Lauener Foundation for Analytical Philosophy


Thursday 27 May 2010
Bern, Switzerland

4th International Lauener Symposium on Analytical Philosophy
In Honour of Professor Sir Michael Dummett

Prof. Dr. Picardi Eva

(Università di Bologna)

The Significance of Frege’s Context Principle. Some Remarks

According to Michael Dummett the Context Principle constitutes the centre of Frege’s philosophy. However, many might endorse Dummett’s assessment, while placing a different construal on Frege’s contextual dictum. Is the Context Principle an ingredient of an internalist conception of justification and knowledge, stripped of all ontological and semantic implications? Or does the significance of the Context Principle reside in its enabling us to frame issues concerning e.g. higher order predication, existence, identity in semantically rewarding terms? In my paper I will try to shed light on the status of Frege’s Context Principle by offering an interpretation of what Wittgenstein might have found valuable in Frege’s contextual dictum at different stages of his philosophical development. Both in the Tractatus Logico-philosophicus and in the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein took the Context Principle as bearing on issues of meaning and understanding. It is unlikely, however, that the Context Principle could play the very same role within a truth-conditional setting and within a conception of meaning as use. It seems to me that in the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein comes closer to the spirit of Frege’s Context Principle than in the Tractatus. This conclusion, if tenable, by no means entails that the Context Principle has no role to play in the construction of a systematic semantics for a language. My surmise is that it is only by helping themselves to the conception of a linguistic practice put forward by the later Wittgenstein that contemporary interpreters manage to read into Frege’s masterpiece of 1884 a conception of objectivity unconcerned with issues of reference and ontology.

Prof. Dr. Picardi  Eva

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