A Modulation Account of Negative Existentials

Philosophia 44 (1):227-245 (2016)

Abstract

Fictional characters present a problem for semantic theorists. One approach to this problem has been to maintain realism regarding fictional characters, that is to claim that fictional characters exist. In this way names originating from fiction have designata. On this approach the problem of negative existentials is more pressing than it might otherwise be since an explanation must be given as to why we judge them true when the names occurring within them designate existing objects. So, realists must explain the intuitive truth of such statements. Some realists have appealed to pragmatics to explain this, but have not developed these positions fully. What follows is an original account of negative existentials based on the pragmatic process of modulation. Modulation affects the meaning of ‘exists’ such that its extension is merely those things that exist physically. It is then argued that the modulation approach provides a more natural account of the intuitive truth of negative existentials involving fictional characters than an account based on conversational implicatures. Finally, the modulation account is defended against objections presented against similar accounts.

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David C. Spewak Jr.
Marion Military Institute

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