sábado, 3 de janeiro de 2015




I am a CNPq researcher since 1992. I am philosophy professor at the UFRN (Brazil). After a medical doctor study, I made my M.S. in philosophy at the IFCS (Rio de Janeiro, 1982), followed by a Ph.D. at the university of Konstanz (1990). I also made Sabbatical stages of one year as a visiting scholar in the Hochschule für Philosophie, München (1995), University of California at Berkeley (1999), University of Oxford (2004) and university of Konstanz (2009-10).
Areas of interest: all the central questions of philosophy.

Main published work: The Philosophical Inquiry (UPA: Langham, 2002), "Free Will and the Soft Constraints of Reason" (Ratio 2006), "The Sceptical Deal with our Concept of External Reality" (Abstracta 2009), "A Perspectival Definition of Knowledge" (Ratio 2010) and "A Metadescriptivist Theory of Proper Names" (Ratio 2011); a corrected version of the ideas of the last paper is here presented under the title "Outline of a Theory of Proper Names". The best selection of papers in Portuguese is Paisagens Conceituais: Ensaios Filosóficos (Rio de Janeiro: Tempo Brasileiro, 2011).

 More developed versions of the papers listed above, among others, were recently published in the book called Lines of Thought: Rethinking Philosophical Assumptions (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014). Personally, I find this book exceptional in its methodology and relevance. But I have found my attempts to convince others of the obvious truth of some ideas opposed to the mainstream philosophy disappointing.

My present research is an attempt to reestablish the internalist and cognitivist-descriptivist tradition concerning theories of reference. I believe that this is possible if we develop these theories in a sufficiently sophisticated form, able to answer the important challenges presented mainly by Kripke, Putnam and Kaplan. Moreover, I believe that the contemporary philosophy of language has challenged our commonsensical intuitions too much. This is why I would like to reestablish some old plausibilities and show how they can be linked together in a more sistematic way.

sábado, 20 de dezembro de 2014





Lines of Thought: Rethinking Philosophical Assumptions is a highly innovative and powerfully argued book. According to the author, noted Brazilian philosopher Claudio Costa, many philosophical ideas that today are widely seen as old-fashioned suggests replacing the causal-historical view of proper names with a much more sophisticated form of descriptive-internalist theory able to meet Kripke’s challenges. In epistemology, he argues convincingly that we should return to the old traditional tripartite definition of knowledge, reformulated in a much more complex form in which Gettier’s problem disappear. The correct response to skepticism about the external world should not be to adopt new and more fanciful views, but rather to carefully analyze the different kinds of reality attributions implied by the argument and responsible for its equivocal character. In metaphysics, he argues for a more complex reformulation of the traditional compatibilist approach of free will, relating it intrinsically with the causal theory of action and making it powerful enough to assimilate the best elements of hierarchical views. Finally, according to the author, contemporary analytic philosophy suffers from a lack of comprehensiveness. In response to this, the papers in this collection aim to restore something of the broader perspective, salvaging isolated insights by integrating them into more comprehensive views. The text is written in a clear and accessible style that meets the needs of not only professional philosophers, but also of contemporary students and laypersons.

This is an impressive contribution to answering several important questions of analytic philosophy. Few philosophers have written on such difficult questions with comparable lucidity and originality.
Guido Antônio de Almeida - Emeritus professor of philosophy - Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

Claudio Costa's collection of philosophical essays covers many of the central problems of philosophy - the nature of philosophy and of knowledge, how names refers to individuals, frewill and consciousness. He reminds us of some of the major insights on these issues from the early years of 'linguistic philosophy' and develops important objections to some more recent views about them".
Richard Swinburne - Emeritus Noloth professor of philosophy - Oxford University

(from the back-cover)



"For me, contemporary analytic philosophy suffers from a lack of comprehensiveness due to the growing influence of related particular sciences, and this ‘scientism’ tends to transform philosophy into a handmaiden of science. Partially because of this, I defend the view that many philosophical ideas that today are widely considered old-fashioned and outdated should not be abandoned, but instead should be extensively reworked and reformulated.
An example is my sketch of a totally general correspondence theory of truth (published as the first chapter of the book Paisagens Conceituais). In my view the process by which we find correspondence usually incorporates coherence as an important element.
Usually we have a hypothesis p and a reverse chain of reasons that begins in criterial evidences and ends in q, and if q equals p, we have correspondence, otherwise not.
Even if the chain of reasons gains its ultimate certainty from observations, it is the element of coherence that sustains this certainty through the whole chain of reasoning.
 So understood, the view applies also to the formal sciences. For example: I have the hypothesis that the sum of the angles of a triangle is 180 degrees, this is p. And I make a reasoning that begins with evidential axioms and brings me to the same result, this is q. Since p equals q correspondence is warranted. The certainty of q is conventionally accepted as an evidence impossible to be false in the context of the particular linguistic praxis, the language-game, in which the truth-value is asked.
 The upshot is a totally general correspondence theory of truth that incorporates in it the coherence view.
The book Lines of Thought is a collection of published and unpublished papers, presented in a revised and expanded form:
 The most important paper in the collection is a long essay called ‘Outline of a Theory of Proper Names’, which is an expanded and corrected version of an earlier paper published under the titel ‘A Meta-Descriptivist Theory of Proper Names’ in the journal Ratio.
 In this essay, a new and much more sophisticated version of the cluster theory of proper names emerges. Thus, calling localizing description a description that expresses a rule for the spatio-temporal location of the reference, and calling a characterizing description a description that expresses the rule that is the proper reason for our choice of the name, we can state the following form of the identification rule for any proper name:

A proper name N refers to an object of a certain class C iff in a sufficient manner and more than in any other case, its localizing description applies and/or its characterizing description applies.

