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Gavagai Again

John Robert Gareth Williams
Synthese
Vol. 164, No. 2 (Sep., 2008), pp. 235-259
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40271058
Page Count: 25
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Gavagai Again
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Abstract

Quine (1960, "Word and object". Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, ch. 2) claims that there are a variety of equally good schemes for translating or interpreting ordinary talk. 'Rabbit' might be taken to divide its reference over rabbits, over temporal slices of rabbits, or undetached parts of rabbits, without significantly affecting which sentences get classified as true and which as false. This is the basis of his famous 'argument from below' to the conclusion that there can be no fact of the matter as to how reference is to be divided. Putative counterexamples to Quine's claim have been put forward in the past (see especially Evans (1975, "Journal of Philosophy", LXXII(13), 343-362. Reprinted in McDowell (Ed.), "Gareth Evans: Collected papers." Oxford: Clarendon Press.), Fodor (1993, "The elm and the expert: Mentalese and its semantics." Cambridge, MA: Bradford)), and various patches have been suggested (e. g. Wright (1997, The indeterminacy of translation. In C. Wright & B. Hale (Eds.), "A companion to the philosophy of language" (pp. 397-426). Oxford: Blackwell)). One lacuna in this literature is that one does not find any detailed presentation of what exactly these interpretations are supposed to be. Drawing on contemporary literature on persistence, the present paper sets out detailed semantic treatments for fragments of English, whereby predicates such as 'rabbit' divide their reference over four-dimensional continuants (Quine's rabbits), instantaneous temporal slices of those continuants (Quine's rabbitslices) and the simple elements which compose those slices (undetached rabbit parts) respectively. Once we have the systematic interpretations on the table, we can get to work evaluating them.

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