Will You Share Your Semantic Intuitions?

I’m working on the semantics of so called ’empty names’ (names without a referent).  I’d like to know your semantic intuitions about the following:

(1) Santa Claus brings presents to children.
(2) Santa Claus is fat.
(3) Santa Claus is skinny.
(4) Mickey Mouse is a mouse.
(5) Mickey Mouse is a donkey.
(6) Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
(7) Shmanta Shmaus doesn’t exist.
(8) Xuphy Kishtraa doesn’t exist.
(9) zxavyw uyiy doesn’t exist.
(10) sdfsdfsdf doesn’t exist.
(11) #^*g~)# doesn’t exist.

For each of (1)-(11), is it true (T), false (F), or it has no truth value (NTV)?  If you feel strongly that you don’t know (DK), you may give that as an answer, but I would strongly prefer that you make your best guess.  If you would share your intuitions in the comments, I would greatly appreciate it.  Please keep your intuitions as “naive” as you can; at  the very least, don’t look at other people’s answers and think as little as possible before answering.

Update (1/14/08): Thanks a lot to all those who answered my question or posted comments.  These data are extremely helpful.  They will inform a paper that I’m working on.  (Still, if you haven’t posted yet, feel free to add your own intuitions or comments at any time.)

59 Comments

  1. (1) Santa Claus brings presents to children. T or F depending on context! (F if I’m explaining to my son that he doesn’t exist.)
    (2) Santa Claus is fat. T
    (3) Santa Claus is skinny. T
    (4) Mickey Mouse is a mouse. T
    (5) Mickey Mouse is a donkey. F
    (6) Santa Claus doesn’t exist. T
    (7) Shmanta Shmaus doesn’t exist. Need more context to evaluate.
    (8) Xuphy Kishtraa doesn’t exist. Need more context to evaluate.
    (9) zxavyw uyiy doesn’t exist. NTV(10) sdfsdfsdf doesn’t exist. NTV
    (11) #^*g~)# doesn’t exist. NTV

    Sorry I couldn’t give clean T/F/NTVs to all!

    Eric

  2. 1) Santa Claus brings presents to children. F
    (2) Santa Claus is fat. T
    (3) Santa Claus is skinny. F
    (4) Mickey Mouse is a mouse. T
    (5) Mickey Mouse is a donkey. F
    (6) Santa Claus doesn’t exist. T
    (7) Shmanta Shmaus doesn’t exist. T
    (8) Xuphy Kishtraa doesn’t exist. T
    (9) zxavyw uyiy doesn’t exist. T
    (10) sdfsdfsdf doesn’t exist. T
    (11) #^*g~)# doesn’t exist. T

  3. Wes Anderson

    (1) Santa Claus brings presents to children. (F)
    (2) Santa Claus is fat. (NTV)
    (3) Santa Claus is skinny. (NTV)
    (4) Mickey Mouse is a mouse. (F)
    (5) Mickey Mouse is a donkey. (NTV)
    (6) Santa Claus doesn’t exist. (NTV)
    (7) Shmanta Shmaus doesn’t exist. (DK)
    (8) Xuphy Kishtraa doesn’t exist. (DK)
    (9) zxavyw uyiy doesn’t exist. (NTV)
    (10) sdfsdfsdf doesn’t exist. (NTV)
    (11) #^*g~)# doesn’t exist. (NTV)

  4. Thomas

    (1) Santa Claus brings presents to children. T/F depending on context.
    (2) Santa Claus is fat. (T)
    (3) Santa Claus is skinny. F)
    (4) Mickey Mouse is a mouse. (T)
    (5) Mickey Mouse is a donkey. (F)
    (6) Santa Claus doesn’t exist. (T)
    (7) Shmanta Shmaus doesn’t exist. (DK)
    (8) Xuphy Kishtraa doesn’t exist. (DK)
    (9) zxavyw uyiy doesn’t exist. (DK)
    (10) sdfsdfsdf doesn’t exist. (NTV)
    (11) #^*g~)# doesn’t exist. (NTV)

  5. Villum Lasen

    1 false, 2 true, 3 false, 4 true 5 false 6 true 7 true 8 true 9 true 10 true 11 false

    I find myself unable to be naive and apply No Truth Value judgment at the same time, so results skewed.

