Securing singular thought about merely hypothetical entities

Philosophical Studies 173 (8):2193-2213 (2016)
Gregory Ackerman
University of Southern California
Although we are still in the dark when it comes to giving necessary and jointly sufficient criteria for what it takes to be thinking a singular thought, the paradigm cases are just ones where an agent is thinking about some particular object. When we erroneously think that Vulcan is a planet, our thought appears to be singular since it is, after all, about Vulcan. A promising way to explain this is to claim that there is something, a merely hypothetical entity, that is Vulcan. There have been notable supporters for positing hypothetical entities for some time now, but the account of how we create hypothetical entities is still underdeveloped. In fact, we face a puzzle if we assume: hypothetical entities are created by us; we create a given hypothetical entity only when we falsely hypothesize something to be the unique F; we create the hypothetical entity long before we learn that there is no unique F. How can we possibly manage to conditionally and unknowingly create some entity when there is no unique F? In showing how this is possible, it will become clear that we have good reason for preferring a view that posits hypothetical entities over the alternative ways of accounting for our apparently singular thoughts about Vulcan, Pegasus, the Fountain of Youth, and so on.
Keywords Singular thought  Hypothetical entities  Empty terms  Aboutness  De re thought
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DOI 10.1007/s11098-015-0604-0
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