[hist-analytic] "Santa Claus does not exist"

Jlsperanza at aol.com Jlsperanza at aol.com
Thu Nov 5 12:19:31 EST 2009

Empty Names -- and the history of analytic philosophy
D. Frederick writes to R. B. Jones, 
"It is not possible to say (truly) in first-order logic that Santa Claus  
does not exist."
to which R. B. Jones replies,
"We are back on the "vacuous names" tack here which gave much entertainment 
Speranza a while back. There a multiple strategies which enable the  
expression in first order logic of 
the claim that Santa Claus does not  exist, the most famous of course is 
Russell's doctrine that "Santa Claus"  should be construed as a description 
formalised by the method described  in his paper "On Denoting". There is a 
difficulty in knowing what kind of first  order formalisation is  
satisfactory, since we have no generally accepted  criteria for when sentences 
in distinct languages express the same  proposition. However, I would 
suggest that the principle difficulty here is in  deciding what is the meaning of 
"Santa Clause does not exist", once that is done  finding a 
way of saying the same thing in first order logic will be much  less 
problematic. [And regarding D. Frederick's query, "Do you think that  the 
claims that Santa Claus is not a name, and that 'Nothing is identical to  
Santa Claus' is ill-formed, are as obvious as parts of elementary mathematics?  
They seem to me to be obviously false"]. I am inclined to agree with you on 
 this, though I can't see what bearing this has on the matter at issue 
(which is  I believe, whether first order logic is 
I agree with ... Sant..., er I mean R. B. Jones.

Santa Claus does not exist.
As per the definition of 'exist', I take it, via meaning postulate (cfr.  
Aune, "A fake duck is no duck"),
            ... is a  spatio-temporal continuant.
Surely the "concept" of "Santa Claus" exists (if we are materialistic, in  
the brain of some children). But, with Frege (re: horses) we can say that 
the  concept of "Santa Claus" is not a concept.
So, the obvious answer is to say that "Santa Claus" is an _empty_ name. So  
is "Socrates". But whereas Socrates once _filled_ "Socrates", agnostics 
claim  that "Santa Claus" never allowed for a containee. 
Grice writes, "We don't want (no) Meinongian jungle", in his "Vacuous  
Names", and we don't. To refer to "Santa Claus" as a _full_ (i.e. not empty or  
vacuous) name makes the whole vacuous/full distinction ... otiose.
Now, Nicholas of (Alexandria?) is claimed, by some, to have been the real  
"Santa Claus", so we should consider here different "dossiers", to use 
Grice's  terminology..
"Santa Claus, whoever he was, did not exist"
"Santa Claus did not exist, but the person some persons believed to have  
filled the empty name, 'Santa Claus' _certainly_ existed."
So, in the second utterance, the dossier (for "Santa Claus") is a 'narrow'  
one. As opposed to little Tommy's dossier for which, "Santa Claus is a 
bearded  good old man who gives gifts to most children in the world, the good 
ones, lives  in the North Pole, and flies in a rein-moved flying carriage".
J. L. Speranza

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