[FOM] Type-Occurrence-Token
A.P. Hazen
a.hazen at philosophy.unimelb.edu.au
Fri Sep 23 04:10:11 EDT 2005
[In response to John Corcoran's most recent posting.]
Charles Parsons has written, somewhere, of the "obscure notion" of
an OCCURRENCE. Put on hold any doubts you might have about the
type/token distinction. (If you don't have any nervousness about
THAT distinction, go read David Kaplan's "Words" ["Aristotelian
Society Supplementary Volume" 1990, pp. 93-199], or maybe Peter
Simons's "Token Resistance" ["Analysis" (the philosophy journal of
that title, not the math or psychotherapy ones!) v. 42 (1992), pp.
195-203]. But for the length of this posting, assume the type/token
distinction.)
An occurrence of a symbol in a TOKEN expression is a token: in
writing "cat" you will produce a physical object-- a thin,
discontinuous, film of ink on part of your whiteboard, say-- and the
occurrence of "a" in that token of "cat" will be a smaller physical
object. But what is an occurrence of a symbol (or, more generally,
an expression) in a TYPE expression? It's not a type. ("Proof":
There are two occurrences of "b" in "rabbit," but the symbol "b" is a
single type.) It's not a token. ("Proof": just as it makes sense to
talk of formulas too long ever to be written down -- formula-types
which will never have tokens -- it also makes sense to talk of
occurrences in such a formula of terms that are too long ever to be
written down.)
Suspicion: "occurrences," if taken seriously, are a third
ontological category, distinct from both types and tokens!
I know of little published literature on this. There's an article
by Linda Wetzel in "Journal of Philosophical Logic" v. 22 (1993), pp.
215-220.
I suspect it is a deep philosophical question: perhaps connected to
that of the status of objects "in" a structure which arises in
"structuralist" approaches to the philosophy of mathematics. (Cf.
Charles Parsons, "The structuralist view of mathematical objects," in
"Synthese" v. 84 (1990), pp. 303-346.) What is surprising is how
LITTLE it seems to worry actual workers in logic and foundations.
The explanation, at least in part, seems to be that the concept of an
occurrence doesn't really do much work, even in the elementary
metatheory of symbolic logic where one would expect it to. In
informal contexts (like: classrooms) we talk about the occurrences of
a variable in a formula, and which ones are free and which ones are
bound and.... But in formal, technical, work only the relational
notion of a variable HAVING OCCURRENCES in a formula is used. The
"Syntax" chapter of Quine's "Mathematical Logic" illustrates the
phenomenon. (Quine, by using a first-order language of elementary
syntax, manages to be fully rigorous and also to keep fairly close
to the ... umm, grammar? ... of informal discussions of syntax.) A
(quite artificial) notion of an occurrence of a substring in a string
is defined, but it is subsequently USED only to define the relational
concepts.
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Allen Hazen
Philosophy Department
University of Melbourne
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