Influences on Evans: Kendall Walton I

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 3, 2010 by visitorq80

§1. Evans claimed that, in the case of a speaker S who makes a use of a singular term that has no referent in a normal information-invoking way, nothing is said by S (343). However, he readily recognized that he owns us an explanation of the contrary intuition according to which there seem to be perfectly intelligible uses of such terms. For example, negative existential sentences containing purely fictional names. In order to explain such uses, Evans employed the notion of ‘games of make-believe’, which is borrowed from Kendall Walton.

§2. Kendall Walton has notoriously defended the thesis according to which representational works of art can be seen as props in games of make-believe. Here I am not interested in giving a precise account of his up to date views on the topic, but rather to summarise the content of two papers which have influenced Evans, that is, (1973) Pictures and make-believe. The Philosophical review, 82 (3): 282-319; and Fearing Fictions. The Journal of Philosophy, 75(1): 5-27. First a merely exegetic note: Evans took from Walton the notion of make-believe and part of the symbolic notation (see Evans (1982: 354)). Evans further elaborated the various rules of these games, and applied these ideas to negative existential sentences. Walton, in his later book Mimesis as make-believe, subsequently borrowed from Evans this treatment.

§3. Statements like ‘the monster is coming’ or ‘I have a gun’ (while holding a stick), uttered while playing a game of make-believe (MB1), are literally false. However, they can be regarded as true in the context of the

make-believe itself, given the acceptance (or presupposition) of certain rules. In other terms, these statements can be fictionally true. Or so Walton says. He further adopts the following notation (see Walton (1973: 287)): a proposition p is fictionally true = *p*(F). According to Walton, fictional truths cannot be reduced to make-believe truths: for example, sentences true in the context of a dream are not make-believe truths. If there are features of the real world somehow related to certain rules proper of a game of make-believe, then certain corresponding fictional truths can be generated. A particular fictional truth p that is also a make-believe truth can be represented as *p*(MB).

§4. An important point in Walton’s papers is “What one says in asserting “This is a raisin pie” in a game of mud pies thus involves essentially the notion of something’s being a raisin pie (literally).” (Walton 1973: 296) This can be understood as suggesting that in order to get what is said in a game of make-believe, we should have some previous understanding of the embedded proposition. Evans defended a similar view.

§5. Walton claimed that we do not need to posit non-existent objects in order to provide an account of those propositional attitudes which allegedly involve fictional entities. This point is vigorously defended by Evans as well. It seems to me that Walton wants to suggest that when we appreciate works of fiction (for example, novels), we are literally caught up into the story. In fact, he claims that we actually engage in games of make-believe in which the works function as props. We do not literally root for the villain of the novel (as it always happens to me…), we *root for the villain*(MB), we create, so to speak, a fictional world in which certain proposition (literally false) can be true. We are engaged in games of make-believe in which we have quasi-emotions, that is, physical reactions not accompanied by the full range of dispositions to act typical of proper emotions. Certainly, games of make-believe have rules, if only implicit, which somehow regulate the appropriateness and derivability of certain fictional truths. They are not merely idle fantasies. In particular, it makes perfectly sense to say that we can find out fictional truths belonging to a specific fictional world, even though we might have not been aware of them since the very beginning.

A first look at the Russell’s principle

Posted in Russell's principle on June 18, 2010 by visitorq80

§1. The Russell’s principle plays a major role in Evans (1982). The whole book, in fact, can be seen as an attempt to clarify and apply this principle to various cases (for example, to delineate the boundaries of demonstrative identification). The basic intuition is simple (89): in order to make a judgment about an object, a certain kind of knowledge of that object is required. Obviously, the difficult part is to give a proper theoretical characterization to this intuition. Which kind of knowledge is intended here? Before answering this question, however, it has to be noticed that this is not the only way to formulate the principle. In particular, through the whole book (and in more recent discussions) the principle is sometimes intended not as specifying which kind of knowledge is required to make a judgment about an object, but rather which knowledge is required for thinking about an object. This last idea can be formulated as follows: in order to have a thought about an object, a certain kind of knowledge of that object is required.

§2. How did Russell specify the principle? Evans refers to p. 58 of The Problems of Philosophy: “The fundamental principle in the analysis of propositions containing descriptions is this: Every proposition which

we can understand must be composed wholly of constituents with which we are acquainted.” (Russell, 1912: 58) Thus the crucial concept employed by Russell is that of understanding. [Two papers that I found useful are: Baldwin (2003) From Knowledge by Acquaintance to Knowledge by Causation. In The Cambridge Companion to Bertrand Russell, and Sainsbury (1986) Russell on acquaintance.]

