Monday, November 2, 2009

Is quantification substitutional?


  1. Possibly, something exists which could not be referred to with a linguistic expression.
If quantification is at base substitutional, then (1) is false. But the negation of (1) is:
  1. Necessarily, everything can be referred to with a linguistic expression.
Call this "referential universalism". Now, there presumably are worlds where there is no language. Could there be entities that could exist only in such worlds? If so, then, most likely (2) would be false (some such individuals could be referred to in a cross-worldly way by appropriate definite descriptions, but there is little reason to think they all could be). So, referential universalism is not particularly plausible.

The substitutionist could affirm that referential universalism is a trivial truth. In English, some names, like "Alex", ambiguously refer to multiple entities, and are disambiguated contextually. Presumably, there is an extension English* of English which has the name "Ting" that is much more ambiguous—it can refer to anything at all. Thus, "George loves Sally" is appropriately translated by "Ting loves Sally" as well as by "George loves Ting", in different contexts. But then (2) is a trivial truth—"Ting" can refer to anything at all.

It is a fine question how to allow for ambiguous reference and remain a substitutionist. One way is not open: take substituents to be pairs consisting of an ambiguous referring term and a referent. For if one did that, one is doing objectual quantification over referents. So, probably, what one needs to do is to substitutionally quantify over pairs <e,c> where e is an ambiguously referring expressing and c is a description of a context (it can't just be a context as then we'd be objectually quantifying over contexts). But then our substitutionist becomes committed to the highly non-trivial truth:

  1. Necessarily, everything is such that in some context there is a linguistic expression that unambiguously refers to it.

Now, maybe it will be said that I haven't offered an argument against (2) or (3). True. But I now make this move. Look: (2) and (3) are trivially true when read substitutionally. Our understanding of (2) and (3) as non-trivial truths shows that we do not, in fact, read their quantifiers substitutionally, and hence substitutionism is false.

None of this affects the claim that there is a perfectly good substitutional quantifier--only the claim that all quantification is to be understood in terms of it.

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