Philosophical Studies

, Volume 156, Issue 3, pp 389-416

First online:

Predicate abstraction, the limits of quantification, and the modality of existence

  • Philip PercivalAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Nottingham Email author 

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For various reasons several authors have enriched classical first order syntax by adding a predicate abstraction operator. “Conservatives” have done so without disturbing the syntax of the formal quantifiers but “revisionists” have argued that predicate abstraction motivates the universal quantifier’s re-classification from an expression that combines with a variable to yield a sentence from a sentence, to an expression that combines with a one-place predicate to yield a sentence. My main aim is to advance the cause of predicate abstraction while cautioning against revisionism. In so doing, however, I shall pursue a secondary aim by conveying mixed blessings to those who hold the view that in the logical sense of “existence” some existing object is such as to exist contingently. Advocates of this view must concede Williamson’s recent contention that the domain of unrestricted objectual quantification could not have been narrower than it is actually, but predicate abstraction affords them some hope of accommodating this concession.


Predicate abstraction Quantification Modality Existence Singular proposition Logical form