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PHIL 415 - Lecture: Frege and Trivial Identities

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McGill University
PHIL 415
Michael Hallett

Trivial Identities ex. Tully = Tully Cicero = Cicero Hesperus = Hesperus Cassius Clay = Cassius Clay However: Cicero = Tully has content. In Sense and Reference, Frege argues that identity is a relation between the signs of objects. This is because if “a = b” is only about the objects, then that means it has no new information than “a = a,” which as a tautology is a trivial identity. However, “a = b” is not a trivial identity. Hence, “a = b” is not simply about the objects. Thus, in saying “Cicero = Tully” it must be that it's something about the names which makes it different from “Tully = Tully.” Another problem: If the sole linguistic function of names is to pick out the thing that they name (Mill's Thesis) then there should be no essential cognitive difference between a = b and a = a, and we're back with something like the worry we had before. The latter, as we've said, is trivial, and expresses no real knowledge, whereas the former can be used to express something important. Again, one always know the truth of a = a. However, we do not necessarily know that a = b. Frege's answer: all naming expressions have what he calls a sense as well as a reference. This is against Mill's Thesis, which argued that the sole
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