Against Second-Order Primitivism

In Fritz Peter & Jones Nicholas (eds.), Higher-Order Metaphysics. OUP (forthcoming)
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In the language of second-order logic, first- and second-order variables are distinguished syntactically and cannot be grammatically substituted. According to a prominent argument for the deployment of these languages, these substitution failures are necessary to block the derivation of paradoxes that result from attempts to generalize over predicate interpretations. I first examine previous approaches which interpret second-order sentences using expressions of natural language and argue that these approaches undermine these syntactic restrictions. I then examine Williamson’s primitivist approach according to which second-order sentences are not offered readings in a previously understood language. I argue that the syntactic restrictions alone do not block the derivation of the paradox, unless they are backed by a principled reason that the language cannot be expanded to allow the grammatical substitution of first- and second- order variables. I argue that there is neither a syntactic nor a semantic principle that prohibits such an expansion.

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Bryan Pickel
University of Glasgow


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