Frege`s Puzzle and the Sense-Reference Distinction

Frege`sPuzzle and the Sense-Reference Distinction

TheFrege’s puzzle about identity is a puzzle developed by GottlobFrege about proper names and semantics. The puzzle was developed toexplain the concept of identity where one object can have differentidentities in reference. According to Frege’s puzzle, the identityof an item can be described with names that are different, butrefereeing to the same object. The discussion about the Frege’spuzzle will explain the concept and the problem of substitutivity.The discussion will seek to explore how sense/reference distinctionas presented by Frege solved the problems as well as an objection tothe distinction.

Asignificant part of Frege’s puzzle was the description of theidentity of the planet Venus. The planet is the same despite havingreference names that are different. The Venus is known to be twodifferent stars the morning star and the evening star. While the twonames are different, and seem to be opposite of each other, they areused to refer to the same planet (Bernecker 1). The statements thatFrege introduces to describe this puzzle is the following

Thefirst statement A is Hesperus is Hesperus.

Thesecond statement B is Hesperus is Phosphorus

Thefirst statement describes the planet Venus as the evening star. Thesecond statement describes the same planet, Venus as the morningstar. According to Frege, the statements would also be represented as(Bernecker 1)

Venus= Evening Star

Venus= Morning Star

Accordingto Frege, this case shows two descriptions of the same thing. Thepuzzle is that the two different descriptions give identitystatements are represented as

MorningStar = Evening Star, and Evening Star = Morning Star.

Inthe statement above, the two statements should be taken as synonymouswith each other (Bernecker 1). In presenting these statements, it isworth noting that Venus is regarded to be a star, which is not a factbecause it is a planet. The morning star name comes from theappearance of Venus in the sky in the morning dawn, while the eveningstar comes from the appearance of the planet in the evening(Bernecker 1). However, the two sentences present a fundamentalproblem with the Frege’s puzzle.

Inpresenting the puzzle, Frege also conveys a problem ofsubstitutivity. In the two statements above, the problem arises wherethey should be synonymous but are not. This is what Frege calls thecognitive value. The two statements have the same meaning, but theyare considered to differ in their meaning by their cognitive value.The first statement A is a truth of logic while the second statementB, is an empirical truth or the priori (Bernecker, Problems withFregeanism 2). However, the problem arises because the two statementsare considered to only have reference and no meaning beyond that.However, this problem seems to be in the fact that the two statementsshould mean the same (Bernecker, Problems with Fregeanism 2). This isthe problem is further presented in the second problem of the Frege’spuzzle.

Theproblem of substitutivity exists where the two names can besubstituted without a change in the true value. In this case, if thefirst name is given a description, the second should carry themeaning of the description as well. For instance, if one says“Hesperus is bright, and then it should be also true to say that“Phosphorus is bright.”This can be termed as the problem ofsubstituting one description identity something with another, whilerefereeing to the same subject (Mendelsohn 92). The substitution ofthe names gives a problem of forming invalid statements. This can bedescribed in the example below

a) Johnbelieves Phosphorus shines in the morning

b) Phosphorus=Hesperus

c) Johnbelieves that Hesperus shines in the morning

Thethree statements above illustrate how the problem of substitutivityexists. This is because the first statement is valid and refers toVenus as the morning star. In this case, John believes that it shinesin the morning, and is a valid argument (Bernecker 1). This argumentis also factual because it can be verified by observers. The secondstatement illustrates the Frege’s puzzle where the two names carrythe same cognitive value. However, the third statement is invalid.The statement is invalid because it refers to the “Evening Star”as the “Morning Star” for it to shine in the morning. Thereference of “Evening Star” as the “Morning Star” arises fromthe second statement that equates phosphorus and Hesperus, therebygiving them the same cognitive value.

Atthe same time, it is good to note that the two names refer to thesame planet, despite the last statement being invalid. If the wordVenus is used, the statement would get back its meaning. This showsthat the meanings attached to names usually tend to go beyond thereference (Mendelsohn 54). As a result, the Frege’s puzzle aboutidentity and substitutivity attracts the fundamental problem.

Tosolve the puzzle and the substitutivity problems, Frege proposed thesense/reference distinction. The solution by Frege is presented intwo ways the sense and the reference aspects. The first solution asproposed by Frege is to postulate another level of meaning of thenames beside the reference function. Frege referred this second levelof meaning as the sense. Sense in this case is the rules for findingthe reference (Bernecker, Fregean Senses 1). According to Frege, thesense is the difference in the way an object can be presented to us,or the mode that the object is presented to us. Applying thissolution to the case above would give `Phosphorus` and `Hesperus`difference in the sense, as they are considered to present the planetVenus in different ways. This is in addition to the two names havingthe same reference.

Thesecond solution proposed by Frege is to appeal to the distinctionbetween reference and the sense. In taking this solution, Frege holdsthat the reference of a name shifts to its ordinary sense if theappropriate name occurs in the right context of the right subject andin the right attitude report (Mendelsohn 147). Therefore,`Phosphorus`, in the first sentence a, denotes the planet Venus andrepresents the reference. However, the same name denotes its ordinarysense in an attitude report, when it appears in the third sentence c.The Application of this solution in the case above would solve theproblem.

However,Frege’s sense-reference distinction has been objected to. One ofthe objections is the semantic-pragmatic distinction presented byBertrand Russell. Russell objects to Frege in two main ways. First,he objects to Frege by stating that sense is purely semantic.Semantics in this case deal with non-contextual meanings of names orsentences (Bernecker, Pragmatics 1). Secondly, Russell objects toFrege’s combination of sense and reference. In these objections,Russell primarily deals with propositions and explains that they arenot subject to any linguistic abstracts. These objections thereforeshow that Russell believed that most English names carry highermeanings that are beyond their reference (Mendelsohn 57). Therefore,such names cannot be used for reference only or their meanings besubstituted without applying the appropriate pragmatic propositions.


Bernecker,Sven. Phil1:Introduction to Philosophy Lecture 2.3, Frege on Sense andReference,University of California, Irvine, 2015, Print

Bernecker,Sven, Fregean Senses. Phil1: Introduction to Philosophy Lecture 2.4,University of California, Irvine, 2015, Print

Bernecker,Sven, Problems with Fregeanism. Phil1:Introduction to Philosophy Lecture 2.5,University of California, Irvine, 2015, Print

Bernecker,Sven, Pragmatics. Phil1: Introduction to Philosophy Lecture 2.6, Universityof California, Irvine, 2015, Print

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