Saturday, January 16, 2016

Indefinite reference

14:51 And there followed him [Jesus] a certain young man (νεανίσκος) , having a linen cloth (σινδόνα) cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him. 14:52 And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.
The pronouns ‘he’, ‘his’, ‘him’ etc. clearly refer back to ‘a certain young man’. On the theory of extralinguistic reference, they do not refer in themselves, but inherit their reference from the antecedent. But the antecedent is an indefinite noun phrase. Can that refer? Surely not. Mark says ‘νεανίσκος τις’. The article τις (Latin quidam) means ‘a certain’, often used to suggest that the writer either cannot or will not speak more particularly. Commentators have speculated that the man was Mark himself, the author of the gospel, which if true means that ‘a certain young man’ and the pronouns, could be replaced with ‘I’, salva veritate. But Mark deliberately does not tell us. So in what sense does it refer?

Or suppose it does refer. Then as Geach argues (Reference and Generality chapter 1), the sentence ‘some man was wearing a linen cloth’ is true if some man – any man – was wearing a linen cloth. Even if the speaker has some particular man in mind, say Frank, and he means to say that Frank was wearing a linen cloth, it could have been the case that Frank wasn’t wearing a linen cloth, but some other man was, say Dick. So Dick was wearing a linen cloth, and so what the speaker actually said, i.e. ‘some man was wearing a linen cloth’, is true. But what the speaker meant to say is false.

It gets more difficult. If it is true that some man was wearing a linen cloth, whoever he was, then it is true to say that he was wearing a linen cloth. Note I use the pronoun ‘he’. I wrote ‘he was wearing a linen cloth’. But the subject of that sentence is a definite noun phrase, and so the sentence is true if and only if that man, and no other, satisfied the predicate. E.g. if that man was Frank, then the pronominal sentence is true if Frank satisfied the predicate, and false if he didn’t, even if Dick was wearing a linen cloth. Furthermore:
(1) Some man was wearing a linen cloth
(2) Sentence (1) is true if and only he – that man – was wearing a linen cloth.
How weird. Didn’t I say that sentence (1) can be true so long as someone – anyone satisfied ‘was wearing a linen cloth’? Yes, that’s still correct, because he, that man, could be any of the men. He could be Frank, Dick or Raymond. The whole point is that sentence (1) has an indefinite subject, and so doesn’t tell us which person satisfies the predicate. We know that he satisfies it, if the sentence is true. But we don’t know who he is.

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