Here is a dyad for your delectation:
1. There are no purely fictional characters.
2. There are some purely fictional characters, e.g., Sherlock Holmes.
(1) looks to be an analytic truth: by definition, what is purely fictional is not, i.e., does not exist. But (2) also seems to be true. And yet they cannot both be true if 'are' has the same sense in both sentences.
London Ed is against "messing about with the copula" as he puts it. Thus he is opposed to making a distinction between two senses of 'are' in alleviation of our dyad's apparent inconsistency. Is there another way to solve the problem?
One way is to look for ontologically noncommittal paraphrases of those sentences that appear to commit us to fictional items. Roderick Chisholm has some suggestions for us. Consider the sentence
3. There is no detective who is as famous as Holmes.
To say that there is no detective who is as famous as Holmes is to compare two numbers. (1) The first is the number of people who interpret Holmes as the name of a detective; and (2) the second is the number of people who interpret some name other than Holmes as the name of a detective. The comparative statement tells us that the first number is larger than the second. (A Realistic Theory of Categories, CUP 1996, pp. 122-123.)
Boiled down, we have
3P. The number of people of who take 'Holmes' to be the name of a detective is greater than the number of people who take some name other than 'Holmes' to be the name of a detective.
Very clever. Off the top of my head, (3P) looks to be an adequate paraphrase that does not commit us to the existence of a fictional entity. But if the paraphrastic method is to work, it must work against every example. Just one recalcitrant example counts as a "spanner in the works." What about this example of mine:
4. Obama is a worse liar than Pinocchio.
Perhaps we can paraphrase away the reference to Pinocchio with
4P. The traits we know Obama to possess are more indicative of mendacity than the traits we attribute to the character named 'Pinocchio.'
Questions for London Ed (and anyone else who is following this):
a. Do you endorse this paraphrastic approach? If not, why not?
b. Van Inwagen says things that imply that he thinks that the paraphrastic approach does not work. Why does he say this? Does he have examples of sentences that cannot be treated by this approach?