Thursday, May 25, 2006

Frege-Searle hypothesis

In Sag and Ginzburg's Interrogative Investigations, they talk about the Frege-Searle hypothesis, which says that commands, assertions, and questions all have common contents but just differ in force. For example, 'Open the door', 'The door is open', and 'Is the door open?' all have the same content and different force. Sag and Ginzburg didn't rehearse the arguments in favor of this hypothesis, so I checked to see what Searle and Frege had to say. Searle asserts this hypothesis as correct at the start of Speech Acts. He gives an argument somewhere (according to someone who knows Searle) that says the reason is that the commands and questions can be paraphrased as assertions using the same proposition/sentence. There is some confusion of sentences and propositions I think. Conclusion: Searle's support for it is bad. Frege says that polar questions and assertions clearly have the same content. The questions are just requests for assertions of the proposition or the denial of the proposition. It isn't clear that he thinks commands have propositional content. Frege thinks that wh-questions are like unsaturated propositions, awaiting the filler which is whatever will answer the question. Conclusion: Frege's support for it is bad. Why was this hypothesis ever accepted if the inital arguments for it were so bad (they were more of assertion than arguments)? My guess is intuitive appeal. The questions, commands, and assertions seem similar, on the face of it, so it makes sense to think they have something in common. What? Propositional content. Why? No clue.

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