I’ve been wanting to think a bit about Frege on assertion (and the assertion sign, content stroke, judgement stroke, etc.). So after revisiting Frege himself — not at his best, here — it was natural to turn to Dummett’s great book. Except that his chapter on Assertion is a mere 69 pages of continuous prose, without any sectioning, and without any guide posts. Which really isn’t forgivable. Paragraph by paragraph Dummett can be extremely clear: but it is only too easy to lose the overall thread.
What we need — a modest proposal — is a third edition of Frege: Philosophy of Language where a sensitive and thoughtful editor divides the whole book into sections (and perhaps subsections too) on the model of Frege: Philosophy of Mathematics. After all, it isn’t that Dummett had a religious objection to chunking up his prose. Even better, the editor could also provide a detailed old-style analytic table of contents. Then the reader could much more easily find their way through the book, and be greatly helped to see the structure of those long chapters as they unfold. (Here’s a rough-and-ready chunking of Ch. 2 which I did as a student hand-out, which gestures to what would be possible.)
2 thoughts on “Dummett on Frege: a modest proposal”
Such ‘chunking’ would indeed be helpful, but much more may be needed. As one of Dummett’s former doctoral students wrote in his reminiscences, “Dummett cultivated to perfection a style of writing that was popular in British philosophy at the time, but which I found exasperating. The discussion would be conducted without an explicitly stated goal but only a spiral of approximations, objections, and modifications from which, after many iterations, a picture would emerge implicitly.”
I have a perspective on assertion as viewed from a functional interpretation of logic, but first I should give a hint what I mean by that. As it happens, I spoke to that recently in another discussion, so it will be easiest for me simply to recycle that:
• Boole and the Functional Interpretation of Logic