Talking about Nothing. Numbers, Hallucinations, and Fictions

Philosophy 87 (1):145-150 (2012)
Abstract
If everything exists, then it looks, prima facie, as if talking about nothing is equivalent to not talking about anything. However, we appear as talking or thinking about particular nothings, that is, about particular items that are not among the existents. How to explain this phenomenon? One way is to deny that everything exists, and consequently to be ontologically committed to nonexistent “objects”. Another way is to deny that the process of thinking about such nonexistents is a genuine singular thought. The first strategy we may call “the Meinongian tradition” (championed by authors like Alexius Meinong, Ernst Mally, Terence Parsons, Richard Routley, and Ed Zalta), while the second could be dubbed “the de re tradition” (connected to work by Gareth Evans, John McDowell, and Tyler Burge). Finally, the third way to solve the above puzzle, and probably the majority view in contemporary philosophy, is due to Bertrand Russell and W.V.O. Quine, who deny the particularity of the apparent nonexistent object and the singularity of the corresponding thought via the view that any statement about apparently particular nonexistents can be paraphrased into a quantified expression containing no genuinely referring terms. Jody Azzouni’s book is an attempt to argue for and develop a fourth view, based on the hitherto unrecognised notion of an “empty singular thought”, which Azzouni takes to have a place in logical space. Concomitant to developing the view, Azzouni applies it to three typical cases of talk about nonexistents: numbers, hallucinations, and fictions. As the name suggests, empty singular thought is devised as having three essential characteristics: (1) it is genuine thought, no different from any other, (2) it is singular, that is, its content is partly determined by particular non-conceptualised states of affairs, and (3) nevertheless it is genuinely empty, unlike Meinongian thought, that is, its object “does not exist in any sense”, to use Azzouni’s own formulation. Azzouni undertakes some challenging acrobatics when trying to persuade the reader that his view is substantive and it does not end up being the same as any of the previous three views about apparent talk about nonexistents..
Keywords nonexistent objects  ontological commitment  singular thought
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Jody Azzouni (2011). Singular Thoughts (Objects-Directed Thoughts). Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 85 (1):45-61.
Tim Crane (2011). The Singularity of Singular Thought. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 85 (1):21-43.
Friederike Moltmann (forthcoming). The Number of Planets, a Number-Referring Term? In Philip A. Ebert & Marcus Rossberg (eds.), Abstractionism. Oxford University Press.
Bernard Linsky & Edward N. Zalta (1991). Is Lewis a Meinongian? Australasian Journal of Philosophy 69 (4):438–453.
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