Chapter 8


Sense, Reference

and Logic





In fact, there is very little constancy of reference in language. In everyday discourse almost all of the fixing of reference comes from the text in which expressions are used. Two different expressions can have the same referent. The classic example is the Morning Star and the Evening Star , both of which normally refer to the planet Venus.

       To turn from reference to sense, the SENSE of an expression is its place in a system of semantic relationships with other expressions in the language. The first of these semantic relationships that we will mention is sameness of meaning, an intuitive concept which we will illustrate by example. We will deal first with the senses of words in context.

Example: (The three pairs of the following sentences have the same meaning).


     a.   I almost fell over

            I nearly fell over

     b.   It is likely that Raymond will be here tomorrow.

            It is probably Raymond will be here tomorrow.

     c.   Your gatepost doesn’t seem to be quite vertical .

            Your gatepost doesn’t seem to be quite upright.


We can talk about the sense, not only of words, but also of longer expressions such as phrases and sentences.


Practice : Intuitively, do the following pairs mean the same thing?


(1)   Rupert took off his jacket.                                          

       Rupert took his jacket off                                              Yes / No

(2)   Harriet wrote the answer down

       Harriet wrote down the answer                                     Yes / No

(3)   Bachelors prefer redheads

       Girls with red hair are preferred  by unmarried men            Yes / No


In some cases, the same word can have more than one sense. For the following sentences, the word ‘bank’ has a number of different senses (at least 4)


     a.   I have an accountant at the Bank of Scotland

     b.   We steered the raft to the other bank of the river

     c.   The DC-10 banked sharply to avoid a crash

     d.   I banked the furnace up with coke last night.                           


We use term ‘word’ here in the sense of ‘word-form’. That is, we find it convenient to treat anything spelled with the same sequence of letters and pronounced with the same sequence of phonemes in a standard dialect as being the same word. Thus, for example, we treat bank in the example above as a single word with many senses. This is the way most non-semanticists, including almost all compilers of dictionaries, would regard bank , for example, as several different words.





On the relationship between sense and reference: the referent of an expression is often a thing or a person in the world; whereas the sense of an expression is not a thing at all. In fact, it is difficult to say what sort of entity the sense of an expression is. It is much easier to say whether or not two expressions have the same sense. (Like being able to say that two people are in the same place without being able to say where they are.) the sense of an expression is an abstraction, but it is helpful to note that it is an abstraction that can be entertained in  the mind of a language user. When a person understands fully what is said to him, it is reasonable to say that he grasps the sense of the expressions he hears. Every expression that has meaning has sense, but not every expression has reference.

       The relationship between reference and utterance is not so direct as that between sense and proposition, but there is a similarity worth pointing out. Both referring and uttering are acts performed by particular speakers on particular  occasions.


Practice : Imagine that a friend of yours says to say to you, “John is putting on weight these days”, and imagine that a friend of ours (i.e. the authors of this book) happens to utter the same sentence to us one day.


(1)   Would this be a case of one utterance or two?


(2)   Would the John referred to be the same John or two different Johns?



In the two separate utterances above, there are two separate acts of referring. In fact, most utterances contain, or are accompanied by, one or more acts of referring. An act of referring is the picking out of a particular referent by a speaker in the course of a particular utterance. Although the concept of reference is fundamentally related to utterances, in that acts of reference only actually happen in the course of utterances, we will find it useful to stretch a point and talk about reference in connection with sentences, or parts of sentences. What we are really doing in cases like this imagining a potential utterance of the sentence or expression in question.

       In everyday conversation the words meaning, means, mean, meant, etc. are sometimes used to indicate reference and sometimes to indicate sense.


Practice :         What is intended by the word mean, meaning, etc. in the following example, reference (R) or sense (S)?


(1)   When Helen mentioned “the fruit cake”,   she meant

        that rock hard object in the   middle   of the table.                       R / S

(2)   When Albert talks about “his former friend”   he means me.          R / S

(3)   Daddy, what does unique mean?                                             R / S

(4)   Purchase has the same meaning as buy.                                       R / S

(5)   Look up the meaning of apoplexy in your   dictionary.                    R / S

(1)      If you look out the window now, you’ll   see who I mean.          R / S





Logic is a word that means many things to different people. Many everyday uses of the words logic and logical could be replaced by expressions such as reasonable behaviour and reasonable . You may say, for instance, “Sue acted quite logically in locking her door”, meaning that Sue had food, well thought-out reasons for doing what she did. We shall use the words logic and logical in a narrower sense, familiar to semanticist. We give a partial definition of our sense of logic below.

       LOGIC deals with meanings in a language system, not with actual behaviour of any sort. Logic deals most centrally with PROPOSITIONS . The terms ‘logic’ and ‘logical’ do not apply directly to UTTERANCES (which are instances of behaviour).


Practice :         Using this partial definition, do the following statements use the words logic, logical, logically, and illogical in our narrow sense, or not?


(1)   It’s not logical to want to kill oneself.                                   Yes / No

(2)   Harry is so illogical: first he says he doesn’t   want to

        come, and then he changes his mind.                                    Yes / No

(3)   The truth of the proposition that Socrates is mortal

       follows logically from the fact that Socrates is a man

       and the fact that all men are mortal.                                       Yes / No

(4)   Max is not coming is, logically, the negation   of Max is

       coming.                                                                           Yes / No

(5)   The logic of Churchill’s tactics in the Eastern

       Mediterranean was quite baffling.                                          Yes / No


There is an important connection between logic (even in our narrow sense) and rational action, but it is wrong to equate the two. Logic is just one contributing actor in rational behaviour. Rational behaviour involves:


(a)   goals

(b)   assumptions and knowledge about existing states of affairs

(c) calculations, based on these assumptions and knowledge, leading to ways of achieving the goals.          


Example ( of rational behaviour)



     to alleviate my hunger


  Assumptions and knowledge:

     Hunger is alleviated by eating food.

     Cheese is food.

     There is a piece of cheese in front of me.

     I am able to eat this piece of cheese.




     If hunger is alleviated by eating food and cheese is food, then hunger is alleviated by eating cheese.

     If hunger is alleviated by eating cheese, then my own hunger would be alleviated by eating this piece of cheese in front of me, and

     Eating  this piece of cheese would alleviate my hunger, and my goal is to alleviate my hunger, so therefore eating this piece of cheese would achieve my goal.

(Rational) action: eating the cheese.


Eating the piece of cheese in such circumstances is an example of entirely rational behaviour. But the use of the word logic here restricts the logic to the ‘calculation’ aspect of this behaviour. The goals, assumptions, knowledge, and final action are in no way logical or illogical, in our sense.

       Logic, then, tells us nothing about goals, or assumptions, or actions in themselves. It simply provides rules for calculation which may be used to get a rational being from goals and assumptions to action. There is a close analogy between logic and arithmetic (which is why we have used the word calculation ).

       ‘Arithmetical fact’ does not mean just fact involving numbers in some way, but rather fact arising from the system of rules defining addition, substraction, multiplication, and division. A similarity between arithmetic and logic is the unthinkability of alternatives. For example, ‘2 + 2 = 5’ id unthinkable. We can say the words easily enough, but there is no way that we can put together the concepts behind ‘2’, ‘+’, ‘=’, and ‘5’ so that they fit what ‘2 + 2 = 5’ seems to mean. This is an arithmetical construction.

       All men are mortal and some men are not mortal is unthinkable in the same way. This is a logical contradiction.




Mon, 16 May 2011 @10:49

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