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A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science

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Volume 51, Issue 2


Empty Negations and Existential Import in Aristotle

Phil Corkum
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  • Department of Philosophy, University of Alberta, 2-40 Assiniboia, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2R3, Canada
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Published Online: 2018-03-30 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/apeiron-2017-0018


Aristotle draws what are, by our lights, two unusual relationships between predication and existence. First, true universal affirmations carry existential import. If ‘All humans are mortal’ is true, for example, then at least one human exists. And secondly, although affirmations with empty terms in subject position are all false, empty negations are all true: if ‘Socrates’ lacks a referent, then both ‘Socrates is well’ and ‘Socrates is ill’ are false but both ‘Socrates is not well’ and ‘Socrates is not ill’ are true. In this paper, I conjecture that for Aristotle predications have mereological truth conditions: for example, ‘Socrates is pale’ is true just in case Socrates is a part of the mereological sum of pale things. The existential import of universal affirmations and the semantic profile of empty negations follow from this mereological semantics.

Keywords: Aristotle; existential import; negation


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About the article

Published Online: 2018-03-30

Published in Print: 2018-03-26

Citation Information: Apeiron, Volume 51, Issue 2, Pages 201–219, ISSN (Online) 2156-7093, ISSN (Print) 0003-6390, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/apeiron-2017-0018.

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