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Vol.

XCIII, 398-409
A Meeting of Minds
ANTHONY PALMER
Shortly before he died Frege wrote the following.
How does a child learn to understand grown-ups? Not as if he
were already endowed with an understanding of a few gram-
matical constructions so that all you would need to do would be
to explain what it did not understand by means of the linguistic
knowledge it already had. In reality of course children are only
endowed with a capacity to learn to speak. We must be able to
count on a meeting of minds with them just as in the case of
animals with whom men can arrive at a mutual understanding
{Posthumous Writings, p. 271).
Shortly before he died Wittgenstein wrote the following.
I want to regard man here as an animal; as a primitive being to
which one grants instinct but not ratiocination. As a creature in
a primitive state. Any logic good enough for a primitive means
of communication needs no apology from us. Language did not
emerge from some kind of ratiocination (On Certainty, para.
475)-
The views expressed here are strikingly similar. Wittgenstein,
however, is reminding us of views that he had developed in his later
work, while Frege, although he constantly in his later writings
adverts to the problem which had pushed him into this talk about a
meeting of minds and something animal, did not develop the idea.
Nevertheless, I think that Frege's characterisation of the problem
can help us to understand many of Wittgenstein's later views. In
particular I think it can help us to understand the use which
Wittgenstein makes of the notion of agreement in judgements,
together with his various comments, not obviously related to this,
on the circumstances in which it is appropriate to speak of
knowledge. The failure to see this relationship has seriously
distorted the interpretation of much of his later work. It has, for
example, led philosophers to think of On Certainty as a specimen of
belated concern with epistemological questions. I have in mind here
398

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A MEETING OF MINDS 399
remarks like those made by Anthony Kenny in his book on
Wittgenstein where he writes:
Towards the end of his life, while staying with Norman
Malcolm in Ithaca in 1949, he was stimulated by the study of
Malcolm's articles to begin to write on epistemology. His
notes, which were continued until two days before his death
and were of course never polished, were published posthum-
ously in 1969 under the tital of On Certainty. In this work
though Descartes is never mentioned by name, Wittgenstein
conducts a three-cornered argument with Moore and the
Cartesian sceptic (Anthony Kenny, Wittgenstein, p. 204).
What, then, was the problem which led Frege to speak in the way
in which he did of a meeting of minds? The passage quoted occurs
in the course of a discussion of the nature of definition, which in
turn arises out of a characterisation of the difficulties that are
involved in giving a definition of the term 'function' as it occurs in
mathematics. Frege has just said that 'in the formula language of
mathematics an important distinction stands out that lies concealed
in verbal language'. It is the distinction with which mathematicians
become familiar when they grasp, as they need to, the idea of a
function. They need to come to terms with this idea, and they do so,
but not as a result of any definition that is given to them by their
teachers, for it is not susceptible of any definition at all. The reason
for this is that the form of a definition requires that what is defined is
not a function. To give a definition of a particular function, e.g. a sin
function, you would need to produce an expression of the form ' The
function "sin( ) " . . . ' and yet the one thing that an expression of that
form could not designate is a function. Expressions of that form
would be names of arguments or names of objects. However, a
function is precisely not an argument but what leaves a place open
for an argument. Consequently Frege writes:
It is here that the tendency of language by its use of the definite
article to stamp as an object what is a function and hence a non-
object proves itself to be the source of inaccurate and mislead-
ing expressions, and so also of errors of thought. Probably most
of the impurites that contaminate the logical source of knowl-
edge have their origins in this (Posthumous Writings p. 273).
Time and time again in his later work Frege returns to this point.
The mathematical notion of a function brings to the surface a

