Extend English by adding a new kind term "ersoh", and allowing quantification over ersohs. Now the following stipulations generate a semantics for ersohs as well as for a relation "horsesucceeds":
- Every ersoh horsesucceeds a unique horse.
- Every horse that dies at a time after which there are at least three minutes (i.e., at a time such that time does not come to an end in less than three minutes after the horse's death[note 1]) is horsesucceeded by a unique ersoh.
- If e horsesucceeds h, then e exists forever (if time has no end) or until the end of time (if time has an end) from the moment three minutes after the death of h.
- An ersoh e1 in w1 is identical with an ersoh e2 in w2 if and only if the horse that e1 horsesucceeds in w1 is identical with the horse that e2 horsesucceeds in w2.
- If P is a physical-property predicate (e.g., "has mass of 2kg") that it makes sense to apply to a physical object at particular time, then e satisfies P at t if and only if (a) e exists at t and the horse h that e horsesucceeds satisfies P at t*, where t*=f(t,td,tb) where td is h's time of death, tb is the beginning of h's existence, and f is some specified one-to-one function[note 2] that maps times from td+3min to times between tb and td.
- The only basic predicates that an ersoh satisfies are is an ersoh, horsesucceeds h and P where P is handled as in (5). All other basic predicates are unsatisfied by every ersoh. More complex predications to ersohs are to be reduced to these in some Tarskian way.
I may have omitted something needed for a complete semantics of ersoh-talk. If so, add it, keeping to the spirit of the proposal. The point is that we can easily generate a complete semantics for a language that supposes ersohs.
Now, surely, there are no ersohs in a strict sense of "are". But we can meaningfully talk about them in a way that reduces to talk about horses.
Here, then, is one of my major philosophical intuitions: Any entities talk about which reduces to talk about other entities have the same ontological status as ersohs. They don't really exist. Hence, if reductionism about persons is true, then in a strict sense of "are", there are no persons.
But what is this "strict sense"? Well, the above gives an ostensive definition of it: the basic entities are, while ersohs aren't.
[Minor typos fixed.]