Existential Import and an Unnecessary Restriction on Predicate Logics

History and Philosophy of Logic 39 (2):109-134 (2018)

Authors
George Boger
Canisius College
Abstract
Contemporary logicians continue to address problems associated with the existential import of categorical propositions. One notable problem concerns invalid instances of subalternation in the case of a universal proposition with an empty subject term. To remedy problems, logicians restrict first-order predicate logics to exclude such terms. Examining the historical origins of contemporary discussions reveals that logicians continue to make various category mistakes. We now believe that no proposition per se has existential import as commonly understood and thus it is unnecessary to restrict first-order predicate logics to non-empty classes. After introducing the problem, we trace some nineteenth century treatments of the issue to locate a source of misconstruing propositional import in misconceptions of ‘implies’ and ‘affirms’ and name the process/product fallacy, along with the translation of categorical sentences using quantifiers and accommodating an empty class. Next we treat some metalogical matters to orient our discussion by which we provide a more precise nomenclature about ‘sentence’ and ‘proposition’ to correct previous misconceptions; here we uncover a common category mistake in respect of a proposition’s efficacy. The semantic distinction between agent and force is helpful in this connection. We conclude by showing that logicians have reinserted existence as a predicate, a position previously excised by Kant, and that the Frege-Russell ambiguity thesis applies only to relationships within a categorical sentence between grammatical predicate and subject.
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Reprint years 2017, 2018
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DOI 10.1080/01445340.2017.1376182
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On Sense and Reference.Gottlob Frege - 2010 - In Darragh Byrne & Max Kölbel (eds.), Arguing About Language. Routledge. pp. 36--56.
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Function and Concept.Gottlob Frege - 1997 - In D. H. Mellor & Alex Oliver (eds.), Properties. Oxford University Press. pp. 130-149.

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