Expressivism About Reference and Quantification Over the Non-existent Without Meinongian Metaphysics

Erkenntnis 80 (S2):215-234 (2015)
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Can we believe that there are non-existent entities without commitment to the Meinongian metaphysics? This paper argues we can. What leads us from quantification over non-existent beings to Meinongianism is a general metaphysical assumption about reality at large, and not merely quantification over the non-existent. Broadly speaking, the assumption is that every being we talk about must have a real definition. It’s this assumption that drives us to enquire into the nature of beings like Pegasus, and what our relationship as thinkers is to them. However, I argue this assumption only holds if you think your language, and in particular that aspect of it to do with referring to entities works in a specific way. This is the specific way generally assumed by the discipline called ‘Semantics’. I sketch out an alternative, call it global expressivism, in which talk of referring is given an expressivist, speech-act theoretic treatment. If we accept that our talk of the non-existent works as the global expressivist tells us it does, then the question of the metaphysical nature of non-existent entities is utterly void. You might say that Pegasus is empty of any metaphysical nature. Since the non-existent lacks any metaphysical nature, the metaphysics of the non-existent, Meinongianism, as a form of inquiry, lacks a subject matter, despite the fact that we talk happily, and indeed unavoidably, of the non-existent.
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First archival date: 2014-11-13
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