Reply To: Basics Questions on Terms


All that material in McCall on ‘Simple Apprehension and the Term’ is, I agree, head-wrecking! Fortunately, for our purposes in formal logic, we don’t have to have an airtight grasp on it – much of this material really belongs to what would now be called the philosophy of logic/epistemology.

Let me see if I can explain simply what McCall is up to.

Let’s take the distinction between ‘singular’ and ‘particular’ first.

A term is singular when it picks out a unique identifiable (in principle) definite entity; for example, the Library of Congress, the Statue of Liberty, etc. Note, a term can be singular even if the unique entity which it picks out is a composite of various parts. Propositions whose subjects are singular terms are singular propositions.

A term is particular when it picks out some individual indefinite entity or other and when such a term is the subject of a proposition, the proposition is particular. for example, ‘Some students have done well in the logic examination’ would be true if there is at least one student who has done well in the examination, even where we don’t know who that student is or even where there is more than one such student.

Now terms (and the concepts they express-what McCall calls ‘proper concepts’) are in themselves neither particular nor singular. The term ‘man’ and the concept it expresses is perfectly general. We can limit or restrict a term by connecting it with other terms so that, for example, ‘some men’, or ‘most men’ or ‘quite a few men’ and the like.

Now, given the examples he uses, what McCall appears to mean by ‘individual concept’ is a concept limited by some indexical expression {‘I’, ‘mine’), for example, ‘my car’ or ‘my father’. Such composite terms (and concepts) will pick out one unique individual and so, for the purposes of formal logic, are equivalent to singular terms though not quite in the same way as the examples I gave above.

I’ve had a quick look through the rest of McCall’s book and he seems to make no further use of the term ‘individual concept’.

So, what should you take from all this?

What we want to know about terms as they are used in propositions is the following: Is the term used to pick out a unique definite individual entity (whether that entity is actually simple ‘or composite)? if so, the term is singular and the proposition of which it is the subject is also singular.Is the term used to refer to all of the things that it can refer to?If so, the term is universal and the proposition of which it is the subject is also universal. If the term is neither singular nor universal, then it can only be particular and the proposition of which it is the subject is also particular.

I hope this helps?

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