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400 ANTHONY PALMER:
distinction which he thought essential to grasp before any progress
could be made in logic, viz. the distinction between concepts and
objects, a distinction itself incapable of definition. We need to get
clear about this distinction and yet how can we do so if what we say
about it is always wrong? It is this problem which accounts for the
seemingly despairing remarks in his article 'On Concept and
Object' where he writes:
I admit there is a quite peculiar obstacle in the way of
understanding with my reader. By a kind of necessity of
language, my expressions taken literally, sometimes miss my
thought. I mention an object when what I intend is a concept. I
fully realise that in such cases I was relying upon a reader who
would be ready to meet me halfway, who does not begrudge a
pinch of salt (Posthumous Writings, p. 116).
Again at the end of the same article he writes:
Over the question of what it is that is called a function in
analysis we come up against the same obstacle; and on
thorough investigation it will be found that the obstacle is
essential, and founded on the nature of language; that we
cannot avoid a certain inappropriateness of linguistic expres-
sion; and that there is nothing for it but to realise this and
always take it into account (Posthumous Writings, p. 117).
One of the things which characterises Wittgenstein's later work is
that he takes this problem seriously. Moreover, as I shall try to
show, he also takes seriously the suggestion which Frege himself
makes about the direction in which a solution is to be sought, viz.
the suggestion that we must be able to count on a meeting of minds.
It is this suggestion which becomes in Wittgenstein's later work the
notion which is on any account central there, viz. that of agreement
in judgements. The notion is introduced in the Philosophical
Investigations in the following way:
If language is to be a means of communication there must be
agreement not only in definition but also, queer as this may
sound, in judgements. This seems to abolish logic but does not
do so. It is one thing to describe the methods of measurement,
and another to obtain and state the results of measurement. But
what we call 'measuring' is partly determined by a constancy in
the results of measurements.

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A MEETING OF MINDS 401
Now I think that Wittgenstein's thought at this point is that if we
conceive of logical investigations as an attempt to describe the rules
by logic, the rules by virtue of which what we say makes sense, we
can remain quite clear about what we are doing so long as we
suppose that the only agreement needed is agreement in definition.
On that supposition we could proceed with a clear conscience to
chart the relationships between our definitions, i.e. the relation-
ships between the ways in which we. choose to use words. But if we
were to suppose that agreement in judgement is also needed our
conscience becomes clouded for it then becomes difficult to see how
the statement of a rule would differ from a description of what as a
matter of fact people say and do. The difficulty would then be to see
how such a description could present us with the rules by virtue of
which what we say makes sense. If describing the rules of logic
involves describing what as a matter of fact people say and do it
seems that the difference between empirical and logical pro-
positions has been obliterated. And so if we hold that agreement in
judgements is needed for language to be a means of communication
this seems to abolish logic (see my Critical Notice of On Certainty in
Mind 1972).
Central to the conception of logic that Frege was working
through was the idea of extensionality, or if you like, the idea of logic
as being truth functional. Frege himself remarked that the only
objects with which logic deals are truth values. When this idea is
thought through it has an effect upon the way in which we think of
the so called logical constants. The effect it has, as Wittgenstein
noticed in the Tractatus, is that of preventing us from construing
them as genuine constituents of propositions. In the case of
propositions which contain other propositions the role of the logical
constants is exhibited by means of truth tables in which the
constants themselves do not appear. In the case of propositions that
do not contain other propositions the truth functional approach to
their analysis is maintained by the application of the notion of
generality; that is to say, the analysis of such propositions is the
theory of quantification. We do not get at their structure by being,
so to speak, more microscopical but by being more general. (This
point is developed in my 'Ryle Cogitans', in Philosophy, 1984.)
What enables the theory of quantification to get off the ground is the
application of the originally mathematical notion of function and
argument to sentences. We form the expression for a function by
extracting from a proper name a proper name. If we regard a

