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What are the prospects for Kaplan’s approach to the analysis of demonstratives and other indexials?

| December 12, 2012


Language has profoundly come about or has been created so that communication amongst humans can be established. Language is absolutely essential to every being whether it has been instinctually acquired, for example, it has been acquired by our mother tongue or even acquired through studying and observing one another. It is generally accepted that language is a vehicle to convey information for interpersonal social relationships. However, due to different ethnicities and social backgrounds; more to say with the person’s education and the understanding of grammar, the “meaning” that is being conveyed and received, can vary from person to person. Furthermore, to add to all this complexity, there are words we would express that does not directly relate to their dictionary meaning, in which we refer these words as idioms. Not to mention, the issues or complexity that the English grammar itself contains. For example, the use of “we” is difficult to be distinguished if perchance the addressee is inclusive without reference to the social parameters (Marmaridou 2000:80). The examples above are just some tip of the iceberg background information about language, meaning, and the grammatical problems that one will encounter in striving to comprehend the English language and its grammatical complexities. In saying so, we are not here today to discuss the problems at hand of the English language itself, nor are we here to divulge on how the social status affects the understanding of the meaning in itself. The goals we are beseeching here is to discuss the studies that were done by past philosophers and logicians of the English language’s meaning and how the English language should be expressed. Among many of the great thinkers of philosophy and logic in the past century, Frege’s theory on the expression and meaning of the English language prominently stands out the most.  Frege’s published work on “Sense and Reference,” expounded quite a few interesting theories on the meaning of the English language that is expressed by an individual. (A. W. Moore, 1993).Although Frege’s theory on “Sense and Reference” has been widely accepted by many readers and philosophers; not the less, of course when being examined against all theories that exists, bouts of opposing views will arise, where there are those whom do not concur. Out of all the opposing individuals, David Kaplan, a philosopher and a logician, had made the strongest and most notable argument claims against Frege’s theory. In this task, I will use examples from Frege’s, “Sense and Reference” paper and examples from David Kaplan’s “Demonstrative” paper to compare and contrast the two points of views on the meaning of English language itself. In addition, I would like to present some prospects of Kaplan’s approach to the analysis of “Demonstrative” and other indexical.

I. Frege’s Theory:

Frege started out in his paper with a simple mathematical relationship between “a=a” and “a=b”, to show that this simple mathematical relationship has a deeper cognitive meaning. I quote, “besides that to which the signs refer, which may be called the referenced of the sign, also what I should like to call the sense of the sign, wherein the mode of presentation is contained” (A. W. Moore, 1993:24). Frege then gave an example of the quote above. I quote, “The reference of the evening star would be the same as that of the morning star, but not the sense” (A. W. Moore, 1993:24). If we take the morning star as “a”, and the evening star as “b”, we can clearly understand where Frege had seen the cognitive meaning in the simple mathematical relationship. With this simple display of the mathematical relationship as the basis of Frege’s theory, he had continued on to utilize this relationship to further digress on his theory into thought, idea, and truth value using the English language.

Proper name always has a sense, but does not always have a reference. Over and above, that the sign corresponds to a “definite sense and to that a definite reference” (A. W. Moore, 1993:25). Besides proper names, we are now returning to the morning star example again, where in which Frege had stated that, “anybody who did not know that the evening star is the morning star might hold the one thought to be true and the other false.The thought accordingly can not be the reference of the sentence but must rather be considered the sense” ( A. W. Moore, 1993:28); likewise, this was one of Frege’s claims for sense defined as “meaning” and reference defined as the “object”. There in which, Frege had stated that the truth values of the sentence had relied on the reference and not the sense. Frege further tested his theory that the “truth value of a sentence is its reference”, and cases in which “equal truth value cannot be substituted for one another” by using subordinate sentences or clauses, that is: noun clauses, adjective clauses, and adverbial clauses. (A. W. Moore, 1993:31)

In addition to Frege’s theory on “Sense and Reference”, Frege had also pointed out another noteworthy claim that we should not be confused with thought and idea.  Frege had used the sentence below to further illustrate his meaning to clearly demonstrate. All the more, Frege had stated, “A painter, a horseman, and a zoologist will probably connect different ideas with the name ‘Bucephalus’ ( A. W. Moore, 1993:26); conjointly, this example indefinitely shows that although Bucephalus is a proper name that contains a sense, yet the ideas presented in each individual mind will be different.