§3. Even though for Evans the notions of understanding, thinking and judging are related, nonetheless they are not equivalent. It seems that we can schematise their connections as follows: no object -> no thought -> no understanding -> no judgment (and, we can add, no meaning).

§4. The idea behind the Russell’s Principle is that to have a thought about an object, in a proper sense and in a way that does not just imply being able to say something (which can be not related to that object), we need to have the capacity to discriminate that object, that is, the capacity to have a conception of a world of such objects. In other terms, we need a certain kind of discriminative knowledge of that object. The specific discriminative knowledge required is not the same for all objects: to have thoughts that can be expressed with sentences containing ‘that man’, we need a particular capacity (or Idea) that is appropriate for this kind of identification.

§5. Case 1. Nicola is completely oblivious of who Marco F. is. He has never met him and never heard of him. If one day Nicola walks around the street of his city and sees a graffiti on a wall saying: ‘I love Marco F.’ (and the author of this graffiti intended to refer to Marco F.), has Nicola obtained the capacity to entertain thoughts about Marco? If I have understood well what Evans is aiming at, the answer should be no. Why? Because Nicola does not have any capacity to judge as true a particular-proposition involving Marco having the general form「δ is m」where ‘δ’ is an Idea of an object. In other terms, he does not have the capacity to discriminate Marco. In Evans’ terminology, Nicola does not have the Idea of Marco. What is the Idea of a particular object? “An Idea of a particular object is part of a conception of a world of such objects, distinguished from one another in certain fundamental ways. For every kind of object, there is a general answer to the question ‘What makes it the case that there are two objects of this kind rather than one?’” (106). Each object is associated with a fundamental ground of difference, that is, an answer to the question ‘what differentiates this object from others?’ It is not completely clear to me whether this is enough to vindicate the intuition that in order to have a thought about a particular object we need a particular kind of connection with that object. In the above example, probably Nicola has what it takes to distinguish one person from another and thus, if it is excluded that the expression ‘I love Marco F.’ was referred to an animal, then, after all, he had the kind of knowledge required. However, it is still true that if Nicola met Marco on the street, he would not have the capacity of discriminating him from other people. I am not sure whether this idea is correct, but it seems that the discriminatory knowledge that is required by the original intuition behind the Russell’s principle cannot be accommodated solely by talking about a fundamental ground of difference, where this notion is understood, more or less, as a sortal concept. Comments are welcome.

§6. “Particular propositions are propositions the specification of whose content involves the use of a singular term” (109) A particular thought involves an Idea of an object (a capacity of thinking of the object) , the entertaining of a proposition to the effect that the object of the Idea is such and such. It has to be remembered that, strictly speaking, according to Evans, an Idea does not occur in a proposition.

A first characterization of the distinction between understanding and saying

Posted in Understanding and Saying on June 1, 2010 by visitorq80

Evans claims that, in order to be credited with the thought that a is F, we are supposed to have discriminative knowledge of the object of the thought in question (this is a rough formulation of the so-called Russell’s Principle, more on this later). Does this mean that in order to refer we need to know a (the) set of descriptions which determines the meaning of the name used to express the relevant Idea?

Obviously, an affirmative answer would not be accepted by those philosophers who advocate a causal theory of reference: we have been told that, after all, Kripke has shown that descriptive theories of reference for names are false. What relates a name to its referent is some sort of initial dubbing ceremony in which a name is linked to anobject\entity (let’s leave aside the details and other various required modifications to this first characterization of the causal theory of reference. In relation to this topic, Evans argued that Kripke’s view has to be refined in his (1973). See Sainsbury 2005: 106-111 for a recent development of the idea of an initial ceremony which includes “unwitting baptisms”). The causal connection between a ceremony and the subsequent uses of a name determines the subsequent successful uses of the name to refer to the object linked to it in the baptism.

From the fact that we can refer to an object just by being at the end of a reliable causal chain, does it follow that we can also be thinking about that same object without any kind of discriminating knowledge of it? If the answer is yes, then we have a violation of the Russell’s principle (of course, this depends also on how we define ‘discriminating knowledge’. Suppose for the moment that the definition is not broad to the point of counting as ‘sufficient discriminating knowledge’ only being acquainted with the last use of a long causal chain starting from a baptism. Evans will spell out the details of Russell’s principle through the book. More on this in some future post).

Suppose that a teenager boy hears his father, an expert in Roman history, saying the name ‘Diocletian’ and nothing else. That noise is recognized by the boy as being a name due to a particular contextual circumstance that does not associate any description to the name. Has the boy acquired also the capacity of entertaining indefinitely many thoughts about Diocletian, the Roman emperor? Before recurring to our intuitions to judge this case, we need to keep in mind another distinction (this is the point of the post and that’s why I won’t spend too much time in articulating what Evans calls the ‘Photographic model of mental representation’.)

