Journal of Philosophical Logic

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 25–46 | Cite as

Expressive completeness in modal language

  • Allen Hazen


The logics of the modal operators and of the quantifiers show striking analogies. The analogies are so extensive that, when a special class of entities (possible worlds) is postulated, natural and non-arbitrary translation procedures can be defined from the language with the modal operators into a purely quantificational one, under which the necessity and possibility operators translate into universal and existential quantifiers. In view of this I would be willing to classify the modal operators as ‘disguised’ quantifiers, and I think that wholehearted acceptance of modal language should be considered to carry ontological commitment to something like possible worlds

Considered as two languages for describing the same subject matter, modal and purely quantificational languages show interesting differences. The operator variables of the purely quantificational languages give them more power than the modal languages, but at least some of the functions performed by the apparatus of operator variables are also performed, in a more primitive and less versatile way, by actuality operators in modal languages.

A final note. Quine has written much on the inter-relations of quantifiers, identity, and the concept of existence. These, he holds, form a tightly knit conceptual system which has been evolved to a high point of perfection, but which might conceivably change yet further.29 He has also dropped hints about the possibility of a simpler, primitive or defective version of the system, in which the quantifiers are not backed up in their accustomed way by the concept of identity. He has dubbed the resulting concept a ‘pre-individuative’ concept of existence, or a concept of ‘entity without identity.’ What would a pre-individuative concept of existence be like? Quine has sometimes suggested that one might be embodied in the use of mass nouns, but the identity concept is used in connection with stuff as well as with things: “is that the same coffee that was in the cup last night?” I would submit that modality provides a better case. In view of the comparative weakness of modal languages, compared to the explicitly quantificational ones Quine takes as canonical, there is surely a sense in which the concept of existence embodied in that disguised existential quantifier, the possibility operator, is a defective one. And as we have seen, one of the differences between modal operators and explicit quantifiers is that modal operators cannot be joined with the identity predicate in the way quantifiers with operator variables can. Surely, then, there is a sense in which ordinary speech, as opposed to the metaphysical theorizing of a Leibniz or a David Lewis, conceives of possible worlds as entities without identity.


Modal Operator Operator Variable Conceptual System Ontological Commitment Modal Language 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • Allen Hazen
    • 1
  1. 1.University of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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