Logic & Philosophy of Science Colloquium


Zoltan Szabo
Cornell University

"How many what?"


In a posthumously published paper Tensed Quantifiers David Lewis gave a novel argument against presentism. He claimed that using standard tense-operators we cannot assign credible logical forms to sentences like 'There were five kings named George', and that consequently we should accept that such sentences involve genuine quantification over past entities. I argue that the argument overgenerates: if this sort of consideration were enough to show the existence of past entities, analogous arguments could be used to show the existence of merely possible or imaginary entities. So the problem calls for a general semantic analysis, not for a quick metaphysical appraisal. Then I argue that, despite appearances, 'There were five kings named George' quantifies over states, not objects, and that there is a perfectly general semantic mechanism that explains the shift. This does not by itself remove the challenge Lewis's argument poses for the presentist but it opens up new possibilities to confront it.

Friday, November 4, 2005
SST 777
3 pm

Refreshments will be served