 Normal speakers do not need to know the identifying rule, but must know enough from it to be able to insert adequately the name in the discourse.
 The identifying rule, turned into a description, is a rigid designator, applicable in all possible worlds where the object to be referred can be found. This explains the rigidity of proper names.
 Since usual definite descriptions are loosely associated with the identifying rule of proper names of the objects they are usually designating, they are accidental designators.
   To show that this view is right we need only consider cases of definite descriptions that do not belong to the cluster of descriptions of any proper name, for example, ‘the third cavalry regiment of Cintra’. This description is rigid, since it will be applied in any possible world where there is a third cavalry regiment of Cintra.
 This theory not only gives descriptive paraphrases of actual discoveries of Kripke, but allows us to explain the most relevant classical counterexamples to descriptivism more precisely than Searle’s memorable attempt to do it in the chapter 9 of his book Intentionality.

   Since proper names is a touching stone to the theories of reference, a radical change of perspective in the direction of descriptivism should bring with it also a radical change in the way we understand the reference of others terms and expressions.

   Another relevant paper in the collection is the previously unpublished ‘On the Concept of Water’, proposing a neo-descriptivist analysis of this concept.
   For me the word ‘water’ has two nuclei of meaning: an old popular nucleus, and a new scientific nucleus. A complete descriptivist view must extend itself to the scientific meaning too, since ‘Water is made of H2O’ is a descriptive sentence that is found in the definition of water given by modern dictionaries.
   When sufficiently developed, this analysis allows us to give an internalist answer to Putnam’s twin earth experiment, as resulting from our projection of one of these senses in Oscar’s indexical use of the word. For according with the context of interests involved we can emphasize the popular meaning of the world ‘water’ or the scientific meaning of this world.
   Moreover, distinguishing several senses in which we can say that ‘Water is H2O’, our analysis shows more clearly than two-dimensinalist views why it is misleading to see this statement as being necessary a posteriori.  To make it clear: for me in the statement ‘Water is H2O’ the word ‘water’ can be understood as ‘watery liquid’ or as ‘dihydrogen monoxide’, according to the context. In the first case the statement will be read as contingent a posteriori. In the second it will be read as necessary a priori. Kripke simply mixed the contingence of the first statement with the necessity of the second, arriving in this way to the necessary a posteriori.
  As Wittgenstein would say, Kripke’s conclusion results from a metaphysical confusion caused by lack of attention to the ways in which language really works.

  Another relevant paper is called ‘Free Will and the Soft Constraints of Reason’ is a modern defense of compatibilism in which the causal theory of action is used to explain different levels of free will.
 According to that theory, reasoning causes volitions that cause actions. Freedom can be constrained, externally or internally, by pressure or limitation, under a reasonable range of alternatives, in these three levels: physical, motivational and rational, in the last case possibly without awareness of the agent, what makes it important and contestable and demands a detailed explanation.
 The upshot is a view potentially able to incorporate the results of modern hierarchical views.
   This paper is followed by a compatibilist analysis of our feeling that we can do otherwise, with consequences for the arguments of Van Inwagen and Harry Frankfurt.

 ‘A Perspectival Definition of Knowledge’ is a paper revising the old tripartite definition of knowledge in a way in which Gettiers problem disappears without creating new difficulties, since the internal link between the conditions of justification and truth is made fully explicit in a formal way. The basic intuition is that the adequate justification must be able to satisfy the condition of truth to the knowledge-evaluator in the moment of his evaluation. However, the details of the definition are partially formal and too complex to be explained in few words.

The most difficult paper is, I believe, ‘The Sceptical Deal With our Concept of External Reality’. This paper offers shows that both, the modus tollens skeptical argument about the reality of the external world, as much as the modus ponens anti-skeptical argument about the external world, are both equivocal and consequently falacious. The way to get this result is through an analysis of the concept of reality. I show that this concept is ambiguous; it has a sense in the usual contexts and another sense in the context of skeptical hypothesis. Since there is an implicit attribution or disattribution of reality in the different sentences of the skeptical and anti-skeptical arguments, the passages from the premises to the conclusion are implicitly equivocal and consequently fallacious.
   This paper contains an passant a developed proof of the external world. It is in my view in the whole philosophical literature the only proof that really works. It is able to explain why we are so sure that the external world is real.

   What these papers have in common is that they belong to the same program of restoring something from the traditional comprehensiveness of philosophy, often by reviving views that by many are, I believe, wrongly considered outdated."


terça-feira, 16 de dezembro de 2014


Work in progress, (a ser reescrito e continuado)



1.     Introdução
2.     Considerações biográficas
3.     Teoria da verdade
4.     Filosofia da arte
5.     Filosofia moral
6.     Crítica à filosofia moral
7.     Nihilismo
8.     Vontade para poder
9.     O mito do Super-Homem
10.    Homo Asperguensis


Há filósofos que valem pelos desafios que apresentam. No caso de Nietzsche, minha reação é a da maioria. Há ideias corretas e valiosas, outras implausíveis, outras mesmo aversivas. Isso em si pouco importa, posto que o que ele fez foi experimentar com ideias, o que lhe era de direito, uma vez que filosofar é pouco mais do que isso. O problema do crítico, porém, é o de separar o joio do trigo de maneira consequente. Como preservar os bons insights sem ter de aceitar ideias que não só parecem errôneas, mas preconceituosas e até mesmo desastrosas? Como demonstrar que as ideias que nos parecem desastrosas realmente o são? E como reparar esses erros? A resposta requer um estudo crítico que envolve dimensões variadas, relativas à interpretação dos textos de Nietzsche, à sua personalidade, à sua biografia, à cultura de sua época, à leitura correta da história, e a uma ampla gama de informações antropológicas e mesmo filosóficas que nos possam orientar. No breve ensaio que se segue não pretendo fazer mais do que apenas uma diminuta porção de tudo isso.

quarta-feira, 10 de dezembro de 2014


 Rough DRAFT for the book Philosophical Semantics. This draft concerns the appendix III

Appendix III


Russell’s theory of descriptions was conceived as a way to solve puzzles of reference. Frege’s theory of sense suggests a different way to solve the same puzzles. These two kinds of solution are usually considered to be irreconcilable alternatives. Nonetheless, each of them has its own appeal. In this appendix I will propose to build a bridge between Russell’s and Frege’s solutions by transforming each of these views and maKing them fully reconcilable. I will proceed first by subtracting from each of these views its metaphysical load, and then by showing that if the appropriate changes are made they can be viewed as different ways of saying the same thing.