II. Kaplan’s Theory:

Kaplan who disagreed with Frege’s “Sense and Reference” theory, had annotated in his demonstrative preface, the major differences at hand. Kaplan had rationalized that the Fregean theory as “language” expresses a “propositional component” which is a concept of the “individual”. From which the product of the two denotes the language and the individual (Kaplan 1989a: 485). As compared to Frege’s theory, Kaplan’s direct reference theory had claimed that the “language” should refer to the individual rather than the propositional component and that the individual is an identity of the propositional component. The relationship of language and the propositional component is a product of the two (Kaplan 1989a: 486). At the same time, by using demonstrative and indexicals as examples, Kaplan had postulated his direct reference theory on two principles as below: (Kaplan 1989a:492)

“Principle 1:   The referent of a pure indexical depends on the context, and the referent of a demonstrative depends on the associated demonstration.

Principle 2:   Indexical, pure and demonstrative alike, are directly referential.”

In addition to the two principles noted, Kaplan had coined two terms to explain his views on the linguistic meaning of expression in which he referred to as “character” and the proposition he coined “content”. How are these two coined terms different than that of Frege’s “sense” and “reference”? We should use table 8.1 from the paper “Indexicality and Pronouns” to render analyze the differences as below:

Character is a            Character is a

Constant Function        Variable Function


Content is a constant      Proper name: e.g.           Pure indexicals: e.g.

Function (a constant       Barack Obama, Madonna    I, tomorrow

Individual concept) or

An actual entity


Content is a variable      Nonindexical definite        Indexical definite

Function (an individual     descriptions: e.g. the         descriptions: e.g. the

Concept with variable      inventor of bifocals          current president of

Values)                                            the US


                                                     (Abbott 2010:185)

 III. Kaplan’s Prospect:

It can be seen that Kaplan’s explanations of “character”, has a similar meaning to that of Frege’s “sense” and additionally, Kaplan’s explanation of “content”, has a similar meaning to Frege’s “reference”. The biggest variance between Kaplan’s and Frege’s explanations are that Frege’s “sense” may be different, but the object “reference”, is definite; more than that, Kaplan’s “content” can be chosen to adapt to different circumstances. Kaplan’s simple alteration of the sequence and prospective of how we analyze a word or a sentence has in fact opened many doors of possibilities in how we should look at the meaning of language. Not the less, I agree that Kaplan’s direct reference model has a greater flexibility to the way and how we think about a singular object or even a sentence pragmatics. In one way or another, I do not believe in Kaplan’s arguments that he gave in Principle 2 of “Demonstrative” is convincing enough. In the real world, we do not see number disguising as another number. The numbers may indeed mask the original meaning or are written in a different form or way.  Yet, the original meaning persisted, never a five disguising to be a six. More to say, I can not agree with Kaplan’s claim that Frege’s theory is false and that I quote, “My theory of demonstrative is uncontroversial”. After reading “Sense and Reference” and “Demonstrative”, I was not swayed on who’s theory is better than the other’s theory; only one distinction was clear to me is that, Kaplan was able to break down and explain an answer that Frege had perhaps thought about and failed to mention or didn’t even cross his mind. Nonetheless, since Frege’s theory was to prove and disclose that the Russelian theory had its flaws and that its flaws were due to its inability to describe when two different objects actually mean the same thing. With all this said, what does it all come about to mean?  Kaplan’s new theory in my point of view is that Kaplan had improved upon Frege’s theory to come around with better explanations to the Russelian theory; in spite of Kaplan’s improvise, when it comes down to the certain circumstances, in particular as, equality, I believe Frege’s theory still holds valid.

In order to further explain my claim, I will re-visit the morning star and the evening star examples from Frege’s “Sense and Reference” paper again, in the argument for Principle 2: True Demonstrative example from Kaplan’s “Demonstrative” paper, and bring forth an ending with examples from proper names, demonstrative and indexicals,

Let us now recollect to the morning star and the evening star scenario as presented by Frege. Frege had justified the morning star examples in two case scenarios. The first case scenario was that the audience knew that the reference of the evening star would be the same as that of the morning star and Frege had use this to argue his theory of equality ( A. W. Moore, 1993: 24).  In the second case scenario was that the audience did not know that the evening star is the morning star might hold one thought to be true and the other false. (A. W. Moore, 1993: 28) Frege had revealed these two case scenarios to eminently prove his theory that the thought is the sense and that reference holds the truth.  In conjunction with the theory that what is important is in the sense and not the reference for the reason that some sentences do not hold a reference as in the latter case.  With all this said, it is now ever more so clear for us to infer that Frege’s demonstrative theory is that demonstrative them self hold sense.  In which the case, this was where Kaplan had attacked and disagreed with Frege’s version of demonstrative theory.

In continuing on with both theorists, let us observe at how Kaplan argued at this statement in his demonstrative version paper.