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402 ANTHONY PALMER:
sentence as a proper name for a truth value, then, if we consider the
sentence, 'Socrates is wise' and subtract from it the proper name
'Socrates' we shall be left with an expression for a function, viz. ' . . .
is wise'. It is because we can think of propositions as having such
constituents that we can introduce the idea of second level
functions, namely the quantifiers. As Wittgenstein had it in the
Tractatus, a function expression gives us the prototype of a
proposition. We can then consider the case in which all of the
propositions which exemplify that proptotype are true, the case in
which none of them are true, and the case in which at least one of
them is true. If we use Fx to symbolise a function then we have
(x)Fx, (x) Fx, and 3xFx. However, it is when we have got this far
that we meet the objection which leads Frege to talk about a meeting
of minds and the inevitability of having to be met half-way. We have
shown how we arrive at expressions for functions but our very way
of doing this prevents us from saying anything true or false about
them. The only way in which functions can appear in the argument
places of other functions is when we change level and quantify.
However, when we do so we are not saying anything true or false
about functions. If we try to place functions in the argument places
of other functions without changing level we end up with an
incomplete expression and therefore one which could not possibly
be the name of a truth value, i.e. could not possibly be something
which was true or false. The idea which enables us to proceed with
the notion of extensionality in logic seems to have the consequence
that we cannot say true or false things about those constituents of
propositions which are symbolised by expressions for functions, i.e.
we will not be able to say true or false things about concepts. Logic
requires that we distinguish between concepts and objects but the
very distinction itself prevents us from saying what the distinction
is. It is at this point that Frege invokes his idea of a meeting of
minds.
Others from the same starting point have gone in different
directions. For example, I do not think that there is any doubt that it
is this distinction that so much impressed Ryle. In 'Letters and
Syllables in Plato' he talks about Frege's
difficult but crucial point that the unitary something said in a
sentence or the unitary sense that it expresses is not an
assemblage of detachable sense atoms, that is, of parts enjoying
separate existence and separate thinkability, and yet that one

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A MEETING OF MINDS 403
truth or falsehood may have discernible, countable and
classifiable similarities to and dissimilarities from other truths
and falsehoods. Word meanings or concepts are not pro-
position components but propositional differences {Collected
Papers, vol. 1, p. 58).
And again in a later paper, ('Phenomenology Versus "The Concept
of Mind", ' Collected Papers, vol. 1, p. 187), he tells us that
the philosopher has apparently to try not just to deploy but to
describe the concepts with which he is concerned. He has to say
what pleasure and existence are. He has to try, necessarily in
vain, to attach object characterising predicates to non-object
mentioning expressions. But by no prestidigitation can the live
verb 'enjoys' or the live verb 'exists' be made the grammatical
subjects to live verbs. The philosophers description of a
concept is bound to terminate in a stammer.
It was precisely this difficulty which made Ryle shift into a
linguistic or semantic mode. He thought that while concepts could
not be made the subject of true or false propositions this was not
true of the constituents of sentences. So, instead of talking about
functions and arguments, why not talk about sentence factors and
sentence frames? The idea was that while propositions are true or
false, unfortunately for conceptual investigations they do not have
extractable parts. Nevertheless we can get at their construction by
talking about the parts of sentences in which they are expressed. We
achieve by moving into a semantic idiom what we could not have
achieved without doing so. It is not only, as he somtimes put it,
prudent to philosophise in a semantic idiom, on this account there is
not actually any other way of doing what we want to do. The only
way that we can talk about concepts is indirectly by talking about
the expressions which, so to speak, house them. Hence the label
'linguistic analysis' which was used to characterise his work (a label
which he hated) and the subsequent developments which are so
familiar. It also accounts for an emphasis present in Ryle's work but
notably absent from Wittgenstein's, viz. an emphasis on the
possibility of theorising.
It should be noticed that what is at stake here is not the reference
of incomplete expressions. That they have a reference is something
that Frege never questioned. The trouble is not that they have a
reference but that we do not and cannot have a means of making