Russell’s solutions to puzzles of reference
I will first present the puzzles and then Russell’s solutions to them by means of his theory of descriptions.
(i) Reference to the non-existent. Consider first a sentence whose grammatical subject does not refer to anything, ‘The present King of France is wise’. How can we attribute wisdom to someone who does not exist? Russell’s response is that this problem only arises if we understand the description ‘the present King of France’ as a referential expression functioning as a proper noun. But this is not the case. Calling the predicates ‘…present King of France’ ‘F’ and ‘…is wise’ ‘W’, the theory of descriptions allows us to symbolise ‘the present King of France is wise’ as: ‘(Ǝx) (Fx & (y) (Fy → y = x) & Wx)’. Or, to use a more intuitive formulation in which we summarise ‘at least one and at most one’ as ‘exactly one’, we have the following false sentence:

1.     There is exactly one x such that x is the present King of France, and x is wise.

In any of these formulations, one thing is clear: there is no wisdom predicated on a present King of France. The definite description ‘the present King of France’ was replaced by quantified predicates. Hence, we don’t need to assume the existence of any present King of France.

(ii) Negative Existential. The second puzzle, a variant of the first, concerns the apparent impossibility of denying the existence of an object when the expression that denies the existence is about the same object. To resolve the problem, consider the following sentences:

     1. The present King of France does not exist,
     2. Sentence (1) is about the present King of France.

Both sentences seem to be true. But they are mutually inconsistent. If sentence (2) is true and (1) is about the present King of France, then sentence (1) must be false and vice versa.
   Russell solves the riddle by suggesting that (2) is a false sentence. In order to show this, he interprets the negation in sentence (1) as possessing a narrow scope in relation to the definite description. The form of sentence (1) is: ~(Ǝx) (Fx & (y) (Fyy = x)), or, in a more intuitive formulation:

2.     It is not the case that there is exactly one x such that x is the present King of France.

This is a true sentence, since it is the negation of a false conjunction. But it does not commit us to the existence of the present King of France in order to deny that he exists. We commit ourselves only when we deny the existence of anything that has the property of being the present King of France.

(iii) Identity Sentences. The third puzzle is the Fregean paradox of identity. Consider the sentence: (1) ‘The author of Waverley was Scott’. This contains two referential expressions, both denoting the same person. But if this is so, then sentence (1) should be tautological, saying the same thing as (2) ‘Scott is Scott’. However, Husserl thinks that we know for sure that (1) is a contingent and informative sentence. Why?
   Russell’s solution is again to make the definite description disappear. Calling Scott ‘s’, we can paraphrase the identity sentence as “(Ǝx) (Wx & (y) (Wyy = x) & (x = s))”. Or, more intuitively:

3.     There is only one x that is the author of Waverley, and this x is Scott.

From these formulations it is clear that (1) is an informative sentence, because what seemed to be a tautological identity now appears as an informative statement.

(iv) Opacity. A final riddle that the theory of descriptions is called upon to solve is that of intersubstitutivity in sentences that express propositional attitudes, which are relational states connecting a mental attitude to what we call a proposition or thought. Consider, for example, the sentence (i) ‘George IV believes that Scott is Scott’. This is true, since George IV was certainly able to apply the principle of identity. But since the name ‘Scott’ and the description ‘the author of Waverley’ refer to the same person, it seems that we can replace the first occurrence of the word ‘Scott’ in sentence (i) with this description, obtaining the sentence (ii) ‘George IV believes that the author of Waverley is Scott’ so that (ii) preserves its truth. But this is not what happens: it may well be that sentence (ii) is false, despite the truth of sentence (i). Why is this so?
   To respond to this objection, we can use the theory of descriptions to replace the description that comes after ‘George IV believes…’ as follows:

George IV believes that there is only one x that is the author of Waverley, and that this x is Scott.

Certainly, this is an informative belief that is clearly distinct from the tautological belief that Scott is the same as Scott. This is why it can be false.

Fregean solutions to puzzles of reference
Frege has an explicit solution for the last two puzzles of reference. As for the first two, the solution can only be reconstructively suggested.

(i) Reference to the non-existent. Frege suggested that in an ideal language a singular term without reference could be seen as referring to an empty set. We can apply this suggestion to ordinary language, suggesting that a sentence like

(1)   The present King of France is wise.

is false, since the empty set isn’t wise. However, in addition to being artificial, this suggestion leads to absurd conclusions, such as that the sentence ‘Pegasus is the present King of France’ is true, since both ‘Pegasus’ and ‘the present King of France’' refer to the same thing, namely, an empty set.
   The alternative suggestion that I would like to propose is that we can say things about non-existents simply because singular terms without references still have senses. Consequently, through these senses we can say something about them as possible existents. We are still able to articulate the dependent sense of the predicate with the independent sense of the singular term, producing a complete thought, notwithstanding the fact that this thought is false, since the truth of a thought demands not only that its predicate have its reference, but also its singular term, which is lacking. This falsity (assumed by Husserl and denied by Strawson) is not clear when we consider the statement ‘The present King of France is wise’, which points to a property of the conceived thing. But the falsity becomes clear when we consider other statements with a similar structure, but with a richer and independent semantic content. Consider, for example, the statements:

1.     Yesterday the present King of France cleaned my mother’s pool.
2.     I saw the present King of France doing exercises on the beach last week.
3.     The present King of France has forbidden tourists to visit the Palace of Versailles.
4.     The present King of France isn’t wise, since there is no present King of France.

