London Ed recommended to me Patrick Hamilton's 1941 booze novel, Hangover Square. It gets off to a slow start, but quickly picks up speed and now has me in its grip. I'm on p. 60. The main character is one George Harvey Bone.
Ed gives this argument in an earlier thread:
(*) Bone, who is depicted by Hamilton as a sad alcoholic, is living in a flat in Earl’s Court.
The argument is that either the predicates ‘is depicted by Hamilton as a sad alcoholic’ and ‘is living in a flat in Earl’s Court’ have no subject, or they have the same subject. Either way, van Inwagen’s theory is wrong.
If they have no subject, then ‘is depicted by Hamilton as a sad alcoholic’ has no subject, but PvI argues that the subject is an abstract object. If they have the same subject, then if the subject of ‘is depicted by Hamilton as a sad alcoholic’ is an abstract object, then so is the subject of ‘is living in a flat in Earl’s Court’, which he also denies.
Either way, his theory cannot explain sentences like the one above.
The first thing I would point out (and this comports somewhat with a comment by David Brightly in the earlier thread) is that (*) can be reasonably parsed as a conjunction, the conjuncts of which belong to different categories of fiction (not fictional) discourse:
(*) Bone is depicted by Hamilton as a sad alcoholic & Bone lives in Earl's Court.
The two different categories are, first, the category of sentences we use when we engage in lit-crit discourse about fictional characters 'from the outside' while yet attending carefully to the 'internal' details of the fictional work. An example of such a sentence would be the following. "George Bone, like Don Birnham of Charles Jackson's 1944 Lost Weekend, have girlfriends, but Netta, the inamorata of the former, is a devil whereas Helen, the beloved of Birnham, is an angel."
Now that sentence I just wrote might be a second-rate bit of lit-crit, but it is a sentence that occurs in neither booze novel, nor is it entirely external to either novel. It is not entirely external because it reports details internal to the novels and it either gets them right or gets them wrong. 'George Bone is a purely fictional character,' by contrast, is an entirely external sentence. That sentence does not occur in the novel, and indeed it cannot occur within the novel (as opposed to within a bit of text preceding the novel proper, or as an authorial aside in a footnote) unless it were put into the mouth of a character. It cannot occur therein, because, within the world of Hangover Square, George Harvey Bone is precisely real, not fictional. As the same goes for Earl's Court, although it is also a real place in London. (One could, I suppose, argue that the Earl's Court of the novel is a fictional Earl's Court and thus distinct from the real-world Earl's Court. Holy moly, this is tricky stuff.)
The second category I mentioned comprises sentences that are either wholly internal to pieces of fiction or sentences that occur in synopses and summaries but could occur internally to pieces of fictions. For example, the second conjunct of (*):
C2. Bone lives in Earl's Court.
(C2) is probably too flat-footed a sentence to occur in a novel as good as Hangover Square, but it could have occurred therein and it could easily figure in a summary of the novel. (C1), however, namely,
C1. Bone is depicted by Hamilton as a sad alcoholic
could not have occurred in Hangover Square.
Now as I understand things, the grammatical subject of a sentence is a linguistic item, a word or a phrase. Thus (C1) and (C2) have the same grammatical subject, namely, the proper name 'Bone.' The grammatical subject is to be distinguished from its extralinguistic referent, if there is one. Call that the real subject. ('Logical subject' doesn't cut it since we do not typically refer to items on the logical plane such as propositions.)
So I take London Ed in his above-quoted animadversion to be referring to the real subjects of (C1) and (C2) when he uses 'subject.' He poses a dilemma for van Inwagen's view. Either the conjuncts have no subject or they have the same subject.
They cannot have no subject on van Inwagen's view because the subject of (C1) is an abstract object. And they cannot have the same subject, because then both conjuncts would have as real subject an abstract object. That cannot be, since on van Inwagen's view, and quite plausibly to boot, the subject of (C2) cannot be an abstract object. No abstract object lives or resides at any particular place. Abstract objects don't hang out or get hung over.
So, Ed concludes, van Inwagen's theory cannot explain (*).
Now my metaphilosophy teaches that no theory is any good on this topic or on any other. The problems of philosophy are most of them genuine, some of them humanly important, but none of them soluble. They are genuine intellectual knots that we cannot untie. That's about as good as it gets when it comes to "nailing my colours to the mast" as Ed demands that I do.
In other words, I am not advocating a particular theory as superior to Ed's, whatever exactly it is. (I am not being 'snarky' to use a Gen-X expression; I really don't know exactly what his theory is.) I don't think that van Inwagen's theory is unproblematic and I am not advocating it.
But I do think that Ed has failed to refute van Inwagen. The reason is because he conflates the two categories of fiction sentences lately distinguished, the category of lit-crit sentences like (C1), and the category of sentences that either do or could occur within pieces of fiction, an example being (C2).
Defending van Inwagen, I reject Ed's disjunction, namely: Either the conjuncts have no subject or they have the same subject. They have neither the same subject nor no subject. One has a subject and the other doesn't. (C1) has as its subject an abstract object and (C2) has as its subject nothing at all.
That's what van Inwagen could say to Ed so as to neutralize Ed's objection.