:19:44 PM