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date: 21 March 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter presents a critical discussion of the problem of negative existentials in the tradition of analytic philosophy of language. Firstly, it presents the problem as a compelling argument in support of the counterintuitive conclusion that sentences such as ‘Pegasus does not exist’ cannot be used to make true and informative assertions. Then, seven influential proposals for solving the problem are considered, each of which is construed as a response to this argument. The proposals considered are Russell’s (1905) theory of descriptions, Quine’s (1948) prescribed elimination of names, Donnellan’s (1974) ‘historical block’ view, Kripke’s (1973/2013) ‘no such proposition’ view, Salmon’s (1998) fictional entities view, Braun’s (1993) gappy proposition view, and Katz’s (1990) pure metalinguistic descriptivism. Though the official stance with regard to these proposals is neutral, the chapter concludes with a brief reactive summary that endorses a general pragmatic approach to the problem.

Keywords: negative existentials, theory of descriptions, elimination of names, fictional entities, gappy propositions, Russell, Kripke

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