  6. Anonymous

    T(1) Santa Claus brings presents to children.
    T(2) Santa Claus is fat.
    F(3) Santa Claus is skinny.
    T(4) Mickey Mouse is a mouse.
    F(5) Mickey Mouse is a donkey.
    T(6) Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
    T(7) Shmanta Shmaus doesn’t exist.
    DK(8) Xuphy Kishtraa doesn’t exist.
    T(9) zxavyw uyiy doesn’t exist.
    T(10) sdfsdfsdf doesn’t exist.
    T(11) #^*g~)# doesn’t exist.

    By the way, Gualtierro, if you want to get lots of results and tabulate them easily, you should get a questionpro.com account and survey students there or put the link here (or better yet both and include demographic info so you can see if philosophers have different intuitions than folk, though I suspect that’s unlikely on these questions). Anyway, let me know if you have any questions about this. Please let us know what you find out!

  7. J.C.

    If pressed to fit the with the suggested scheme I would say:
    T,T,F,T,F,T,T,DK,DK,NTV,NTV,NTV.

    But I also find it intuitively odd to link “semantic intuitions,” which I would think would have to do with “meaning,” so strongly to truth.

  8. Marina

    I read the quiz and my intuition says no truth value to all the characters, since I don’t “know” these people to exist. For me they are a collection of names without attributes.

    I didn’t believe in Santa Claus as a child, so I don’t have that instant “click” when I see the name.

  9. Brit

    T (1) Santa Claus brings presents to children.
    T (2) Santa Claus is fat.
    F (3) Santa Claus is skinny.
    T (4) Mickey Mouse is a mouse.
    F (5) Mickey Mouse is a donkey.
    T (6) Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
    NTV (7) Shmanta Shmaus doesn’t exist.
    KN (8) Xuphy Kishtraa doesn’t exist.
    NTV (9) zxavyw uyiy doesn’t exist.
    NTV (10) sdfsdfsdf doesn’t exist.
    NTV (11) #^*g~)# doesn’t exist.

  10. Anon.

    (T) Santa Claus brings presents to children.
    (T) Santa Claus is fat.
    (F) Santa Claus is skinny.
    (T) Mickey Mouse is a mouse.
    (F) Mickey Mouse is a donkey.
    (T) Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
    (T) Shmanta Shmaus doesn’t exist.
    (T) Xuphy Kishtraa doesn’t exist.
    (T) zxavyw uyiy doesn’t exist.
    (T) sdfsdfsdf doesn’t exist.
    (T) #^*g~)# doesn’t exist.

  11. A comment: I’m a little surprised how many people are saying ‘Santa brings presents to children’ and/or ‘Santa is fat’ are true. I wonder what those same folks think about ‘Phlogiston is responsible for combustion’ or ‘Planet Vulcan causes the perihelion precession of Mercury’s orbit,’ which seem pretty similar to me.

    The main difference is obviously that ‘Santa brings children presents’ is true in a widespread make-believe story, whereas phlogiston is not; but I’m not sure the difference is huge. To say something is true only in a made-up story is one way of saying it’s false (e.g., Me: “I can dunk a basketball.” You: “In your dreams.” And while it is in fact true-in-my-dreams, it is not true (in reality). And thus we want to say that “Greg can dunk a basketball” is false.)

    Alternatively: is there a significant, relevant differece between something being true-in-the-Christmas-story and something being true-in-the-phogiston-chemistry-story? The only difference I can see is that the Christmas story was never intended to be literally true, whereas phlogiston chemistry was. But again, that seems to show that ‘Santa brings children presents’ should definitely be thought of as false.

  12. I wonder how many people have the intuition that their intuitions are inconsistent? Anyway, here are mine.

    (1) Santa Claus brings presents to children. FALSE.
    (2) Santa Claus is fat.FALSE.
    (3) Santa Claus is skinny.FALSE.
    (4) Mickey Mouse is a mouse. FALSE.
    (5) Mickey Mouse is a donkey. FALSE.
    (6) Santa Claus doesn’t exist. TRUE.
    (7) Shmanta Shmaus doesn’t exist. DK.
    (8) Xuphy Kishtraa doesn’t exist. DK.
    (9) zxavyw uyiy doesn’t exist. NTV
    (10) sdfsdfsdf doesn’t exist. NTV
    (11) #^*g~)# doesn’t exist. NTV

  13. Golly

    F (1) Santa Claus brings presents to children.
    T (2) Santa Claus is fat.
    F (3) Santa Claus is skinny.
    T (4) Mickey Mouse is a mouse.
    F (5) Mickey Mouse is a donkey.
    F (6) Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
    T (7) Shmanta Shmaus doesn’t exist.
    T (8) Xuphy Kishtraa doesn’t exist.
    T (9) zxavyw uyiy doesn’t exist.
    T (10) sdfsdfsdf doesn’t exist.
    T (11) #^*g~)# doesn’t exist.

