Or "Frege on color and shading." This is a footnote in Frege's "On Concept and Object":
I think it is quite right that the same thought may be variously expressed. Some translations are perfectly accurate, and it is possible to say the very same thing in two (or more) different ways. That is, sometimes differences in shading don't matter. It could be argued that they are always there nonetheless, but I don't know what the point of making this argument would be.Nowadays people seem inclined to exaggerate the scope of the statement that different linguistic expressions are never completely equivalent, that a word can never be exactly translated into another language. One might perhaps go even further, and say that the same word is never taken in quite the same way even by men who share a language. I will not enquire as to the measure of truth in these statements; I would only emphasize that nevertheless different expressions quite often have something in common, which I call the sense, or in the special case of sentences, the thought. In other words, we must not fail to recognize that the same sense, the same thought, may be variously expressed; thus the difference does not here concern the sense, but only the apprehension [Auffassung], shading [Beleuchtung], or colouring [Färbung] of the thought, and is irrelevant for logic. It is possible for one sentence to give no more and no less information than another; and, for all the multiplicity of languages, mankind has a common stock of thoughts. If all transformations of the expression were forbidden on the plea that this would alter the content as well, logic would simply be crippled; for the task of logic can hardly be performed without trying to recognize the thought in its manifold guises. Moreover, all definitions would then have to be rejected as false. [Beaney, pp. 184-185]
In "Logic" Frege writes:
In many cases a sentence is meant to have an effect on the ideas and feelings of the hearer as well; and the more closely it approximates to the language of poetry, the greater the effect is meant to be. [Beaney, p. 239]He goes on to discuss a case of onomatopoeia from Homer, in which sails are said to be torn apart by the wind in a sentence that combines windy whistling sounds with violent, snapping-sail sounds. This is a pretty clear case of word-choice mattering in a way that is not wholly dependent on word-meaning, but there is surely more to the color and shade of language than this. Frege says that:
it cannot be denied that the spoken word affects the ideas we have just because it enters consciousness as a complex of auditory sensations. Right from the start we experience the series of sounds themselves, the tone of the voice, the intonation and rhythm with feelings of pleasure or displeasure. These sensations of sound are linked to auditory ideas that resemble them and these latter are linked in turn with further ideas reactivated by them. This is the domain of onomatopoeia. [Beaney, pp. 239-240]The physical nature of speech is essential here. It belongs to the world of cause and effect, of stimulus and response, in a way that, seemingly, cannot but affect our feelings one way or another. The same need not be true of words read silently, or of thoughts. But it surely depends how one reads or thinks. To understand Homer in this case one should read as if aloud, attending to the sound of each word, and not quickly scanning the line for its sense. (I only ever read as if aloud. My lips move when I read or think, so I don't know what it's like to read in the more efficient way. Must there be some trace of the sound of the spoken words even in this case? And what about thinking?) Everything is surely written in some tone of voice, even if this is often the impersonal or instructive tone, the deadly language of the textbook or legal document. (Although, in fact, legal documents have their own tone, with notes of bureaucracy, minute deliberation, and just a hint of electric chair or prison cell. Textbooks, vetted by committees, are more psychotic, with a blank where the personality ought to be, like the personae suggested by the name Ghostface Killah or the Ruthless Rap Assassins' claim that "ice cold water races through my veins".) In short, Frege seems to be suggesting, rightly, that there is always some tone, but that it is not always relevant.
More from "Logic":
In human beings it is natural for thinking to be intermingled with having images and feeling. Logic has the task of isolating what is logical, not, to be sure, so that we should think without having images, which is no doubt impossible, but that we should consciously distinguish the logical from what is attached to it in the way of ideas and feelings. There is a difficulty here in that we think in some language or other and that grammar, which has a significance for language analogous to that which logic has for judgement, is a mixture of the logical and the psychological. If this were not so, all languages would necessarily have the same grammar. [Beaney, p. 243]There is a sort of mind-body problem here. Language combines or intermingles the psychological, the sensory, the personal, the physical, with the strictly logical, the impersonal. So logic is in a sense pitted against language--it must struggle to disentangle itself. Over the page Frege goes on:
Instead of following grammar blindly, the logician ought rather to see his task as that of freeing us from the fetters of language. For however true it is that thinking, at least in its higher forms, was only made possible by means of language, we have nevertheless to take great care not to become dependent on language; for very many of the mistakes that occur in reasoning have their source in the logical imperfections of language. [Beaney, p. 244]Plenty to chew on there if we want to think about Wittgenstein's emphasis on grammar. Translation is a key issue for Frege, because different languages do not have the same grammar, and logic deals with what sentences in different languages that mean the same thing have in common, i.e. the same thing that they mean. I don't think Wittgenstein would necessarily reject this idea, but there is something about his talking about grammar rather than logic that suggests doubt about the feasibility of the Fregean task of freeing ourselves from the fetters of language. Language is, after all, not a cage, and we cannot understand one another without language.
In "Thought" Frege points out that:
It is just as important to ignore distinctions that do not touch the heart of the matter, as to make distinctions which concern essentials. But what is essential depends on one's purpose. To a mind concerned with the beauties of language, what is trivial to the logician may seem to be just what is important. [Beaney, p. 331]So questions of value, of what matters, are always relevant, at least as a background to what one is doing.
And human activities are not always as distinct as we might think. There is often an element of the dry in the wet, and vice versa:
What are called the humanities are closer to poetry, and are therefore less scientific, than the exact sciences, which are drier in proportion to being more exact; for exact science is directed toward truth and truth alone. Therefore all constituents of sentences not covered by the assertoric force do not belong to scientific exposition; but they are sometimes hard to avoid, even for one who sees the danger connected with them. [Beaney, p. 330]Only relative purity is attainable.
Finally, back to translation and the question of psychology or personality:
The more rigorously scientific an exposition is, the less the nationality of its author will be discernible and the easier it will be to translate. On the other hand, the constituents of language to which I here want to call attention make the translation of poetry very difficult, indeed make perfect translation almost always impossible, for it is just in what largely makes the poetic value that languages most differ. [Beaney, p. 331]Apart form the Lecture on Ethics, Wittgenstein always wrote his philosophical work in German, as far as I know, which might show something about how far he thought his work was scientific. I plan to turn to Wittgenstein in the next post in this series. Meanwhile, here's Ian Curtis taking the blame for mistakes made over different colours, different shades.