Frege and the Language of Reason

Sunday, November 7, 2021

What Is It

At the end of the 19th Century, the German philosopher Gottlob Frege invented a new language, based on mathematics, designed to help people reason more logically. His ideas have had a lasting impact on philosophy, math, computer science, and the study of artificial intelligence. And many of the questions that influenced his thinking are still hotly debated today: How much does language influence the thoughts you can think? Could there be a way of speaking that taps into deep philosophical insights about the nature of reality? What's the relationship between math and logic? Josh and Ray try to make sense of Frege with host emeritus John Perry, author of Frege's Detour: An Essay on Meaning, Reference, and Truth.

Comments (7)


Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Sunday, October 3, 2021 -- 1:19 AM

These are tough questions

These are tough questions that I hope John will reflect on in the show.

When I write, language greatly influences my thought. When I speak, that influence is reverted to subconscious channels for the most part as I don’t have a spell checker, references, and Fregean circumstance inherent in the writing process. I rarely read back my spoken word though I unlock emotion in myself and others at times in speech which gives me pause. Now, we too often talk into the void of switched-off video or with the confidence of our pandemic bubble mates. Frege’s detour is felt more in the written word than the spoken language? The medium of language is essential to this question.

As much as language influences thought, not so much emotion and experience. Languages change at different rates, especially once written. In Iceland, they write and read the exact language of their epic literature that predates Christianity (going back to the 10th century.) I doubt Icelandic thought has been frozen as long. However, there might be a consistency there that I am not appreciating.

Language doesn’t determine the circumstance of your birth, experiences, or necessarily your culture. Most importantly, it doesn’t specify the roles you take in your thought. I don’t strictly follow what John says when he talks about roles or characters or why they are necessary. I would follow more on that.

If fewer and fewer languages are spoken, thought is less and less unique? If you count computer languages and math proofs and papers, perhaps there is a change in medium and projection to social and work space rather than a loss in outright thought. Frege’s unique notation is a burst of creativity that has sparked tremendous innovation – tools for thinking and intuition.

Frege was limited in his thought by his culture and times and his focus on Math. Geometry was still the crucible of mathematical thinking. Only in his lifetime did the work of Rieman and Weierstrass make analytical what Descartes put to paper. For Frege, that geometrical concept of perfection and eternity held back his thought to the imperfect languages and reflexive reference that could have deepened his theory. At the same time, John’s take here is logically less powerful and not Mathematical at all.

It is good that this show follows Christopher Lehrich’s presentation of Occultism, in which he mentions the Adamic language. There is an occult idea that a language of creation exists, and divinity even, that has power and insight taken up in Western philosophy and religion. Frege took a giant leap that has put Russell, Wittgenstein, and Godel on a quest that didn’t quite get us to the same place. John makes good headway and adds honest insight into the precursors that perhaps held Frege back.

Logic is the foundation of math, along with observations of geometry. It was around Frege’s time that the topology was formulated. The power of Math to solve logical questions like Euler’s seven bridges problem hinted at a corollary power were language to be understood from a logical foundation. Frege’s notation is mind-warping, if not perfect. There are no ideal natural languages. Current models of language are far from complete even as much of the written corpus has been mined, and everyday speech is heavily surveilled – that was the purpose of Googles’ 411 services in the day and Snowden’s message in the now.

Not all numbers can be manipulated in logic and still retain meaning. Still, whole fields of math extended through sense have later turned out to have application. Where there is causality, there is a need for logic and number. If reality is not derivative of math and logic, causality is the lynchpin between logic and math.

I read Frege’s Detour and am trying to answer the show questions in a quick hitter that is instead turning into a novel… I hope the show goes to some of these places. I heart this book.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, October 3, 2021 -- 2:33 PM

I am in agreement with

I am in agreement with limitations based on culture, science and time. Our overall advancement can hardly surpass these circumstances. Some thinkers have surmounted such limitations, but, mostly, giants have had to stand on shoulders. Having read about Frege, i may now read him. Don't think it will change my view much. But, I will try to jooms it---jump out of my space.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, October 16, 2021 -- 3:22 PM

And, (I got interrupted), the

And, (I got interrupted), the trouble with philosophy is philosophers. It is intractable really. As much as truth. Surely equal to ethics, morality and the rest of those ideals we can never make our minds up about. I mean, WE posited the concepts, tried to codify reasonings. But, then, could not settle on codification(s). If you can't always get what you want, and, don't always want what you get, is there any point in trying? Must we 'go through the motions'? 'Keep up appearances'? I assert that is a ruse.
A foundation for that most human of disservice, lies.. So we stumble and fumble;...wonder why things just don't turn out right. The secret? We set ourselves to failure. And deny that, to hell and back... What a laugh.

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Sunday, October 17, 2021 -- 11:40 AM

Harold,

Harold,

Prosperity does not allow one to cheat on their sexual partner no matter how successful Billy Joel may be in his life. The relative wealth of our generation does not validate our choices or moral judgments.

Are philosophers the problem? John Perry here offers a way to fix Russell’s barber challenge, most philosophers think around Frege’s ideas and don’t dismiss them. Frege was creative and way ahead of his time. That he didn’t accomplish his bigger goals doesn’t make his thought worthless.

The project is to add logical rigor to math and language, decode our thought, and build artificial intelligence… drink beer! (or bow down to the one you serve!) No one here is setting themselves to fail.

I’m not sure if you weren’t intending on posting this to Neil’s Religion post? This is off-topic and not relevant here. Am I wrong? It looks like you were rushed/interrupted.

Frege was a purported anti-semite. Billy Joel’s dad was a holocaust survivor. Is that where you are going here?

In either case, Frege is not a subject for laughter.

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Tuesday, October 19, 2021 -- 9:23 AM

This was in response to a

This was in response to a previous post - that made the point that prosperity and self-control allow greater leeway for actions and morality - using Billy Joel lyrics - now deleted above. Adding this comment for the solitary reader who may wonder where my marbles are. I myself don't know most of the time.

The second post is still outstanding and I also address that here.

Joy. Carry on.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, October 18, 2021 -- 11:04 AM

You are right. I only know of

You are right. I only know of Frege what I have seen written by others, mostly good. For a majority, philosophers probably are doing the best they can with what they have and know. I willingly grant that much. There are other ideas, however, which seem unfounded, or at best, poorly constructed. I have spouted off on some those---to the displeasure of many. The treatments of so-called microaggression; envy as virtue; and that outworn adjective, awesome and its' noun, awesomeness.
These posts left me disappointed. Well. You can't please everyone. Thanks for setting me straight on philosophy as a discipline. My vision of things goes sometimes, crosseyed. Through this, I think I confirmed some things I have suspected about the way(s) PT presents topics and why it is those are re-addressed. It is a logical sort of formula---appears to meet needs:, if and only if, newer theses on older takes conform with facts which have not changed. The panpsychism surge has not impressed this old dog.

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Monday, October 18, 2021 -- 1:40 PM

Fair enough. I don't read

Fair enough. I don't read the original works if there is a book on a philosopher.

But I did read Chapter 3 and 4 from John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty" for Rob Reich's show on Philanthropy on Ken's recommendation to understand Rob's and Mill's experiments in living idea. That is some of the most clear and reaffirming philosophy ever written.

Frege is a translation nightmare. Real differences in meaning depending on how you take it. John got into that a bit.

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