Posted Thursday, July 19, 2012, at 11:48 AM
I try not to focus too much on trumped-up campaign gaffes, but I did study demonstratives (i.e. the meaning of the words "this" and "that") in college and these remarks from Frege in "Thoughts" seem clearly relevant to the controversy over what Obama meant about the interplay between business success and public infrastructure:
[T]he mere wording, as it can be preserved in writing, is not the complete expression of the thought; a knowledge of certain conditions accompanying the utterance, which are used as means of expressing the thought, is needed for us to grasp the thought correctly. Pointing the finger, hand gestures, glances, may belong here, too.
In Frege's terms, I think that the thought here is perfectly clear—Obama is saying that all successful entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the existence of public services in the course of their careers. But stripped of the context of body language and facial expressions, the mere wording preserved in writing can be read as saying something else.