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404 ANTHONY PALMER:
reference to what they refer to in such a way that after having made
such a reference we can then go on to say something true or false
about what it is that we have made a reference to. The only way of
referring to what incomplete expressions refer to is by completing
the expression. But when we have done that we have not succeeded
in saying anything true or false about the reference of the
incomplete expression. ' . . . is wise' says nothing true or false
because it says nothing. If we complete the expression by inserting
'Socrates' in the argument place then we do say something true i.e.,
Socrates is wise. But in saying that we have not said anything about
what the expression ' . . . is wise' refers to. It follows, from this alone,
that Michael Dummett's arguments in his first book on Frege do
not extricate Frege from the problem to which his talk about a
meeting of minds is directed. Here is what Dummett has to say
about Frege's worries about the concept horse.
We can, therefore, truly say of what the expression 'the concept
horse' stands for that it is not a concept, but an object; and, since
we speak of that for which an expression stands simply by using
that expression this means that we can truly say, ' The concept
horse is not a concept but an object.' . . . [T]he paradox is
intolerable because it leads to the conclusion that it is not
possible, by any means whatever, to state, for any predicate,
which particular concept it stands for, or to state for any
relational or functional expression, which relation or function
it stands for. Any attempt to say this must, it appears, lead to
the formation of an expression which, by Frege's criteria, is a
singular term, and by means which we have not therefore
succeeded in referring to a concept (or relation or function) at
all, but instead to an object. . . . Clearly if there were no escape
from this dilemmabrought to light by Frege himselfthis
would be a reductio ad absurdum of Frege's logical doctrines
(pp. 211-12).
Dummett sees the problem here as merely one of the reference of
incomplete expressions and proceeds using a suggestion of Frege's
to show how we can sensibly talk about what an incomplete
expression stands for. His central point is that we should not take
the expression 'what "x is a horse" stands for' as a singular term and
therefore we should not allow it to be inserted in the argument place
of a predicate expression. Just as the singular term 'Mount Everest'

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A MEETING OF MINDS 45
should be and indeed is substitutable for the singular term 'What
"Mount Everest" stands for' so 'What "x is a horse" stands for'
should be substitutable for 'x is a horse'. Since the latter is not a
singular term it follows that the former cannot be construed as a
singular term either but has to be itself construed as a predicate or
an incomplete expression, i.e. it has to be construed as leaving open
an argument place, i.e. as having the form 'y is what "x is a horse"
stands for'. If we so construe it then Frege's paradox can never
arise, for it could never be intruded into the argument place of
another predicative expression. We avoid the paradox while
maintaining the idea that incomplete expressions have a reference.
However, if what worries Frege is not the question of the reference
of incomplete expressions but the difficulty of saying something
true or false about the reference of such expressions we have not
advanced much with his problem. Dummett is inclined to think
that Frege's remarks about a meeting of minds etc., are resolved
once we have seen that we can construe the reference of incomplete
expressions in a non-paradoxical way. The point is that when we do
so construe them we can see why those remarks become so
pertinent, and why Frege in his unpublished writings comes back to
them time and time again. They do not constitute the reductio ad
absurdum of Frege's logical doctrines but rather show you what is
involved in an acceptance of them. What they show is that if
language is as Frege thought it to be, i.e. if it is such that the
distinction between concept and object is of prime importance then
what is required for communication is, queer as this may sound, not
only agreement in definition but a meeting of minds or agreement in
judgements. It is noticeable that Dummett makes no attempt
whatsoever to avail himself of this aspect of Frege's work or of the
development of it in the work of Wittgenstein.
Wittgenstein's remark with which I began comes from On
Certainty. If we see that work in the context of Frege's problem it
looks very different indeed from the way it looks if viewed from the
background of general sceptical worries. I do not think that
Wittgenstein ever was interested in epistemological worries as such.
To understand his later writings we need to ask ourselves what the
difficulties were that led to him to say the things about knowledge
that he did.
Both in the Philosophical Investigations and in On Certainty he
tells us that there are certain situations in which the concept of
knowledge is out of place. He asks, for example, what sense it makes

