Political uses of philosophy of language

Juan Cole trots out Frege’s distinction between sense and reference in order to explain why Cheney’s decision to reveal Valerie Plame’s identity was illegal. Cheney et al seem to have thought that by using the phrase “Joe Wilson’s wife” they could avoid the law which forbids revealing a covert agent’s name. I think Frege’s sense-reference distinction is actually in line with Cheney’s position. Picture Cheney claiming that they didn’t reveal the name of a covert agent, merely that name’s referent.

Still, Cole is clearly invoking Frege in a spirit of “you’ve got to be kidding me.” Anytime “19th century german logicians” enter a political discussion someone is probably getting condescended to, and lord knows that’s justified. I wonder if any of the philosophy bloggers will mention this one, since I’m not sure that Cole’s invocation of Frege is mistaken.

Update: I probably should be sure about that, since I started my philosophy of language paper on Frege’s sense-reference distinction today.

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