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  1. #1
    Alexey86 is offline Senior Member
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    the thinker vs a thinker

    Here's an excerpt from The Thought: A Logical Inquiry by G. Frege:

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    1) Why the thinker? He's talking in general. Is it a role name like the speaker and the hearer representing two main roles in a dialog?
    2) Why did he use a thinker after using the thinker twice? Did he mean some other thinker or any thinker (general usage)?
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  2. #2
    jutfrank's Avatar
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    Re: the thinker vs a thinker

    1) Yes, it's like a "role name", as you put it. It's a specific use in the sense that it's the thinker of the thoughts mentioned in the previous sentence.

    2) It's become more general here. There's no longer a specific reference to the thoughts mentioned in previous sentences.

    Are you going to read, or have you already, read this text, Alexey? I'm curious.

  3. #3
    Alexey86 is offline Senior Member
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    Re: the thinker vs a thinker

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    Are you going to read, or have you already, read this text, Alexey? I'm curious.
    I saw the citation first, and now I'm in the process of slow reading.

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    2) It's become more general here. There's no longer a specific reference to the thoughts mentioned in previous sentences.
    That is confusing, given that the sentence with a thinker is obviously related to the previous two because it starts with the anaphoric they (= thoughts).
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    jutfrank's Avatar
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    Re: the thinker vs a thinker

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    That is confusing, given that the sentence with a thinker is obviously related to the previous two because it starts with the anaphoric they (= thoughts).
    Yes, I can see how this is hard.

    But the thinker in the indefinite phrase a thinker is not the specific thinker of the thoughts mentioned, since those thoughts "can be true without being apprehended by a thinker" to think them. That's why the phrase is indefinite. Moreover, it wouldn't work to use a definite noun phrase there; if there's no thinker of the thoughts, there can't be anyone to make specific reference to.

    Does that make sense?

  5. #5
    Alexey86 is offline Senior Member
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    Re: the thinker vs a thinker

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    But the thinker in the indefinite phrase a thinker is not the specific thinker of the thoughts mentioned, since those thoughts "can be true without being apprehended by a thinker" to think them. That's why the phrase is indefinite. Moreover, it wouldn't work to use a definite noun phrase there; if there's no thinker of the thoughts, there can't be anyone to make specific reference to.

    Does that make sense?
    Sorry, I've read it several times and still don't understand. Frege used they to refer to the thoughts mentioned before, right? So, why didn't he continue talking about the same thinker? But that's not the main difficulty. After all, any author can make a transition from specific reference to general if (s)he wants. But why wouldn't the thinker work? I just can't see how your last passage explains that, given that we agreed the thinker was a role, not necessarily a specific person.
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    GoesStation is offline Moderator
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    Re: the thinker vs a thinker

    The author could have used the indefinite article, but would have lost the transition from discussing a specific thinker to discussing the general case of any thinker.
    I am not a teacher.

  7. #7
    Tarheel's Avatar
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    Re: the thinker vs a thinker

    Alexy, it does get a bit complicated at times. Don't worry if you don't understand something right away.
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  8. #8
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    Re: the thinker vs a thinker

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    Frege used they to refer to the thoughts mentioned before, right?
    Yes.

    So, why didn't he continue talking about the same thinker?
    There's no thinker at all any more. Thoughts can be true without any thinker. Thoughts do not need a thinker to be true.

    But that's not the main difficulty. After all, any author can make a transition from specific reference to general if (s)he wants. But why wouldn't the thinker work?
    Like I said, it wouldn't make sense. Which thinker would that be referring to?

    I just can't see how your last passage explains that, given that we agreed the thinker was a role, not necessarily a specific person.

    I'm not sure I understand what you mean by 'a role', then.

    When we talk on this forum about 'the speaker', we're talking about the speaker of a particular utterance. In that way, we're making specific reference. Similarly, in this passage, the definite noun phrase the thinker is the thinker of a particular thought. We're specifying which speaker/thinker we're referring to. That's how the noun phrase is definite.

  9. #9
    Alexey86 is offline Senior Member
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    Re: the thinker vs a thinker

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    Yes.Like I said, it wouldn't make sense. Which thinker would that be referring to?.

    I'm not sure I understand what you mean by 'a role', then.
    I see a difference between the thinker referring to a specific person and a role. Only the former is truly definite in terms of reference. The latter is semi-definite like generic you (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generic_you). When I hear Brushing your teeth is healthy, I take your to refer to me and to everyone at the same time. I thought the thinker as a role that is present in every act of thinking could also refer to a specific person and everyone simultaneously and due to this feature could be used instead of a thinker: They can be true without being apprehended by the thinker (by you)...
    Last edited by Alexey86; 17-Jan-2021 at 23:14.
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  10. #10
    jutfrank's Avatar
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    Re: the thinker vs a thinker

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    I see a difference between the thinker referring to a specific person and a role. Only the former is truly definite in terms of reference. The latter is semi-definite like generic you (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generic_you). When I hear Brushing your teeth is healthy, I take your to refer to me and to everyone at the same time. I thought the thinker as a role that is present in every act of thinking could also refer to a specific person and everyone simultaneously and due to this feature could be used instead of a thinker: They can be true without being apprehended by the thinker (by you)...
    Okay, I see clearly what you mean by 'a role'. Yes, in any scenario you can use definite articles to refers to the people and things that play various roles. For example, in a poker game, there's the dealer and the players and the table and the ace of spades, etc.

    But now I'm not sure what you mean by a 'specific person'. Could you make that clear? Because I suspect this may be where we're thinking about different things. When I say 'a specific person', I mean 'somebody who is being specified'. So in the poker example, the dealer is a specific person, the players are specific people, the table is a specific table, etc.

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