A Reading of Frege on Sense and Designation

  • R. M. Martin
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 38)


Following Frege in essentials, let us regard a proper name, which can be a single word or can consist of “several words or other signs,” as any expression that “has as its reference [designatum] a definite object (this word taken in the widest range), but not a concept or relation…”1 In addition to proper names and objects, Frege writes, “it is natural . . . to think of there being connected with a sign (name, combination of words, letter), besides that to which the sign refers, which may be called the reference [designatum] of the sign, also what I would like to call the sense of the sign, wherein the mode of presentation [of the designatum] is contained.” The difference in “cognitive value” between ‘a = a’ and ‘a = b’, for example, where ‘a’ and ‘b’ are proper names, “can arise only if the difference between the signs corresponds to a difference in the mode of presentation of that which is designated.” The mode of presentation here is purely linguistic, and does not consist of the pragmatic circumstances or context in which ‘a = a’ and ‘a = b’ are used. Thus ‘evening star’ and ‘morning star’ are distinct modes of presentation of one and the same object.


Planetary Orbit Subordinate Clause Elliptic Form Indirect Reference Evening Star 
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  1. 1.
    ‘Über Sinn und Bedeutung,’ translated in Philosophical Papers of Gottlob Frege, pp. 56–78.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Cf. Truth and Denotation, Chapters III and IV.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Recall Chapter VII above.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    But cf. Logic, Language, and Metaphysics. Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Pp. 54 ff. Cf. also Hilbert-Bernays, Grundlagen der Mathematik, vol. 2 (Springer Verlag: 1939), pp. 9–18.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See Truth and Denotation, p. 79.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    On virtual classes, see Belief, Existence, and Meaning, Chapter VI.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    This point was apparently misunderstood by Carnap. Cf. his Meaning and Necessity, p. 132. It is not that one and the same occurrence of an expression has a “double nominatum,” but that in the linguistic structure of the sentence one and the same expression must be both used and mentioned.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Cf., however, ‘On Frege’s Sinne’ (Chapter X of Belief, Existence, and Meaning), ‘On Frege and the Logic of “Thoughts”,’ (Chapter II of Logic, Language, and Metaphysics), and ‘Some Comments on Frege’s Pragmatic Concerns,’ in Studien zu Frege, edited by M. Schirn (Problemata, Fromann-Holzborg 44: 1976) Vol. III, pp. 139–145 and also in Peirce’s Logic of Relations and Other Studies. Google Scholar

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© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1979

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  • R. M. Martin

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