A Problem about Reference

  • George Duke
Part of the History of Analytic Philosophy book series (History of Analytic Philosophy)


Dummett’s emphasis on the context principle transforms the problem of abstract entities into one regarding the legitimacy of ascribing abstract singular terms a sense or a reference or both. Whilst Dummett regards the attribution of sense to abstract singular terms as uncontroversial, his stance on whether such terms refer has shifted from one of affirmation to qualified rejection over the course of his work. It may be argued that this shift reflects an early lack of clarity regarding the complexity of Frege’s notion of Bedeutung. Although Dummett’s subsequent attempt at clarification fails to resolve all of the ambiguities implicit in Frege’s original notion of Bedeutung, they do make the different components of the notion more explicit and hence amenable to disambiguation. In the first section of this chapter I will revisit Frege’s seminal essay ‘Über Sinn und Bedeutung’ in an attempt to explore some of the complexities of Frege’s original notion of Bedeutung – complexities that continue to inform contemporary debates on the reference of abstract singular terms. I will then explore some ways in which these complexities condition and, at several crucial points, compromise, Dummett’s early theory of abstract objects.


Abstract Object Formal Language Semantic Theory Singular Term Ontological Commitment 
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Copyright information

© George Duke 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • George Duke
    • 1
  1. 1.Deakin UniversityAustralia

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