Closed Structure

Journal of Philosophical Logic 50 (6):1249-1291 (2021)
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According to the structured theory of propositions, if two sentences express the same proposition, then they have the same syntactic structure, with corresponding syntactic constituents expressing the same entities. A number of philosophers have recently focused attention on a powerful argument against this theory, based on a result by Bertrand Russell, which shows that the theory of structured propositions is inconsistent in higher order-logic. This paper explores a response to this argument, which involves restricting the scope of the claim that propositions are structured, so that it does not hold for all propositions whatsoever, but only for those which are expressible using closed sentences of a given formal language. We call this restricted principle Closed Structure, and show that it is consistent in classical higher-order logic. As a schematic principle, the strength of Closed Structure is dependent on the chosen language. For its consistency to be philosophically significant, it also needs to be consistent in every extension of the language which the theorist of structured propositions is apt to accept. But, we go on to show, Closed Structure is in fact inconsistent in a very natural extension of the standard language of higher-order logic, which adds resources for plural talk of propositions. We conclude that this particular strategy of restricting the scope of the claim that propositions are structured is not a compelling response to the argument based on Russell’s result, though we note that for some applications, for instance to propositional attitudes, a restricted thesis in the vicinity may hold some promise.

Author Profiles

Peter Fritz
Australian Catholic University
Harvey Lederman
University of Texas at Austin
Gabriel Uzquiano
University of Southern California


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