, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 199-214
Date: 14 Oct 2009

From Plato to Frege: Paradigms of Predication in the History of Ideas

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Abstract

One of the perennial questions of philosophy concerns the simple statements which say that an object is so and so or that such and such objects are so and so related: simple predicative statements. Do such statements have an ontological basis, and if so, what is that basis? The answer to this question determines—or in any case, is expressive of—a specific fundamental outlook on the world. In the course of the history of Western philosophy, various philosophers have given various answers to the question of predication. This essay presents the main, crucial answers: the paradigms and theories of predication of the Sophists (and of all later radical relativists), of Plato, of Aristotle, of the Aristotelian-minded non-nominalists, of Leibniz, and of Frege. In addition, the essay follows (to some extent) the most influential—the Aristotelian or mereological—paradigm of predication in its continuity and modification through the many centuries of its reign. However, the essay is not content to adopt the merely historical point of view; it also poses the question of adequacy. Prior to Frege, there was no philosophically adequate theory of predication, and the essay points out the shortcomings (besides aspects that can be viewed as advantages) of each pre-Fregean predication theory considered in it. Frege, in the nineteenth century, brought the philosophy of predication on the right track, but his own theory of predication has its own deficits. The essay ends with the presentation of a theory of predication that the author himself considers adequate.