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406 ANTHONY PALMER:
to say that I know I am in pain, and he criticises Moore for replying
to the sceptic who asks how he knows the propositions listed in 'A
Defence of Common Sense' and 'Proof of an External World' by
saying that he does know them. The question of knowledge is only
to the point in situations where there is some doubt, whereas it
would be difficult to know what doubting such propositions would
amount to. Now we might ask why he should so urge that the
concept of knowledge is only appropriate in situations of doubt and
certainty. It is surely not, as some have thought, a question of usage.
What is at stake is the relation of the concept of knowledge to truth
and falsity. If I know that p then p is true. However, if we are
operating in the area of agreement in judgements, if we have gone
beyond agreement in definition, then whatever we say in that area
will, as it were by definition, not belong in the area of saying true or
false things, and will consequently not belong to the realm of things
that I can be said to know or not know. It is the connection of the
concept of knowledge with truth which locates it in the same
dimension as that of doubt and certainty. When I am in doubt I am
in doubt as to whether something is so or not, and when I am certain
I am certain that something is so. When truth is excluded so are
questions of doubt and certainty. Hence, if I am right in maintain-
ing that Wittgenstein's notion of agreement in judgements, like
Frege's idea of a meeting of minds, is only introduced at the point
where saying true or false things is out of place, it follows that where
such talk is inappropriate there talk of knowledge is inappropriate
also.
The point can be illustrated by applying it to discussions of pain.
If I say that I am in pain and someone asks me how I know, what is it
that he wants to know about? The situation would have to be
extraordinary if what he wanted to know was whether I am in pain,
for I have told him that I am. Let us assume that it is not a question
of him doubting my word. The question is, of course, asked by the
sceptical philosopher and what he wants to know about is the
concept of pain. If I try to tell him about that by telling him what I
know then all of the problems which beset Frege come flooding in.
In this sense the sceptic's problems are not problems of knowledge
at all. His problems are conceptual problems and about concepts
there is no question of saying true or false things and therefore no
question of knowledge and no problem of knowledge.
Finally, I think Frege's problem can help us with another much
discussed term of Wittgensteinian art. When concepts prove

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A MEETING OF MINDS 47
troublesome, as the concept of pain was proving troublesome to the
sceptical philosopher, Wittgenstein will ask for the criteria of
whatever it is that is in question. If the concept of pain is giving the
sceptical philosopher trouble then he will ask about the criteria for
saying of someone that he is in pain. Notice once more that what
gives trouble is the concept of pain. Apart from special circum-
stances we are not ordinarily troubled in the way in which the
sceptic is about whether people are in pain or not. It is the concept
of pain that gives the sceptic his worries in that he is bothered
about whether anyone (other than himself) is in pain. He is worried
about the grounds for thinking so. It is therefore with regard to the
concept that criteria are invoked. It is at this point that what we have
learned from Frege about concepts affects the way in which we
think of criteria, for there is a use of the term criterion which is not
like this at all. If we restrict ourselves to the situations in which we
are genuinely worried about whether a person is in pain or not (we
need to know how to treat him for example) there are certain tests
that we shall make and if those tests turn out positive we shall not
doubt that the person in question is in pain. Generalising, when we
say of a particular S that it is P we can do so after having measured it
against the criteria for a things being P. Naturally there will be
many areas in which we employ a term when we shall be in some
doubt just what the criteria for its application are, and in many cases
we shall need to make a decision. Nevertheless the principle holds
that we can move directly from the fulfilment of the criteria to the
application of the term. In these cases we are not worried about the
concept we are merely worried about whether a certain case falls
under it or not. These are the kinds of cases in which Austin used to
invoke criteria. How do you know that it is a Bullfinch? List the
characteristics of Bullfinches. If it has those characteristics then it is
one, no question. The person puzzled about Bullfinches just does
not know what those characteristics are and needs to be informed,
and he can be so informed by someone who knows. However, if
someone is puzzled about concept then any appeal to criteria has, of
necessity to be different. If our worries are about P in the sense that
it is the concept that we are worried about we shall be unable to
move directly from criteria to the concept. If we could so directly
move we would be involved in making that concept the subject of a
true proposition, we would have turned the concept into something
which it precisely is not, namely, an object. Criteria in the one sense
relate concepts to objects whereas in the other sense they relate

