Pure Logic and Higher-order Metaphysics

In Peter Fritz & Nicholas K. Jones (eds.), Higher-Order Metaphysics. Oxford University Press (2024)
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W. V. Quine famously defended two theses that have fallen rather dramatically out of fashion. The first is that intensions are “creatures of darkness” that ultimately have no place in respectable philosophical circles, owing primarily to their lack of rigorous identity conditions. However, although he was thoroughly familiar with Carnap’s foundational studies in what would become known as possible world semantics, it likely wouldn’t yet have been apparent to Quine that he was fighting a losing battle against intensions, due in large measure to developments stemming from Carnap’s studies and culminating in the work of Kripke, Hintikka, and Bayart. These developments undermined Quine’s crusade against intensions on two fronts. First, in the context of possible world semantics, intensions could after all be given rigorous identity conditions by defining them (in the simplest case) as functions from worlds to appropriate extensions, a fact exploited to powerful and influential effect in logic and linguistics by the likes of Kaplan, Montague, Lewis, and Cresswell. Second, the rise of possible world semantics fueled a strong resurgence of metaphysics in contemporary analytic philosophy that saw properties and propositions widely, fruitfully, and unabashedly adopted as ontological primitives in their own right. This resurgence — happily, in my view — continues into the present day. For a time, at any rate, Quine experienced somewhat better success with his second thesis: that higher-order logic is, at worst, confused and, at best, a quirky notational alternative to standard first-order logic. However, Quine notwithstanding, a great deal of recent work in formal metaphysics transpires in a higher-order logical framework in which properties and propositions fall into an infinite hierarchy of types of (at least) every finite order. Initially, the most philosophically compelling reason for embracing such a framework since Russell first proposed his simple theory of types was simply that it provides a relatively natural explanation of the paradoxes. However, since the seminal work of Prior there has been a growing trend to consider higher-order logic to be the most philosophically natural framework for metaphysical inquiry, many of the contributors to this volume being among the most important and influential advocates of this view. Indeed, this is now quite arguably the dominant view among formal metaphysicians. In this paper, and against the current tide, I will argue in §1 that there are still good reasons to think that Quine’s second battle is not yet lost and that the correct framework for logic is first-order and type-free — properties and propositions, logically speaking, are just individuals among others in a single domain of quantification — and that it arises naturally out of our most basic logical and semantical intuitions. The data I will draw upon are not new and are well-known to contemporary higher-order metaphysicians. However, I will try to defend my thesis in what I believe is a novel way by suggesting that these basic intuitions ground a reasonable distinction between “pure” logic and non-logical theory, and that Russell-style semantic paradoxes of truth and exemplification arise only when we move beyond the purely logical and, hence, do not of themselves provide any strong objection to a type-free conception of properties and propositions. Most of my arguments in §1 are largely independent of any specific account of the nature of properties and propositions beyond their type-freedom. However, I will in addition argue that there are good reasons to take propositions, at least, to be very fine-grained. My arguments are thus bolstered significantly if it can be shown that there are in fact well-defined examples of logics that are not only type-free but which comport with such a conception of propositions. It is the purpose of §2 to lay out a logic of this sort in some detail, drawing especially upon work by George Bealer and related work of my own. With the logic in place, it will be possible to generalize the line of argument noted above regarding Russell-style paradoxes and, in §3, apply it to two propositional paradoxes — the Prior-Kaplan paradox and the Russell-Myhill paradox — that are often taken to threaten the sort of account developed here.

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Christopher Menzel
Texas A&M University


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