According to Evans, we must keep separated two different notions (two distinct abilities): understanding (which is related to thought) and saying. Evans claims that “uttering certain words with the intention of expressing the thought that p is not sufficient for saying that p.” (1982: 67) For instance, the speaker might simply have chosen the wrong words to express what he thought. Simply thinking about an object does not seem to guarantee also the capacity of uttering a sentence that refers to it. Thus, there seems to be a prima facie gap between these two capacities.

In particular, Evans claims that the conditions for understanding are more exigent than the requirement for saying:

“[…] the concept of thought about an individual is tied to the concept of understanding a statement about an individual. I hold that it is in general a necessary condition for understanding an utterance of a sentence containing a Russellian referring expression, say ‘a is F’, that one have a thought, or make a judgement, about the referent, to the effect that it is being said to be F. This is not a necessary condition for making such an utterance in such a way as to say of the referent that it is F. The divergence arises because of the possibility that a subject may exploit a linguistic device which he does not himself properly understand.” (92)

Thus, one way of making sense of the intuitive distinction between referring\saying something about someone and understanding, is by linking the notion of understanding to thought, and somehow restricting the requirements of the latter. In this way, it seems that the causal theory of reference is not directly in contrast with the Russell’s Principle.

Summing up, we have seen that, for Evans:

  • There is a distinction between understanding and saying;
  • A causal theory of reference is not, prima facie, directly in contrast with the Russell’s principle;
  • Understanding is somehow connected to thought.

Of course, I still have to characterize the relation between understanding and thought, the features of the Russell’s Principle, and the relation between the Russell’s Principle and thought.

Comments and suggestions are welcome.



Evans, G. (1973) The Causal Theory of Names. In his (1985) Collected Papers (Oxford: Clarendon Press)

Sainsbury, M. (2005) Reference without Referents (Oxford: Clarendon Press)

Propositions, thoughts, and Ideas: clarification of Evans’ terminology in relation to Frege – Part. I

Posted in Evans' terminology on May 23, 2010 by visitorq80

In these last few days I have been reading sections 4.3 and 4.4 of The Varieties of Reference. As a matter of terminology, many philosophers have interpreted Frege’s notion of ‘thought’ as almost equivalent to what now is understood with the term ‘proposition’. In particular, Fregean thoughts have been taken as structured propositions of a peculiar kind. In Evans’ 4.3, however, it seems that the two concepts (thought and proposition) are quite different: thoughts are abilities, while propositions are other things, things whose truth-conditions are required to understand thoughts, that, in turn, can be understood as specific entertaining of propositions. More on this later.

It seems to me that Evans’ use of the term ‘thought’ differs from many contemporary philosophers’ understanding of it. I will make this point by contrasting Evans’ with Frege’s view (or, at least, with some interpretations of Frege).

Few examples of how some contemporary philosophers understand the Fregean notion of thought as almost equivalent to the notion of proposition. In the recent Burgess’ attempt to ‘fix Frege’, we find: “The sense of a sentence of type S Frege calls a thought, and the reader will not go far wrong who thinks of what Frege calls a ‘thought’ as roughly equivalent to what other philosophers call a ‘proposition’.” (Burgess 2003: 3)

Other examples are in King (2007): “However, Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell both had views about what holds together the constituents of propositions, or, in Frege’s case, thoughts.” (King 2007: 10) In a note he further explains that “I shall simply talk of their theories of propositions, ignoring Frege’s use of the term ‘thought’.” (King 2007: 10, note 8). In his entry on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, King says that:

“Frege called propositions thoughts (Gedanken), and held that the thought/proposition expressed by a sentence is itself a sense. And, like the senses of other complex linguistic expressions, the proposition/thought expressed by a sentence is a function of the senses of the words in the sentence and how they are put together. Now Frege at least sometimes appears to hold the stronger view that the sense of a sentence (proposition/thought) has as constituents the senses of the words in the sentence.”

The literature on Frege’s notion of thought is vast (see here), but I am not interested here in (Fregean) exegesis (among the various works, I have found interesting the debate between Dummett and Bell on the topic, see Dummett (1991), Bell (1979), and Bermudez’s reconstruction of this exchange in Bermudez (2001)).

Now, what does Evans say about thought, Ideas, and propositions in 4.3 and 4.4?