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408 ANTHONY PALMER:
concepts to concepts, and this relating has to be a quite different
enterprise.
Stanley Cavell in his recent book The Claim of Reason has his
finger on this point. He does in fact say that for Wittgenstein criteria
'do not relate a name to an object but various concepts to the
concept of that object'. The trouble is that in other places he distorts
this point by resorting, not without certain qualms which become
altogether understandable if you have been reading Wittgenstein in
the background of Frege, to the vocabulary of different kinds of
objects. In discussing the difference between Austin and
Wittgenstein in their use of the term criteria he distinguishes
between specific objects and generic objects. Specific objects he
describes as such that the problem of knowledge they present is one
of 'correct description, identification or recognition', whereas
generic objects, the standard examples in traditional epistemology,
'are ones specifically about which there just is no problem of
recognition or identification or description, ones about which the
only problem, should it arise, would be not to say what they are but
to say whether we can know that they exist, are real, are actually
there'. He argues that Austin provides criteria when the knowledge
in question is of a specific object, whereas Wittgenstein provides
criteria when the knowledge in question is of a generic object. And
so he writes:
The general relation between these notions of criteria is
roughly this: If you do not know the criteria of an Austinian
object (can't identify, name it) then you lack a piece of
information, a bit of knowledge, and you can be told its name,
told what it is (officially) called. But if you do not know the
criteria of Wittgensteinian objects then you lack, as it were, not
only a piece of information or knowledge, but the possibility of
acquiring information about such objects iiberhaupt. You
cannot be told the name of that object because there is as yet no
object of that kind for you to attach a forthcoming name to. The
possibility of finding out what it is oficially called is not yet
open to you (The Claim of Reason, p. 77).
This sort of talk can make it look as though Wittgenstein only raises
questions about criteria when the existence of some curious sort of
object is at stake, perhaps mental objects or physical objects, and
this mistakes the point entirely. With Frege in mind we can see how
the sorts of distinction drawn in this passage reflect not a concern

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A MEETING OF MINDS 49
for different sorts of objects but the crucial distinction between
concepts and objects.
The passage which I have quoted which introduces the notion of
agreement in judgement makes no reference to the term 'criterion'
at all but it should be clear that the notion is playing a role there.
When Wittgenstein says that 'it is one thing to describe the methods
of measurement, and another to obtain and state the results of
measurement. But what we call "measuring" is partly determined
by a constancy in the results of measurements' he is in fact making
a point similar to the point about pain that I have just been making.
What in effect he is saying is that amongst the criteria for the
concept of measurement is a certain constancy in the results of
measurement. Without such constancy in results there would be no
such concept as what we call measuring.
When we correctly understand the difference between concepts
and objects we see that concepts cannot, unlike objects, be made the
subjects of true or false propositions. It follows from this that the
upshot of conceptual investigations cannot be an accumulation of
true or false propositions. If the sceptics problems are conceptual
problems then no accumulation of information is going to be of help
with them. When criteria are evoked in cases where concepts prove
troublesome they are not evoked as presenting the truth that will
settle the issue.
The conceptual confusion of which Wittgenstein speaks is not
just muddled thinking, due perhaps to ignorance or misinformation
or lack of logical expertise. It is, as Frege recognised, a confusion
founded on the nature of language. We mention an object when
what we intend is a concept; press for definitions when what we
need to understand is agreement in judgements; seek for theory
when what is in question is grammar.
DEPARTMENT OF PHILOSOPHY,
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHAMPTON,
SOUTHAMPTON, SO9 5NH

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