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Berg’s Answer to Frege’s Puzzle

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Berg seeks to defend the theory that the meaning of a proper name in a belief report is its reference against Frege’s puzzle by hypothesizing that when substituting coreferential names in belief reports results in reports that seem to have different truth values, the appearance is due to the fact that the reports have different metalinguistic implicatures. I review evidence that implicatures cannot be calculated in the way Grice or Berg imagine, and give reasons to believe that belief reports do not have the implicatures Berg attributes to them. I also argue that even if belief reports did have such implicatures, they would not explain why the belief reports in Frege’s puzzle seem to have different truth values. I point out that Berg has no reason to believe that Lois Lane believes Clark Kent is a reporter and Lois Lane believes Superman is a reporter are both true rather than both false, and that Leibniz’s Law cannot be used to defend substitutivity in belief reports because belief reports are not relational in the requisite way. Finally, I observe that some of the linguistic data Berg uses to argue for substitutivity in belief reports concerns the transparent interpretation of belief reports, whereas Frege’s puzzle concerns the opaque interpretation.

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  1. 1.

    I replaced Grice’s numerals with capital letters to avoid confusion with reference to display lines of this paper.

  2. 2.

    See also Davis 2013, W. A Davis, Implicature, The Oxford handbook of pragmatics, accepted for publication; Lepore & Stone 2015.

  3. 3.

    Grice’s conversational principles are: The Cooperative Principle (CP): Contribute what is required by the accepted purpose of the conversation; the maxim of Quality: Make your contribution true and justified; the maxim of Quantity: Be as informative as required; the maxim of Relation: Be relevant; the maxim of Manner: Be perspicuous.

  4. 4.

    Cf. Miller (2015), who argues that the “Gricean rescue strategy” generally fails whenever the predictive failures of the semantic theory in question can be recast in epistemological or metaphysical terms.

  5. 5.

    Berg also says that “well known observations by Keith Donnellan (1970), Saul Kripke (1972), David Kaplan (1978, 1979, 1989), and Hilary Putnam (1975) provide strong evidence for the natural view that the meaning of a proper name is nothing but the name’s bearer.” I have argued at length (Davis 2005) that the observations of these authors show that the meaning of a proper name is non-descriptive, but not that the meaning of a name is its referent.

  6. 6.

    Many philosophers (e.g., Russell 1905) use ‘about’ relationally, so that nothing can be believes about nonexistent objects. In this sense, (41) is trivially valid but the premise is not a well-established fact, being true only if God actually exists.

  7. 7.

    For a more adequate definition, see W. A. Davis, A Theory of Saying Reports, §9, in A. Capone, F. Kiefer, & F. Lo Piparo (Eds.), Indirect reports and pragmatics: Interdisciplinary Studies, accepted for publication, Cham: Springer.

  8. 8.

    See also Grice 1989: 47–8; Levinson 1983: 97–100; 2000: 15; Horn 1989: 213–4; 2004: 20; Hazlett 2007; Huang 2014: 9–10.


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Correspondence to Wayne A. Davis.

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Davis, W.A. Berg’s Answer to Frege’s Puzzle. Philosophia 45, 19–34 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11406-015-9631-5

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  • Frege’s puzzle
  • Implicature
  • Calculability
  • Leibniz’s law
  • Grice’s razor
  • Transparent
  • Opaque
  • Ambiguity