The first three statements are all in a clear way intuitively false. The reason why statement (i) used by Strawson can be seen as lacking truth-value is only a pragmatic one, namely, we normally regard a statement as false when the predicate does not apply, while we normally assume that the singular term applies; so the statement ‘Bertrand Russell had a beard’ is obviously false; this is the standard case of falsity in singular statements. However, we are not used to considering the truth-value of statements when the singular term has no reference, since these statements are very rare in our language. Indeed, it seems pointless to make attributions to something we know does not exist! This is why statements (1), (2) and (3) are clearly false; they lack of reference of a constitutive part of them. The statement (4) is true, since it denies the truth of the statement that the present King of France is wise and gives the reason for its falsity. Well, it would not be true if the statement ‘The present King of France is wise’ weren’t really false, and it is false by the same reason as the first three statements.[1]
   Moreover, consider the statement ‘Santa Claus has a white beard’. In a fictional context it is undoubtedly true. But if understood as a statement about the real world, its truth-value does not seem clear. The statement does not seem to be false, because it is about a known property of Santa Claus, and we have difficulty seeing it outside its fictional realm. But this kind of sentence shows itself to be definitely false when we make a statement like ‘I trimmed Santa Claus’s white beard last Christmas’.

(ii) Negative Existential. It is not so easy to give a Fregean explanation to the enigma of negative existentials. However, consider the following statement:

   (1) The present King of France does not exist.

It is true that ‘the present King of France’ is a definite description and as such for Frege does not refer to a concept. But suppose that in this case it refers to its own sense, as in indirect discourse, which has the role of a concept. Since existence is the property of a concept that at least one object falls under it, then sentence (1) isn’t about the present King of France, but about the property of the referred to sense-concept of being satisfied or applicable, which is denied.
   The same would apply to the denial of existence regarding proper names. If proper names, as Frege would have suggested, are abbreviations of bundles of defined descriptions, then a similar strategy would be applicable to negative existential statements with empty names, like ‘Pegasus does not exist’. What this sentence means is that the sense-concepts expressed by some descriptions abbreviated by the name ‘Pegasus’ are not satisfied by any object.

(iii) Identity Sentences. The riddle of identity between descriptions can be exemplified by the most discussed sentence of analytic philosophy: ‘The morning star is the evening star’. For Frege, this identity sentence is informative, because the descriptions ‘the morning star’ and ‘the evening star’ express different senses or modes of presentation of the same object, the first as the most brilliant celestial body that appears to us in the east in the morning and the second as the most brilliant celestial body that appears to us in the west in the afternoon… It is informative to say that these two very different modes of presentation are of the same object.

(iv) Opacity. As for the enigma of opaque contexts, Frege suggests that in statements of propositional attitudes the subordinate sentence does not have its usual reference, but an indirect reference, which is its own sense. Thus, in saying ‘George IV believes that the author of Waverley is Scott’, the reference of the subordinate sentence ‘The author of Waverley is Scott’ is neither its truth-value (as Frege thought the reference of a sentence should be) nor the corresponding fact, but simply the thought expressed by this sentence. As ‘The author of Waverley is Scott’ expresses a thought other than ‘Scott is Scott’, the statements ‘George IV believes that the author of Waverley is Scott’ and ‘George IV believes that Scott is Scott’ are not interchangeable salve veritate.

   I don’t wish to discuss here the objections of detail that could be made to each of these solutions. I want to respond only to the general objection made in Fregean-kind solutions of the riddles of reference, according to which they induce us to accept some kind of Platonism of senses and thoughts, unlike Russell’s ontologically more economical solutions.
   I do not believe that a commitment to abstract entities is unavoidable in Fregean solutions. As we have seen in the chapter on Frege, the best way to make sense of Fregean senses is to identify them with psycho-semantic rules or their combinations in the determination of the referential uses of expressions. In this understanding, the meaning of a definite description is a rule of identification for the object it should refer to.
   Here too the objection can be made that we are only replacing the word ‘sense’ with the word ‘rule’, and that this is a merely verbal solution, because if senses are abstract entities, rules also appear to be abstract entities. However, here too it is possible to answer, as we have already done, that the rules in question do not exist outside of their instantiations as cognitive-psychological events able to be demonstrated publicly by means of behavioural manifestations, and that there is nothing else beyond this. Such cognitions can be identified as precisely similar to each other, not because they are instantiations of any abstract object (the rule of identification in itself) but by qualitative identity between the cognitive act of applying the rule of identification that we are taking into account and the cognitive act of application (real or only in thought) of the rule of identification that we are using as a model. This assumption prevents our paraphrase of sense in terms of semantic rules from being unjustly severed by Occam's razor.

