Rearming the Slingshot?


Slingshot arguments aim to show that an allegedly non-extensional sentential connective—such as “necessarily (_)” or “the statement that Φ corresponds to the fact that (_)”—is, to the contrary, an extensional sentential connective. Stephen Neale (Mind 104 (416): 761-825, 1995, 2001) argues that a reformulation of Gödel’s slingshot puts pressure on us to adopt a particular view of definite descriptions. I formulate a revised version of the slingshot argument—one that relies on Kaplan’s notion of “dthat.” I aim to show that if Neale’s version of the slingshot argument is successful, then there is another slingshot available, parallel in structure to Neale’s, but independent of definite descriptions. So either (i) there is a version of the slingshot that succeeds independent of any particular theory of descriptions or else (ii) Neale’s slingshot was never threatening to begin with.

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  1. 1.

    Slingshot arguments have been used by philosophers such as Davidson (1969), Church (1943) and Quine (1953, 1960); their validity has been attacked by Lycan (1974), Cummins and Gottlieb (1972), Barwise and Perry (1983), et al..

  2. 2.

    Neale’s claims, however, are not without their critics. In particular, Graham Oppy (1997) and (2004) argues that no plausible theory of facts would be constrained by Neale’s reformulation of Gödel’s slingshot, and as a result, such slingshot arguments are not particularly philosophically significant. I will not have the space here to elaborate on Oppy’s objections, except for one (section 4).

  3. 3.

    Kaplan (1978).

  4. 4.

    Neale explains the notation: “Σ[x] is any sentence containing at least one occurrence of a variable x, and Σ[x / α] is the result of replacing every occurrence of the variable x in Σ[x] by the (closed) singular term α.).” Neale (ibid.), emphasis his.

  5. 5.

    Interestingly, Colin McGinn (1976) has suggested that the Curch-Davidson-Quine slingshot argument can be altered in just such a way to avoid Lycan and Cummins and Gottlieb type objections. McGinn does not, however, attribute the suggestion to Gödel, and Neale does not seem to have recognized that McGinn’s suggestion closely resembles his own interpretation of Gödel.

  6. 6.

    Donnellan (1966).

  7. 7.

    Kripke (1977)

  8. 8.

    Neale (1990, 2001), etc.

  9. 9.

    By “those particular fact theorists” I mean those fact theorists whose theories are +ι-CONV.

  10. 10.

    Kaplan (1978)

  11. 11.

    I’ve modified these examples, changing “he” to “dthat,” and using the single-quoted device he introduces later in the article. Yet incorporating all that Kaplan (1978) says, this change should be harmless and merely allows me to make my point more efficiently.

  12. 12.

    This will become relevant for an objection I address in the last section.

  13. 13.

    Russell (1919).

  14. 14.

    I am sticking with this example, familiar in the literature, even though it precedes Pluto’s demotion.

  15. 15.

    Admittedly, this example inherits the oddity of having to “point to” or demonstratively “pick out” an abstract object. But given the way in which Kaplan sets up his “dthat” operator, there should in principle be no more difficulty in doing this than in picking out a concrete object. See below for elaboration on this point.

  16. 16.

    Example adapted from Kaplan ibid.

  17. 17.

    Thanks to Adam Sennet for helpful discussion on this section.

  18. 18.

    Kaplan, ibid.

  19. 19.

    We could of course assume that Joe is in the habit of uttering a priori false propositions, but let us not.

  20. 20.

    Original example modified.

  21. 21.

    This example may hinge on one’s view of time and whether one admits the existence of future objects. I will ignore this complication for now, since the example can be harmlessly modified and the same point be made.

  22. 22.

    Indeed, King (2001: 171) maintains that “Kaplan himself was more concerned the word ‘that’ occurring by itself as a noun phrase (‘That is a planet’) than with [complex demonstratives].”


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Many thanks to Dorit Bar-On, Gemma Celestino, Bill Lycan, Adam Sennet, Keith Simmons, Sam Wheeler, several annonymous referees, and an audience at the Pacific APA 2013 for helpful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts.

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Wallace, M. Rearming the Slingshot?. Acta Anal 30, 283–292 (2015).

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  • Slingshots
  • Collapsing arguments
  • Facts
  • Definite descriptions