That [pointing to Venus in the morning sky] is identical with that [pointing to Venus in the evening sky] (Kaplan 1989a:514).

In order to clarify, let us use Kaplan’s two coined terms to answer which is the character and which is the content. According to the definitions set forth by Kaplan, the content will be Venus, and the character will differ accordingly to either the evening sky or the morning sky. Thus, in order to interpret the claim or Kaplan’s explanation in another way, Kaplan had made plain that the two stars, albeit have the same demonstration, but they differed in sense (or manner of presentation); regardless, this theory of Kaplan is impressive and correct. However, in this case, I think Kaplan has left out one key point, and that is, Frege’s theory was based on equality. In saying so, what I mean by this “equality” is if we were to take the whole sentence as an “equality” then morning sky equals evening sky; under any circumstance, even if they seem to differ in manner of presentation, they are in fact the same. Hence, I would surely make a claim that Kaplan’s theory does not prove Frege’s theory to be false. In order for Kaplan to attack Frege, he needed to dissect the “equality” in which by doing so in itself is no longer an equality; it is a mere ever so elaborate form of the Russelian theory. Below is another example of this claim.

In the “Demonstrative” paper by Kaplan, Kaplan had used the example below for his argument for Principle 2.

Suppose I point to Paul and say,

He now lives in Princeton, New Jersey

Using this example, Kaplan assumed different circumstances:

That Paul moved to Santa Monica and no longer lives in New Jersey

If Charles disguised as Pat

(Kaplan 1989a: 512).

Proportionately in doing so, by using this example, Kaplan explained how his theory creates two different propositions and each has a singular proposition. Without further ado, according to Kaplan (1989a:516) had criticized that if by using Frege’s “sense”, the proposition expressed will not be a singular proposition. In either case, again I feel that Kaplan’s statement is not truly valid. For the reason as mentioned before, Frege’s theory was based on the equality of the simple mathematical relationship of “a=a” and “a=b”; respectively, to say that what if today Charles and Pat were the same person.  What will happen then? How will Kaplan’s “Demonstrative” hold or will character equal content in this case then?

Let us now continue to look at another example:

Using his argument in “Demonstrative” for Principle 2, I can conclude that Kaplan would change the situation as well, if the evening star disguised as the morning star.  In Kaplan’s “Demonstrative” view, the examples might be presented in this format:

(1)That bright light in the sky is the star

(2)The bright light in the sky I am pointing to is the star.

It is noteworthy that in example, the Proposition expressed by (1) is true in the actual world, and true in the case which evening star and morning star switch places (Kaplan 1989a: 512). The proposition expressed by (2) is true in the actual world, but false in the case which evening star and morning star switch places (Kaplan 1989a: 512). According to the aforementioned points, as the agreement before, if there was an equality present then there would not be an issue of which proposition is expressed by which is true in the actual world and false in the other cases.


According to the aforementioned points, it is as though taking the mathematical identity “tangent = sin/cos” for example, Kaplan was not supposed to take apart and separate the meaning of “sin” as one entity and “cos” as another.  All the while more, of course neither will = tangent and what not seem false. For an identity to hold the “sin” and “cos” relationship, they must hold as one to be a truth value. In such an event, that is why I think in order for Kaplan to hence show that only “sense” of an indexical is its character and that the content changes according to the denotation.  Under the circumstances, the two different demonstrations could have the same sense.  Demonstrative themselves have sense, only character have sense to where the two are no longer equalities. Appropriately, what I mean by this is that in defining more accurately, but in equating and theory-wise, Frege would then express in equality that the meaning of the truth would be more important. Rather than if the star was to be disguised and the evening star or that the star was actually the star or that one chose the misunderstood that the star is true or false the point is that there is a star there in which Frege’s theory presented only worry about the sense and not the reference or the truth value when it comes to equality. Even though one would deem my examples of demonstration to seem redundant; in any case, to be fair in comparison from similar examples in both articles, this redundancy I would deem as necessary.  Notwithstanding, if we are to compare only the difference, of course the Russelian view would suffice. The Kaplan’s view is in similarity with the Frege’s view; there in which that it is the expanded version of the Russelian view. (2767 words)


Abbott, Barbara Kenyon (2010) Reference Oxford: Oxford University Press

Gottlb Frege (1993) Meaning and Reference. Edited by A. W. Moore Oxford: Oxford University Press

Kaplan, D. (1989a) Demonstratives. In Almog, J., Perry, J. and Wettstein, H. (eds.), Themes from Kaplan. New York : Oxford University Press, c1989. 481-563.

Marmaridou, Sophia S. A. (c2000) Pragmatic meaning and cognition. Amsterdam: J.


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Category: Free Essays, Strategic Management