Reviewing Fregean assumptions
Who is right? Russell or Frege? Much ink has been spilled in the dispute over the correct theory. As I noted at the outset, my hypothesis is that it is not a matter of choice between two theories. If it were only a matter of choice, then one or the other theory should already have been recognised as false. The fact that we have achieved no consensus regarding the wrong theory leads us to the suspicion that both theories have some truth. But then, why we do not see them as two different ways of saying the same thing? The plausible answer is that each of them has implausible metaphysical assumptions mixed with insightful content, and that these implausible metaphysical assumptions make them appear irreconcilable. Thinking in this way, my proposal is to reconstruct these theories, eschewing their metaphysical assumptions and filling the gaps that are left with more plausible assumptions. If our hypothesis is right, this will allow us to show that they are only two different ways of saying the same thing.
   Let’s start with Frege. We have already seen that we must eliminate the anachronistic ontological realism of the senses, which should be replaced by psychological instantiations of semantic rules. Repeating what has already been proposed in our reading of Ernst Tugendhat in the introductory chapters, it is perfectly plausible to identify what Frege called the senses in terms of semantic rules, so that[2]:

(i)           The sense of a singular term (mode of presentation of the object) is the same as the identification rule (Identifizierungsregel) of the singular term, whose application criteria are the identifying properties of the object.
(ii)      The sense of a general term (conceptual content) is the same as its application rule (Verwendungsregel) as a predicative expression, whose criteria of application would be the singularised properties (tropes) associated with the object;
(iii)    The sense of an assertive sentence (the thought it expresses) is the same as its verification rule (Verifikationsregel), whose criteria of application would be its truth-maker, which as we have seen can be better identified (contrary to Frege) with the fact referred to by the sentence (see chapter 3 of this book).

   A second thing that must be done is to replace some of Frege’s odd ideas concerning reference, like that of an unsaturated concept as the reference of a predicate and truth-value as the reference of a sentence, as we argue in chapter 3 of this book. It is more plausible to see a concept in a natural way as the sense of a predicative expression and the primary reference of a predicative expression not as a truth-value, but simply as a fact (a secondary reference could be a universal constructed out of tropes).
   A further thing we do in chapter 3 was to paraphrase the Fregean concept of existence. We saw that for Frege existence is the property of a concept of being satisfied by at least one object[3], or, as we understand it, the property of a concept of applying effectively (and not merely supposedly) to at least one object during some period of time (in which the object can be said to be existent). To know that an object exists is to know that its conceptual rule is effectively and continuously applicable during the time in which the object can be said to exist.
   Now, accepting the natural view of a concept as the sense of a predicative expression, we get a further analysis of the concept of existence. Existence is the property of a concept, that is, of the sense of a conceptual expression, of being satisfied by its reference. More precisely, since the sense of a conceptual expression is its rule of application, existence must be the property of the rule of application of being satisfied, that is, of being effectively applicable. Moreover, as we have seen, this does not deprive existence of objectivity, because if the effective applicability of a conceptual rule is a property of it, it is also the own property of the object that we may conceive of having this rule effectively applicable to it. This result can be admitted for each of the rules (senses) already supposed by Tugendhat:

(i)                the existence of an object is the effective applicability of the rule of identification of the singular term that names it,
(ii)             the existence of an s-property is the effective applicability of the rule of application of its predicative expression, and
(iii)            the existence of a fact is the effective applicability of the verification rule constitutive of the thought of this corresponding fact as given in the world – its truth-maker.

   Finally, since the effective applicability of the verification rule of a statement is the existence of a fact, and the verification rule is the Fregean thought (proposition), then the existence of the fact is the effective applicability of the f-thought expressed by the assertive sentence.[4]
   Now, what about the relation between existence and truth? We have here the truth of a thought and the existence of the fact depicted by the thought. If existence is the effective applicability of a conceptual rule, then, since a thought is a complex conceptual rule, a verification rule, the existence of what is thought, namely, the fact, is the effective applicability of the thought. And the existing fact, the real fact, the fact in itself, is a fact to which the verifiability rule of its thought is applicable. This means that assigning existence to a fact is equivalent to assigning truth to its Fregean thought. To say that the f-thought expressed by the sentence ‘Socrates is bald’ is true is to say that this thought, namely, the verification rule expressed by the sentence, is effectively applicable to the fact, namely, that the criterial configurations that the rule requires to warrant its application correspond to criterial settings that have in some way been found, that it is a fact that Socrates is bald, that is, that this fact exists. The existence of the fact is the truth of its thought.
   Finally, I want to treat sentences without a reference as being ultimately false and not as being devoid of truth-value, as Frege suggested in some examples. After all, the reason why Frege thought that sentences with unreferenced components are devoid of truth-value lies in his insistence on the indefensible idea that the reference of the sentence should be its truth-value. But as we are willing to admit that the reference of a sentence is a fact, the absence of such a fact – due to the lack of reference to the singular term – just leads us to the falsity of the sentence, as we have shown in our discussion of the Fregean solution to the question of the reference of non-existents. This greatly corrected view of Frege’s insights is already pretty close to the position of Russell, who saw sentences with empty set descriptions as false.

Reviewing Russellian Assumptions
Now it is time to review the assumptions of Russell’s theory of descriptions. A first step is to rule out the thesis according to which definite descriptions and even our usual names (which for him are sets of descriptions) are not referential expressions in the proper sense.
   This Russellian thesis flies in the face of our ordinary language intuitions. For what could better exemplify a referential expression than a proper name or even a definite description? One could even say that names and definite descriptions define singular terms, since they are nominators, terms whose function is to refer to only one thing among all others. They are what provide the templates for our understanding of nomination: the singularisation of an object indicating which it is among all objects of a certain domain. Russell’s intention in his logical atomism is to use the theory of descriptions, paraphrasing definite descriptions and proper names in terms of quantified predictive expressions and replacing them with logical proper names. However, as we have seen in the second chapter of this book, the doctrine of logical proper names espoused by Russell is hopeless, and his form of semantic referentialism is implausible.[5] Once we reject the existence of logical names, there is no reason to deny that definite descriptions are referential expressions. Even when definite descriptions are analysed in the form of a conjunction of quantified predicative expressions, as Russell does, they cannot be referential expressions, for they are able to pick out one only object and to distinguish it from all other objects of a given domain, and this is all that is required for an expression to be referential. This reinforces our abandonment of Russell’s metaphysics of logical proper names.[6]
   We must also reject a second assumption of Russell’s, namely, his obscure suggestion that definite descriptions do not have any meaning in themselves.[7] This sounds like an amalgam of two Fregean ideas: the principle of context and the idea of the incompleteness of predicates. If the meaning (sense) is the object, as the referential view of meaning defended by Russell proposes, and if definite descriptions fail to refer to the object, they cannot have meaning outside the context of something else that can be offered only by the whole sentence. However, once we reject the doctrine that meanings need to be referents, and we admit that reference is usually given by means of semantic rules, it is clear that the requirement of applying the predicate to a single object with such and such properties made by Russellian analysis already constitutes a rule of identification, allowing us to refer to something and as such constituting a complete sense. A definite description should work as a fully meaningful term, and its meaning should be given by the identification rule expressed by it.[8]

