Logic Options, 3: Reading Dummett

I’ve just been putting together the third instalment of notes on Logical Options. In part these briefly comment on some things in the first half of Bell, DeVidi and Solomon’s Chapter 2, and review some key definitions (preparatory to doing the official hard-core semantics next time). But we are also reading Chapter 2 of Dummett’s Frege: Philosophy of Language.

Now, Dummett is often regarded as a particularly difficult-to-read writer. But not so. Or at least, certainly not in this chapter, which is extremely clearly written. He does have one really rather annoying general habit though that promotes the reputation for difficulty. He will cheerfully give us even a forty-page chapter (or longer) without a single section break. That can make everything seem unnecessarily daunting — and students can easily lose their bearings. So I thought that perhaps the most useful thing I could do is to suggest a way of chunking up the chapter we are reading into bite-sized sections (in the way that an interventionist editor might have insisted on Dummett’s doing in the first place). My suggested divisions start along the following lines:

  1. Introduction (the problem of multiple generality) [pp. 9 – 10]
  2. The fundamental insight — ‘sentences are constructed in a series of stages’ [pp. 10 – 12] In natural languages, the sequence of stages by which a sentence is constructed is not always transparently revealed by the linear order of the resulting sentence.
  3. The quantifier variable notation as a way of reflecting the fundamental insight [p. 12 – 15] ‘The point of the new notation was to enable the constructional history of any sentence to be determined unambiguously.’

And so on and so forth through the paper (for an expansion and continuation, see my notes).

Now, is doing this sort of thing ‘spoon-feeding’? I think not. Or at least, not in a bad way. We surely do want a near-beginner at logic to grasp Dummett’s ideas on the depth and significance of the quantifier/variable notation (after all, these aren’t just technical tricks which we are teaching). And anything that can be done to make the ideas more available by removing some merely surface difficulties in navigating through Dummett’s text is going to be worth doing.

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