Salmon on Hob and Nob


Nathan Salmon appeals to his theory of mythical objects as part of an attempt to solve Geach’s Hob–Nob puzzle. In this paper I argue that, even if Salmon’s theory of mythical objects is correct, his attempt to solve the puzzle is unsuccessful. I also refute an original variant of his proposal. The discussion indicates that it is difficult (if not impossible) to devise a genuine solution to the puzzle that relies on mythical objects.

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  1. 1.

    Geach (1967, p. 630) first mentions this strategy.

  2. 2.

    See Quine (1956) for a seminal discussion of the de re/de dicto distinction. (He uses the words ‘relational’ and ‘notional’ instead of ‘de re’ and ‘de dicto’.) De re attitude reports, but not de dicto ones, characteristically permit substitution of co-denoting terms salva veritate. Very roughly, a true de dicto report is such that the subject would assent to the report. ‘Jim thinks that the spy sitting next to him is not a spy’ is most naturally read de re. ‘Todd thinks that Hesperus is brighter than Phosphorus’ is most naturally read de dicto.

  3. 3.

    Salmon (2005b, p. 106, n. 27) suggests a slight variant of (5) that results from replacing ‘a mythical witch’ with ‘a mythical witch or a witch’. This variant takes the speaker of (1) to be “cautiously agnostic on the question of witchcraft.” Regarding (6), an analysis I consider later, Salmon suggests an analogous variant. Everything I say about (5) and (6) applies, mutatis mutandis, to these variants.

  4. 4.

    Although Abigail is a witch according to Dob’s myth (mistaken theory) about her, she is not a mythical witch. Mistaking someone for a witch does not a mythical witch make. Mythical witches, like all mythical objects, are abstract. Abigail is not abstract and thus cannot be a mythical witch, regardless of what others think about her.

  5. 5.

    More recently, Salmon suggests an analysis that essentially replaces ‘the mythical witch’ in (6) with ‘the supposed witch’, where a supposed witch is taken to be any object that is thought to be a witch. (Salmon 2008, p. 271, n. 16) The resulting variant of (6) is vulnerable to the following counterexample (even if we adjust the variant so it entails that Hob thinks the supposed witch is a witch):

    There is a mythical witch named Kay, and a spinster named Linda. Hob sees Linda sitting on her porch and mistakes her for Kay. He thinks, “Kay, the witch sitting over there, blighted Bob’s mare.” Nob, independently, thinks that Kay is a witch and wonders if she killed Cob’s sow.

    Here (1) on (G) is intuitively true, but the variant of (6) in question is not true; its dthat-term has no content, since there are two supposed witches, Kay and Linda, that Hob thinks (are witches who) blighted Bob’s mare.

  6. 6.

    Salmon’s most recent proposal (forthcoming) also suffers this problem. It analyzes (1) on G as being true iff there is something that is a witch or thought to be a witch or represented as being a witch (in the sense that the contemporary illusionist David Copperfield represents himself as being a magician) such that Hob thinks it blighted Bob’s mare and Nob wonders whether it killed Cob’s sow. I think that this proposal fails simply because it does not count (1) on (G) as entailing that Hob thinks of the key suspect that it is a witch. If we add such a constraint to the proposal, then the resulting proposal is truth-conditionally equivalent to (7), which I criticize later.

  7. 7.

    Perhaps it would be better to require that Nob think that the alleged witch is a witch, or at least that he not think that it is not a witch (in which case he could remain agnostic). My intuitions are hazy. In any event, this issue has no bearing on the criticisms offered in this paper.

  8. 8.

    I owe this example to Donald Martin. It is also a counterexample to (5) and (6).

  9. 9.

    Exaggerated variants of Example 5 can make the point even stronger. Suppose that Salmon were to insist that there is a third mythical witch in Example 5. He would then be committed to accepting that there could be examples where (a) everyone believes that there are only two witches—“Ethel” and “Fay”—but (b) there are still hundreds of related mythical witches: e.g., “the witch out of Ethel and Fay that is causing mayhem”, “the witch out of Ethel and Fay that wears green shoes”, “the witch out of Ethel and Fay that is 5 feet 6 inches tall”, “the witch out of Ethel and Fay that is 5 feet 7 inches tall”, etc. This seems likes too many mythical witches.


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  8. Salmon, N. (forthcoming). The philosopher’s stone and other mythical objects. A volume edited by Stuart Brock and Anthony Everett.

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Thanks to Andrew Jewell, David Kaplan, Jonathan Levy, Luke Manning, Donald Martin, Adam Masters, Eliot Michaelson, Forrest MV, Terence Parsons, Gabe Rabin, and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments and discussion. Special thanks to Sam Cumming for his extensive and invaluable help with this paper, and to Nathan Salmon for especially helpful comments and discussion.

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Correspondence to David Friedell.

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Friedell, D. Salmon on Hob and Nob. Philos Stud 165, 213–220 (2013).

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  • Hob–Nob puzzle
  • Geach
  • Salmon
  • Mythical objects
  • Intentional identity