Building a Frege-Russell theoretical bridge
Once in possession of a different view of Frege’s and Russell’s analysis, one that deprives them of their implausible speculative wrappers, the essential aspect of my strategy is to use the rules of identification constitutive of the senses, and the concept of existence as the effective applications of these rules in order to build a conceptual bridge allowing us to travel from the Fregean solutions of riddles of reference to the Russellian solutions and vice versa. In this way I want to demonstrate that Frege’s and Russell’s answers to puzzles of reference are intertranslateable. Here is how this can be done:

(i) Reference to non-existents. As we have seen, the most reasonable answer to the Fregean problem of how to give meanings to sentences referring to non-existent objects is that we can at least understand how the incomplete sense of the predicative expression can be supplemented by the complete sense of the singular term, thus constituting the complete content of a thought. That’s what allows us to think that the present King of France is wise without having to admit that he exists.
   A better understanding emerges when we translate Fregean senses in terms of psycho-semantic rules. In this case we will say (returning to Tugendhat’s suggestion) that the true predicative rule always applies to its usual reference by means of the application of the identification rule. Coming back to an example considered at the start of this book, at the sight of the Earth for the first time, the first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, said: ‘The Earth is blue’. But in order to express this thought, he first needed to identify something in space, an object, the planet Earth. And by means of this identification he could apply the predicate ‘…is blue’ to the s-property of the object that he had located. We see that the rule for the application of the predicate ‘…is blue’ needs to be first, say, driven by the application of the identification rule (which selects among others the one called ‘Earth’) in order to find the object, only then being able to be applied in the identification of the singularised property (trope) of the object of being blue. The application of the predicate’s application rule therefore needs to be made in combination with the object’s identification rule, so that  it can find out if the object satisfies it or not. It should be noted that if the sentence were ‘The Earth is red’, it would be false, because the object located by the identification rule would not satisfy the application rule of the predicate ‘…is blue’.
   Let’s consider now the case of empty singular terms, the alleged reference to non-existents, as found in the sentence ‘Vulcan is red’. As we know, ‘Vulcan’ is the name of a small planet that astronomers once believed should exist between the Sun and Mercury in order to explain variations in the perihelion of the latter. According to the calculations of the astronomer Le Verrier, this new planet would have been located approximately 21 million kilometres from the Sun… This is the Fregean sense of this name: the mode of presentation of its reference. However, since, as we now know, Vulcan does not exist, the reference of the name is empty and its identification rule inapplicable. As a result, the application of the application rule of the predicate ‘…is red’ is also impossible. As the identification rule of the singular term doesn’t quite apply to any object, an application of the predicative rule cannot be made either, remaining non-satisfied by any property actually given, so that the predicate does not apply, making the sentence false (pace Frege).
   However, here we have a more appropriate explanation for what happens. This explanation takes recourse to our capacity for imagination. We are at least in some measure able to conceive what it would be like to apply both rules in combination, although we are unable to apply them to the real world. It is only to the extent that we are able to conceive the possibility of applying both combined rules in the constitution of what Tugendhat called a verification rule that we can understand the epistemic sense of the sentence, its f-thought, even knowing that the proper name is empty and that this f-thought has no effective application to any fact in the world.
   This is why the sentence ‘The present King of France is wise’ is already able to express a complete sense, a thought. We are capable of conceiving the two rules used in combination in order to form the verification rule, the sense of the sentence, the thought, which for lack of an object and, therefore, for lack of a correlative fact, remains without application, making the thought false.
   To the question of how it is possible to assign wisdom to something that does not exist, the answer is now clear: we are capable, at least in some measure, of conceiving the application of psycho-semantic rules in combination, and by doing this we give meaning to the terms and to the sentence as a whole. We are able to make a fictive predication, even if only to a limited degree, without assertive or adjudicative force.
   Now, in the light of this reconstruction, it is easier to make the theory of sense agree with the theory of descriptions. We can paraphrase the description ‘the present King of France’ in a Russellian way as:

   At least one x and at most one x is such that x is presently the King of France.

   And we can say that what is expressed here is a different formulation of the Fregean sense, of the same identification rule for the present King of France, which is seen as having two components:

(i)                 the condition of uniqueness,
(ii)             the application rule of the predicative expression ‘…is presently the King of France ’.

Together (i) and (ii) form a rule of identification, because they allow us to distinguish at least one and at most one object through the criterial properties derived from them, such as the presence of a hereditary head of state (monarch) governing France today.
  The non-existence of the present King of France corresponds to the inapplicability of the identification rule consisting of (i) and (ii) and, therefore, to the lack of reference. As for the predicate ‘x is wise’, its application rule also does not apply, since nothing exists that has the property of being the present King of France, to which it can apply. But this predicate also expresses a rule of application and therefore a Fregean sense. Pulling the threads together, with the sentence ‘There is only one x such that x is presently the King of France, and x is bald’, we do nothing more than attempt to apply the same verification rule expressed by the sentence ‘The present King of France is bald’. Since we realise that the identification rule cannot find its bearer, we realise that the application rule is also inapplicable, the same being the case with their combination, namely, the verification rule. Analysing the case of reference to non-existent things, we are already able to see how the ‘Fregean’ explanation can be exchanged for a ‘Russellian’ explanation and vice versa.

