Sunday, March 27, 2011

Quinean and non-Quinean quantification

In a short paper published in 2000, Thomas Hofweber discusses an attempt to defend Meinong by distinguishing what he calls Quinean and non-Quinean quantifiers. A Quinean quantifier (or a Quinean occurrence of a quantifier) is where we can modify it with 'who/which exists' without change of truth conditions of the proposition in which it occurs. Thus in

(a) Something is eating my cheese, probably a mouse.

the occurrence of the quantifier 'something' is Quinean. Clearly 'something which exists' is intended. By contrast, the occurrence of the same quantifier in

(b) Something is keeping me awake at night, namely the monster I dream about.

is non-Quinean. Monsters don't exist, so nothing which exists is keeping me awake at night. Therefore modifying 'something' with 'which exists' would change the truth conditions of the second sentence, therefore the occurrence of the quantifier is non-Quinean.

This is pretty close to the thesis of Peter Lupu's that I was moaning about earlier. The idea is that we can explain the consistency of the conjunction 'Tom is thinking of a mermaid, but nothing is a mermaid' by interpreting the 'nothing' as a Quinean quantifier. That is, the conjunction really means Tom is thinking of a mermaid, but nothing which exists is a mermaid. However, the 'something' in the claim 'there is something Tom is thinking of' is non-Quinean, since it is false that there is something which exists which Tom is thinking of.

I have given enough objections to this sort of thing for now. Enough to say that it can be true that Tom is thinking of a mermaid even if absolutely nothing whatever is a mermaid, i.e. where non-Quinean quantification for 'absolutely nothing' is intended. I have another fundamental objection to this idea, namely the use that Meinongians put it to.

Even if we buy the distinction between Quinean and non-Quinean quantifiers, a further problem is the way Meinongians persistently make inferences from contexts that involve non-Quinean quantification, to contexts that unambiguously require Quinean quantification. I already gave an example here of a move such as this:

Tom is thinking of something, therefore Tom's thinking is directed towards something.

This is illegitimate because (in my terminology) 'is thinking of' is a logically intransitive verb, whereas 'is directed towards' is logically transitive. In Hofweber-speak, even if the first 'something' is non-Quinean, the second is unambiguously Quinean. Nothing can be 'directed towards' something unless it is something which exists. The Meinongian makes these illegitimate moves all the time. Example: he argues (p. 255, my emphasis) that Quinean quantifiers are restricted to things that exist, and so

since non-Quinean quantifiers don't have such a restriction this shows that the domain of quantification really is what the non-Quinean quantifiers range over. Quinean quantifiers range over a subdomain of this domain, namely over all or some of the things in the domain that exist. Thus the true domain of discourse contains non-existent objects ...
Note the verb 'contains'. This verb is unambiguously logically transitive, i.e. 'a contains an F' is always inconsistent with 'nothing is an F'. Thus the quantifier 'an F', as it occurs as the accusative of 'contains', is Quinean. Even if we buy the distinction between Quinean and non-Quinean, the quantifier 'everything' in 'everything that the true domain of discourse contains' is Quinean. Thus everything the Meinongian wants to talk about, he cannot talk about. Therefore he should remain silent. Another example of language on holiday tomorrow.

* "Quantification and non-existent objects", in *Empty Names, Fiction and the Puzzles of Non-existence*, Stanford 2000, pp 249-273.

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