First of all, he writes “there is a sense in which thoughts are structured.” (Evans 1982: 100) How should we understand this point? Evans says that the fact that thoughts are structured does not imply that they are composed of elements (intended as abstract or concrete components), but instead that they are the result of the exercise of different “conceptual abilities.” (ibid: 101). In a note related to this point (15), Evans refers to Peter Geach’s Mental Acts, and I think it is interesting to quote two passages from Geach’s work:

  • “The ability to express a judgment in words thus presupposes a number of capacities, previously acquired, for intelligently using the several words and phrases that make up the sentence. I shall apply the old term “concepts” to these special capacities an application which I think lies fairly close to the historic use of the term.” (Geach 1957: 12) [Emphasis mine]
  • “A concept, as I am using the term, is subjective it is a mental capacity belonging to a particular person. (My use of “concept” is thus to be contrasted e.g. with Russell’s use of it in The Principles of Mathematics and again with the use of it to translate Frege’s “Begriff”; Russell’s ‘concepts’ and Frege’s Begriffe were supposed to be objective entities, not belonging to a particular mind.) The subjective nature of concepts does not however imply that it is improper to speak of two people as “having the same concepts”; conformably to my explanation of the term “concept”, this will mean that they have the same mental capacity, i.e. can do essentially the same things.” (Geach 1957: 13-14)

Summing up the two points, it seems that Geach has in mind a notion of concept according to which concepts are capacities and, in particular, mental subjective capacities. In addition, Geach explicitly contrasts his use of the term with Frege’s objective view of concepts.

Evans says that thoughts comprise “such-and-such an Idea of an object, as well as such-and-such a concept” (Evans 1982: 104). Ideas (the terminology is again borrowed from Geach) of objects are to be understood in terms of mental abilities, in particular, it “is something which makes it possible for a subject to think of an object in a series of indefinitely many thoughts, in each of which he will be thinking of the object in the same way.” (ibid: 104) Thoughts are thus combinations of abilities, for example, if a subject S can entertain the thought that a is F, then, we are committed to say that S has at least two capacities: the Idea of an object and a concept (which can be understood, in turn, as another particular capacity). Now, in a revealing note (24), Evans draws the obvious conclusion that his notion of Idea cannot be equated with the notion of Fregean sense, for the latter “is supposed to exist objectively” (independently of anyone’s grasp of it). This does not exclude that two different subjects, exercising two different capacities (different ‘composed Ideas’, that is, different thoughts), can grasp the same Fregean sense.

In 4.4, Evans further articulates the requirements that are supposed to be met by a subject that can be reasonably credited with a thought (that is, the Russell’s Principle), and the relations between Ideas and propositions. I will deal with this other part in my next post.

Summing up what has been said so far, it seems to me that it would be misguiding to assume that when Evans and Frege use the term ‘thought’, they mean the same thing. Again, I am not a Frege scholar, I have just looked here and there at how some contemporary philosophers have understood the relation between thought and proposition in Frege. According to them, Fregean thoughts are something that is objective (inhabitants of a third realm), while for Evans, thoughts are composed of Ideas, which in turn are subjective capacities. I am not sure whether Evans’ notion of thought can be somehow compared with the notion of ‘idea’ in Frege’s On sense and reference. They are both subjective components of the apprehension of something that is objective, but they are described in rather different ways and play different roles.

Am I wrong? If yes, where and, possibly, why?



Bell, D. (1979) Frege’s theory of judgement (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Bermudez, J. (2001) Frege on thoughts and their structure. Philosophiegeschichte und logische Analyse, 4: 87-105.

Burgess, J. (2003) Fixing Frege (Princeton: Princeton University Press)

Dummett, M. (1991) Frege and other philosophers (Oxford: Clarendon Press)

Geach, P. (1957) Mental Acts (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul)

King, J. (2001) Structured Propositions. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

King, J. (2007) The nature and structure of content (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Some online resources

Posted in Online resources on May 16, 2010 by visitorq80

 Some online resources on Evans.

A nice entry that contains both information on Evans’ life and a clear overview of many of his philosophical theories is Martin Davies’ contribution to The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Second Edition) Macmillan Reference USA; Editor-in-Chief, Donald M. Borchert.

You can also watch an interesting exchange between Evans and Peter Strawson on language in these videos taken from Logic Lane (1972):

Rick Grush has an almost comprehensive guide to ‘The varieties of reference’ here, which I recommend.

Here you can find a link to a special issue on Evans’ philosophy in the Electronic Journal of Analytic Philosophy edited by Grush.

Of course, you can find some of Evans’ papers on Philpapers!

There are many philosophers whose works are somehow connected to Evans’ philosophy:

A blog on Evans’ philosophy?

Posted in Uncategorized on May 15, 2010 by visitorq80

Welcome to my new blog.