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Journal of the History of Philosophy 38.4 (2000) 549-581
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Judgment and Truth in Frege1
In 1985-6, Thomas Ricketts published a trilogy of papers developing a powerful interpretation of Frege's conception of judgment, truth and logic.2 Recently, Ricketts has returned to these issues.3 While the basic outlines of his interpretation remain the same, he has made one important modification in his reading, holding that for Frege judgment is essentially an act of knowledge-acquisition. This effectively rules out the possibility of an incorrect judgment.4 This step will strike many readers of Frege as extreme. In this paper, I argue that Ricketts has gone too far here. I explore the textual reasons that Ricketts gives for his new view and argue that they are inadequate. I also consider the internal pressures in his interpretation which lead him to this change, and show that they can be met without such extreme measures. The force of the argument is then to defend Ricketts' earlier view against his own later modification of it.
This paper is more than a critical discussion of a small curlicue in one author's interpretation of Frege, however. Frege's views on truth and judgment are a central source of contemporary deflationism about truth, and his arguments can help to illuminate the motivations for, and commitments involved [End Page 549] in, deflationary views. Ricketts' writings have shed considerable light on these arguments. Yet in extending his interpretation to link judgment tightly to knowledge, Ricketts has misinterpreted two key terms employed by Frege, "anerkennen" ("to recognize") and "fürwahrhalten" ("to hold-true"). In order to demonstrate this, I consider the use of these terms in earlier German philosophy, specifically in the writings of Kant (for "fürwahrhalten") and Brentano (for "anerkennen"), and compare this to Frege's own usage. This examination helps to place Frege's own account of judgment and truth in historical context, illuminates the development of his views, and clarifies the precise content of those views.
My argument also links Frege's thought to contemporary debates in a number of ways. I discuss in detail his defense of the view that truth, unlike beauty, is independent of our recognition of it. That Frege was able to make such an argument while maintaining that truth is not a property suggests the important possibility that deflationism about truth can be compatible with a robust sense of the objectivity of truth.5 Furthermore, I argue that Ricketts' interpretation responds to a genuine tension in Frege's account, a tension concerning the general problem of the relationship between the thoughts which are the contents of our acts of judgment and the world to which those acts are held responsible by the norm of truth. However, Ricketts' account mislocates this tension in Frege's understanding of judgment as an act, which while aiming at truth can fail of its aim. I claim, following Evans and McDowell, that the source of the tension lies rather in Frege's conception of the thoughts themselves which figure as contents of judgment, particularly in his acceptance of sense without meaning, thoughts without truth-value. Here again my discussion of Frege's thought makes contact with contemporary debates.
The study of Frege has much to teach us about judgment and truth; and Ricketts has much to teach us about Frege. But Ricketts' reading of Frege as holding that judgment implies truth not only doesn't fit the text, it also makes his view so alien and strange as to be likely to lead contemporary philosophers to ignore either Ricketts, or Frege, or both, on this issue; and that would be a shame. It is for this reason that I have made the effort to defend Ricketts circa 1986 against his more recent self. [End Page 550]
1. Ricketts' Basic Interpretation of Frege
I begin with a brief outline of Ricketts' earlier interpretation, focusing on the presentation in his "Objectivity and Objecthood"(1986), which develops the theme of the nature of judgment at greatest length...