Ockham Society (Friday - Week 6, HT19)

Ockham Society


Even when one knows that two sentences both make the same false existential presupposition, one might evaluate one of them as false, while feeling unable to assign a truth-value to the other. For example, some people feel squeamish, i.e. are unable to evaluate the sentence as true or false, when asked to assign a truth-value to sentence (1) but confidently judge (2) to be false. I will call sentences with existential presupposition failure SWEPF.

(1) The king of France is bald.

(2) The king of France is drinking a cup of tea with us.

In the contemporary literature several ways of explaining this difference in truth-value assignments have been proposed. I think that there is a further desideratum for a theory that explains the presented difference that has not been discussed so far. The desideratum is the following: I take it that between speakers who judge some SWEPF as squeamish, there remains the possibility of disagreement in how to judge a particular SWEPF. This means that there are evaluator-relative SWEPF such that some speakers judge them to be squeamy and others judge them to be false. I take it that for example sentence (3) is such a SWEPF.

(3) The king of France lives in a spaceship.

The discussion of the desideratum is important because not all of the contemporary explanations can account for it. To show this, I will group the contemporary explanations in different approaches and then look how the most elaborated theory of each approach deals with the desideratum.

Ockham Society Convenor: Sean Costello | Ockham Society Webpage