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Saturday, August 25, 2012


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Just spotted this. I have been thinking on similar lines. I liked the analogy with the electric plug and socket. Playing devil's advocate. Consider

Harry / is / a horse

We translate each of these three components as follows. (1) 'Harry' as 'h', (2) 'a horse' as H (3) 'is' as the juxtaposition of the first two components with suitable bracketing. Thus: H(h)

Now consider.

Harry / is / identical with Harry

Translating this in exactly the same way, and using 'IH' as the translation of the predicate 'identical with Harry' gives


This suggests that 'is' is univocal. The problem is that if 'identical with Harry' is itself a translation of 'exists', then the word 'exists' appears equivocal. In 'Fred exists' we must translate it as 'identical with Fred', in 'Fatty exists' we must translate it as 'identical with Fatty' and so on.

Or is it? Can't we argue that the meaning of 'exists' is the same in all these cases? It is simply a word that stands in for some longer expression, according to some fixed rule, and this fixed rule, which does not change, is simply its meaning.

Compare with the word 'he'. Consider

Harry is a horse. He is fast.
Fred is a horse. He is fast.
Fatty is a horse. He is fast.

Does the word 'he' have the same meaning in the three cases. Obviously it translates differently each time. "Harry is a horse. He is fast." translates to "Harry is a horse. Harry is fast.", "Fred is a horse. He is fast." translates to " Fred is a horse. Fred is fast." and on. The fact that we translate the word 'he' by different proper names depending on context does not mean that 'he' does not have the same meaning every time.

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