Frege on the Fruitfulness of Definitions


  • Rachel Boddy Universiteit Utrecht



What, in Frege’s view, makes definitions fruitful? In Grundlagen §70, Frege offers an answer: Unfruitful definitions are definitions that “could just as well be omitted and leave no link missing in the chain of our proofs”. The §70 passage, however, poses an interpretive puzzle as its characterization of fruitfulness appears to conflict with other conditions that Frege imposes on definitions, namely, eliminability and conservativeness. It appears that the only way to resolve this conflict is to attribute to Frege a notion of fruitfulness that is trivially satisfied and, hence, poorly motivated. I argue that this worry is misplaced. This is because Frege distinguishes between two roles of definitions, namely, between definitions qua explanations of concepts (analytic definitions), and definitions qua resources of a proof system (logical definitions). I use this distinction to argue that a fruitful definition, for Frege, is a definition that plays both roles, and that to play both roles, the definition has to be used in the proof of sentences containing the term so defined. Starting from §70, I develop and defend this reading of Frege’s notion of fruitful definition.


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