(ii) Negative Existentials. In Chapter 3 we have, despite Frege’s view, identified the concept with the sense of a predicative expression. To say that the present King of France does not exist becomes the same as saying that the meaning of ‘the present King of France’ does not determine a reference.
   How would we express this by using psycho-semantic rules in place of the sense? Well, we would say that the sense or meaning or concept expressed by a singular term like ‘the present King of France’ is given by the identification rule for this definite description. We know this because we can at least to some extent conceive the applicability of this definite description. But we cannot get an awareness of the effective applicability of the conceptual rule, that is, we cannot say that the object referred to by this definite description exists, since we know that this rule cannot be applied.
   Now we come to the corresponding ‘Russellian’ analysis. A description like ‘the present King of France’ is here transformed into

‘At least one x and at most one x is such that x is presently the King of France’.

    Here again, this is the same as the identification rule for a particular object, being composed of two sub-rules:

(i)                the condition of unity
(ii)              the rule of application of the predicate ‘...is presently the King of France’.

   Now, to say that the present King of France does not exist is at least to say ‘It is not the case that there is at least one x and at most one x such that x is presently the King of France’, and this is to say that the identification rule composed of conditions (i) and (ii) isn’t effectively applicable. What is the difference between this rule and the Fregean sense of the description? The answer is that it comes from diverse demonstrations of the same thing. The ‘Russellian’ analysis only decomposes the rule into two rules: a unity rule and a rule of application for the predicate. Saying that the present King of France exists is to say that the application rule of the predicate ‘…is presently the King of France’ effectively applies, and that it applies to a single object. Once more, the ‘Russellian’ and ‘Fregean’ analyses of negative existentials converge towards becoming two different ways to say the same thing.

(iii) Identity. Consider now identity sentences like ‘the morning star is the evening star’. How can this sentence be informative, if the two descriptions refer to the same object? Frege’s reply is that despite the fact that these descriptions refer to the same object, they express different modes of presentation of this object, and that because of this they are informative. Paraphrasing the concept of meaning in terms of a psycho-semantic rule, what Frege suggests is that the sentence above is informative because it tells us that we identify the same object through two different identification rules, which call for different criterial settings.
   In Russellian terms, calling the predicate ‘…morning star’ M and the predicate ‘…evening star’ E, the identity sentence can be symbolised as:

(1) Ǝx ((Mx & Ex) & (y) (Myy = x)) & (z) (Ezz = x)).

   In other words:

(2) There is exactly one x that is the morning star, and the same x is the evening star.

   In this case, what we are doing is (i) making a conjunction of two different application rules of predicates, adding to it (ii) that they both apply to the same object. Thus, the ‘Russellian’ analysis only assures us that the identification rule constituted by ‘Ǝx (Mx & (y) (My → y = x))’ applies to the same object that the identification rule constituted by ‘Ǝx (Tx & (z) (Ez → z = x))’ applies to, since by transitivity y = z. But this is like saying that we have two different identification rules, two modes of presentation, two different Fregean modes of presentation of the same object. Again, the two analyses turn out to be intertranslateable or interchangeable.

(iv) Opaque Contexts. Finally, consider expressions of propositional attitudes such as:

(1) George IV believes that Scott is Scott.


(2) George IV believes that the author of Waverley is Scott.

   Why does the truth of (1) not guarantee the truth of (2), if both subordinate sentences are identity sentences about the same person?
   For Frege, the answer is that in such cases the subordinate sentence doesn’t have its usual reference, which for him is its truth-value. Subordinate clauses refer, he thinks, to the thoughts expressed by them, and the thoughts expressed by them in (1) and (2) are different. As a consequence, the truth-value of the sentence that expresses a propositional attitude ceases to be a partial function of the truth-value of the subordinate sentence, making the intersubstitution salve veritate impossible.[9]
   Since we reject Frege’s implausible idea that the usual reference of a sentence should be its truth-value, we must first reconstruct his solution. We can preserve his idea that in utterances of propositional attitudes the reference of the subordinate sentence is its sense as ‘aAp’, in which ‘a’ takes the place of the person who has the attitude, ‘p’ replaces the thought referred by the subordinate clause, and ‘A’ replaces the attitudinal verb, which can be one of belief, knowledge, desire, etc. But in ‘aAp, p expresses a proposition such that it no longer refers to some fact in the world that p could eventually match, making it true. In the statement of a propositional attitude, what matters is a certain relationship between the contents of the main clause (usually expressing a mood or mental act by a certain person) and the thought expressed by the subordinate clause, so that the truth of a sentence of propositional attitude depends only on the fact of this relationship being really in the mind of person a independently of the truth or falsity of the thought expressed by p. Indeed, according to this reasoning, Frege is right: the subordinate clause has as its reference the content of the thought expressed by it, of which we state that the person has the propositional attitude. Thus, a statement of the form ‘aAp’ is true iff the reference of aAp is a fact constituted by the existence of the person a having his or her attitude A regarding his or her thought p. This is why after all the thought expressed by the subordinate clause cannot be overridden salve veritate: it is part of the fact that is being referred to, and the entire fact is composed of A and p, that is, Ap.
   Now, to paraphrase thoughts as verification rules of sentences, we can say that the rules of verification of sentences (1) and (2) are different, without thereby committing ourselves to the effective applicability of these rules, to the actual existence of what satisfies them, which is the fact that a has Ap. So, considering the singular sense of the term as an identification rule, we can paraphrase (1) as:

(1') George IV believes that the identifying rule (sense) that he has for Scott applies to the same object as the identifying rule (sense) that he has for Scott,[10]

and we paraphrase (2) as

(2’) George IV believes that the identifying rule (sense) that he has for Scott applies to the same object as the identifying rule that he has for the author of Waverley.

