Friday, July 27, 2012

Is 'Existence' Univocal Because 'All' Is Univocal?

In this post, Bill Vallicella presents another argument by Peter van Inwagen for the univocity of existence and questions it (he posted and refuted the first argument here). I think Vallicella has a point. Still, I might grant that the Quinean like Van Inwagen can translate a singular existential statement so as to have the same form as a general existential statement and argue the conclusion still does not follow. Quine, in his famous paper "On What There Is," proposes that we treat for instance the relation '__ = Pegasus' as a single-place predicate '=Pegasus'; one can call this 'pegasizing' or formally 'P'. Then 'Pegasus exists' will just be 'something pegasizes', which will just be translated to, '(Ex)(Px)'. Even ignoring the problematic aspects here I would pose a different objection. I would accuse Van Inwagen's argument of being a 'non sequitur'. Vallicella states the argument thus:

(1) 'Every' is univocal.

(2) 'Exist(s)' and 'every' are interdefinable: 'Fs exist' is equivalent to 'It is not the case that everything is not an F.'


(3) 'Exist(s)' is univocal.

Clearly, as is, this argument is not valid. To make it valid we need some further premise. I'm not sure what sort of plausible premise Van Inwagen is using to get to his conclusion, but maybe it is something like

(2.5) If two terms are interdefinable then each of the terms' uses share the same sense relation.

(Just a clarificatory point: Sense relations are things like 'univocity' or 'equivocity', and Van Inwagen thinks that all the uses of 'exists' are univocal.) How are we to understand 'interdefinable' here? Surely not as meaning that for each 'exists' statement there is a semantically identical 'every' statement, i.e. one with the exact same meaning, for that would be utterly question-begging. We must construe it then as something like 'for each 'exists' statement there is a logically equivalent 'every' statement'. The problem is that (2.5) is not obviously true on this interpretation. I'll explain.

I think we can admit that 'some' and 'every' are univocal, that these two are interdefinable in the sense that logically equivalent statements can be expressed in terms of each, but still say that 'some' doesn't fully capture the meaning of 'exists', and thus neither does 'every'. Of course, every 'some' statement is logically equivalent to another 'there exists' statement, but that does not imply they are semantically identical.

On the idea that 'exists' is analogical, the natural language quantifier 'there exists' has many senses, but all beings can be said to exist in one of those senses; thus the range of this quantifier includes all beings (regardless as to which sense of 'being' can be said of them). And since there are no non-existent beings, the range of the quantifier 'some' is over all beings. So the two quantifiers range over the same domain of discourse; and since for any 'some' statement there is a logically equivalent 'there exists' statement, it follows that we can translate logically equivalent statements involving either of them with the same symbol in predicate-logic, '(Ex)'. This is also why they are each logically equivalent to at least one 'all' statement. But it simply doesn't follow that they all share the same sense relation (univocal, equivocal, etc.). It is true that our 'some' quantifier ranges over only and all beings, but it ranges over them regardless as to which of the many analogous senses of 'being' can be said of them. So it's consistent with both 'some' and 'all' being univocal that 'being' or 'exists' are not.


Brandon said...

I think this is quite right; the interdefinability here can only be 'interdefinability for purely truth-functional purposes', but this is certainly not enough to tell us whether something is univocal or equivocal.

awatkins909 said...

Thanks. I think that is a good way to summarize the point I'm getting at.