The sentence theory of truth bearers – the problem of ambiguity #2

Ben Burgis over at (Blog&~Blog) has commented on my essay about the monist sentence theory of truth bearers. I have some comments on his comments. Aha! Let the comment wars begin.

Ben makes three somewhat related points. I have comments only for the two first.

The first point

Here’s what he had to say:

(1) The indexical phrasing might make things a bit confusing in this specific case. On one level, it’s surely contingent that Ben Burgis exists, but one might argue that it’s logically impossible that any instance of “I exist” tokened by anyone could ever be false. What one thinks about what to ultimately make of this might depend on what one thinks about the widely alleged essentialness of indexical claims–if “I exist” really *means* Ben Burgis exists, that’s one thing, but given that I could forget that I’m Ben Burgis but still be quite sure that I exist, there are tricky issues at play here.

I certainly did not try to get into problems by using indexicals (such as pronouns). It seems that I can avoid this issue by simply choosing another example (more about this in the second comment) or avoiding indexicals at all. I suppose I could just change it to:

S. It is logically possible that Emil Kirkegaard exists and that Emil Kirkegaard does not exist.1

(Though as for the problems with being wrong about “I exist” (the proposition!), see this discussion over at Philosophyforum.com. There is something curious about the phrase “cannot be wrong” when applied to truth bearers. It is not clear how to properly understand it. I made two quick analyses of the concept in this essay.)

The second point

Ben’s second point:

(2) Another complicating factor about the example is that existence is being treated as a predicate, which seems to assume “noneism,” the view that there are objects that have some properties (like being referred to) but which don’t exist. Anyone who agrees with Quine’s claim in “On What There Is?” that the answer to the question of ontology (“what exists?”) is “everything” would, while agreeing that it’s possible for there to be no object that Ben-Burgisizes, strong object to ◊¬Ei.

I do not believe in “noneism” (never heard of it). I only write it like that because it is simpler and not confusing in most cases. Here are two other ways to formalize the same sentence (original (S)):

1. ◊(∃x)(Ux)∧◊¬(∃x)(Ux)

2. ◊[(∃x)(Ux)∧¬(∃x)(Ux)]

(Where “Ux” is some unique description of me. I will just translate it to “is Emil Kirkegaard”, alternatively it could be “fits the unique description of Emil Kirkegaard”.)

So, in predicate logic english-ish:

1*. It is logically possible that there exists at least one person such that that person is Emil Kirkegaard and it is logically possible that it is not the case that there exists at least one person such that that person is Emil Kirkegaard.

2*. It logically possible that (there exists at least one person such that that person is Emil Kirkegaard and that it is not the case that there exists at least one person such that that person is Emil Kirkegaard).

The sheer length of this is why I usually use ‘simplified predication’ when formalizing.

More ambiguity?

The sentence may have been more ambiguous than I originally thought. How about this interpretation?:2

3. 1. ◊(∃x)(Ux)∧¬(∃x)(Ux)

3*. It is logically possible that there exists at least one person such that that person is Emil Kirkegaard and it is not the case that there exists at least one person such that that person is Emil Kirkegaard.

That’s just applying the predicate “it is logically possible” to the first part and not the second.

Notes

1Philosophers have some weird history for using their own names in examples. I shall follow their example. Just for kicks.

2Is there any convention about what to do when both asking a question and mentioning things that require a colon (:)?

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4 comments

  1. “S. It is logically possible that Emil Kirkegaard exists and that Emil Kirkegaard does not exist”
    This will always be false by definition. Here “Emil Kirkegaard” refers to an object (you) that does exist, so it’s not possible that Emil Kirkegaard does not exist. You can’t use words that refer to specific objects when you want to debate the possibility of existence. You automatically assume existence when you do.

    I think you have to use general terms like this:
    S. It is logically possible that a man named Emil kirkegaard exist and that a man named Emil Kirkegaard does not exist.

  2. Hi TLF,

    I don’t see the problem.

    “Here “Emil Kirkegaard” refers to an object (you) that does exist, so it’s not possible that Emil Kirkegaard does not exist.”

    Why do you think this is true? I think it is logically possible that I don’t exist. Furthermore I don’t see what difference your version makes.

  3. Wow, that was a quick response. =)

    “Why do you think this is true?”
    You have to define what “Emil Kirkegaard” means, or your sentence will be meaningless. If “Emil Kirkegaard” does not refer to anything then your sentence is meaningless.

    “I think it is logically possible that I don’t exist”
    If your “I” (both of them) does not refer to an existing person, then your sentence is meaningless. So it’s not possible that you don’t exist. It’s a self-contradiction to believe that.

    “Furthermore I don’t see what difference your version makes”
    I just wanted to point out that when you make propositions like this then there is a range of assumption that are automatically made and which should be considered compared to the proposition. If you want to reduce the ambiguity, then I think it is necessary to be aware of this fact.
    What do you think?

  4. I’m afraid I don’t understand the problem. I will email you instead as this comment format is bad for discussion.

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