Nonexistence and Aboutness: The Bandersnatches of Dubuque

Critica 52 (154) (2020)
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Holmes exists is false. How can this be, when there is no one for the sentence to misdescribe? Part of the answer is that a sentence’s topic depends on context. The king of France is bald, normally unevaluable, is false qua description of the bald people. Likewise Holmes exists is false qua description of the things that exist; it misdescribes those things as having Holmes among them. This does not explain, though, how Holmes does not exist differs in cognitive content from, say, Vulcan does not exist. Our answer builds on an observation of Kripke’s: even if Holmes exists, he is not in this room, for we were all born too late.

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Stephen Yablo
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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