As in (‘1) and (2’), the contents of a thought represented by the identifying rules considered by George IV are different and therefore the belief-contents are different, and, as we have noted, since the truth-value of the propositional attitude statements depends only of the fact that a has the property Ap, and since these properties are different in each case, we conclude that this truth-value doesn’t need to be the same in each of them. The subordinate clauses cannot replace one another salve veritate, because the thoughts-references expressed by them are different.
   Now consider a Russellian paraphrase: The subordinate sentence of (1) can be stated as:

(1’’) George IV believes that there is exactly one x which is Scott and that x is Scott.

And the subordinate sentence of (2) is analysed in order to obtain:

(2’’) George IV believes that there is exactly one x that is the author of Waverley and that x is Scott.

Now, as the sentences ‘exactly one x that is Scott’ and ‘exactly one x that is the author of Waverley’ express different predicates, ‘Scott is Scott’ cannot mean the same thing as ‘Scott is the author of Waverley’.
   The point to be noted is that Russellian analysis only better clarifies one aspect of our version of Fregean analysis. After all, the Fregean analysis in (2’), for example, can also be presented as

(2’’’) George IV believes that there is only one x such that the rule of identification for Scott, as well as the rule of identification for the author of Waverley, effectively applies to x.

But (‘2’) and (‘2’’’) do not differ essentially. After all, to say as did Russell that George IV believes that the rule of identification that he knows for the name ‘Scott’ and that the rule of application that he knows for the predicate ‘…is the author of Waverley’ effectively apply to one and the same object, amounts to the same (or nearly the same) thing as the Fregean suggestion that George IV believes that the identification rule – the sense – he knows for the singular term ‘Scott’ has the same referent as the rule of identification – the sense – of the definite description ‘the author of Waverley’. Thus we can clearly see: as well in the case of propositional attitudes the two analyses are intertranslateable or interchangeable.

Summarising, we can analyse the referential function of definite descriptions in at least three ways: (i) in terms of abstract entities, as did Frege, when speaking of senses or modes of presentation, (ii) in terms of semantic criterial rules, inspired by Tugendhat’s approach that has its origins in Wittgenstein, and (iii) using resources from predicative logic, as Russell did with his theory of descriptions. These are, however, only different and complementary ways of saying (approximately) the same thing.
   The impression of strangeness of the proposed approach comes from the acceptance of the metaphysical assumptions that permeate what each of these philosophers wrote on the issue. Against Russell’s belief, his paraphrases produced by the theory of descriptions are nothing more than expressions of semantic rules. These make it possible to formally express the referential function of the definite descriptions in their attributive use, doing this with predicative expressions used in a domain that grants them univocal application. Thus they appear as expressions of Fregean senses or modes of presentation, which are nothing more than psycho-semantic rules. Assuming that these rules only exist or apply either in imaginative psychological experiments or in real cognitive instantiations, the compatibility of the theory of descriptions so understood with our semantic-cognitivist view is clear.


[1] Stephen Neale emphasised this decisive point in his defence of Russell’s analysis in Descriptions (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 1990), pp. 26-28. In this way I also reject the doctrines of presupposition suggested by Frege and defended by P. F. Strawson, according to which statements like these are neither true nor false, because, in order to have truth-value, they must presuppose the truth of the statement ‘The present king of France exists’.
[2] Ernst Tugendhat: Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die sprachanalytische Philosophie, p. 262. See also Tugendhat and Ursula Wolf: Logisch Semantik Propaedeutik, chapter 13.
[3] See also Gottlob Frege: Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik, par. 53. 
[4] Each of these three cases can obviously be expressed in a Russellian way in which referential terms are transformed into predicative expressions. Thus, consider the existence of what is predicated in the sentence ‘Flying mammals exist’: symbolising ‘mammals’ as M and high-fliers as F, we have ‘(Ǝx) (Mx & Fx)’. Consider now the definite description in the sentence ‘The morning star exists’: symbolising the predicate ‘…morning star’ as M we have ‘Ǝx (Mx & (y) (My → y = x))’. For the proper name in the sentence ‘Socrates exists’, abbreviating the descriptive content that the name can contain with the predicate ‘socratises’ and symbolising this last predicate as ‘S’, we have (Ǝx) (Sx & (y) (Sy → y = x)). Replacements like these can meet the objections of Kripke and others, but they are easily answered if we have in mind my own version of the descriptivist theory of proper names, summarised in appendix I of this book. 
[5] See also Ernst Tugendhat, Einführende Vorlesungen in die sprachanalytische Philosophie, p. 437.
[6] Note that definite descriptions can refer to different individuals in different possible worlds, unlike proper names. But as we saw in appendix I, definite descriptions are accidental or flaccid designators when they are semantically linked to proper names, otherwise they become rigid. This demonstrates that there is nothing special about the semantics of ordinary names, unlike modern referentials, as Kripke believed.
[7] ‘I advocate that a denoting phrase is essentially part of a sentence, and does not, like most single words, have any significance on its own account’. Bertrand Russell: ‘On Denoting’, in Logic and Knowledge (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 51.
[8] We can speculate that if definite descriptions could not be transformed into predicates, that would allow us to designate sets of s-properties… that is, tropes. Russell did not have the notion of a singularised property in space and time (trope).
[9] We need to remember that lack of intersubstitutivity in subordinate sentences in statements of a propositional attitude is only one among the diverse cases considered by Frege in ‘Über Sinn und Bedeutung’. 
[10] I am assuming that George IV knows who Sir Walter Scott is. In the case that he does not know this, the expression ‘that he knows’ should be omitted.