  14. A quick note about (8)-(11), the increasingly nonsensical proper names: the following sentence is true —
    “Zzyzx is located in San Bernadino County, California.”
    To me, ‘Zzyzx’ doesn’t seem very different from ‘zxavyw uyiy’ or even ‘sdfsdfsdf.’ So whatever your favored semantic theory ends up being, it needs to make “Zzyzx is in California” come out true.

  15. (1) F — saint nicholas does…
    (2) T
    (3) F
    (4) T
    (5) F
    (6) T
    (7) DK — with an OWA, there might just exist an entity with that name. if you really want a truth value assignment for these and below, then take F.
    (8) DK — see 7
    (9) F — it’s a bit alike 7, but 7 and 8 are more name-like, i.e. as if there may be a referent in reality. the “zxavyw uyiy” is surely (ahem, value judgment) nothing more than a string of text, and as string, it does exist. therefore F.
    (10) F — see 9.
    (11) F — see 9

  16. Sorry —
    I didn’t express myself accurately. I shouldn’t have said ‘names’ but rather ‘strings in subject position’ or something similar. I don’t think those last ones are sentences either.

    The only point I wanted to make was that I wouldn’t have thought “Zzyzx is in California” was a sentence either, until I drove past it last year. So that even if 99% of people in a survey judge “Zzyzx is in California” to not be a sentence, that doesn’t mean it isn’t.

  17. Chris

    (1) True
    (2) True
    (3) False
    (4) True
    (5) False
    (6) True
    (7) True
    (8) True
    (9) True
    (10) True
    (11) True

    My answers for 7-10 were all motivated the same way and I was less sure of them than the other ones. #11 almost seemed like some kind of Perl expression, so it almost seemed like a valid question from a newbie programmer.

    Going back and peeking at other answers now… I’m surprised in retrospect at my T answer to #1, but I think my impression was something like this: if you’d said ‘there’s a guy named santa who brings presents to children’, I would have said “F”; but in the question as stated, it’s grammatically presumed that he exists. Within the story where he exists, then yeah, bringing presents to children is what he does.

  18. Chris

    (1) Santa Claus brings presents to children.T
    (2) Santa Claus is fat.T
    (3) Santa Claus is skinny.F
    (4) Mickey Mouse is a mouse.T
    (5) Mickey Mouse is a donkey.F
    (6) Santa Claus doesn’t exist.T
    (7) Shmanta Shmaus doesn’t exist.DK
    (8) Xuphy Kishtraa doesn’t exist.DK
    (9) zxavyw uyiy doesn’t exist.NTV
    (10) sdfsdfsdf doesn’t exist.NTV
    (11) #^*g~)# doesn’t exist.

  19. About

    #^*g~)# doesn’t exist

    I said: don’t know

    since I don’t know whether #^*g~)# is a name; if I knew it wasn’t a name, but it was a meaningless non-name string in the subject position, then I’d want to say it had no truth value; but I don’t know that.

  20. The main difference is obviously that ‘Santa brings children presents’ is true in a widespread make-believe story, whereas phlogiston is not; but I’m not sure the difference is huge. To say something is true only in a made-up story is one way of saying it’s false (e.g., Me: “I can dunk a basketball.” You: “In your dreams.” And while it is in fact true-in-my-dreams, it is not true (in reality). And thus we want to say that “Greg can dunk a basketball” is false.)

    I suspect this is a common view these days; but it’s worth noting that this has not always been so. A number of nineteenth-century logicians (Venn, Keynes, Carroll) took it as obvious that to say that something is true only in a made-up story is to say it is true; to say that Santa is fat, for instance, is to say that there is some domain of discourse (e.g., popular story characters) that includes Santa with the property of being fat attributed to him. The claim that being true in a made-up story (i.e., true of a character in a made-up story) is a way of saying that it is false would have mystified them; for them it would obviously be a way of saying it’s true, but with regard to a given domain. And they would have considered this domain relativity to be common to all instances of calling something true (including calling it true ‘in reality’). As I think John Neville Keynes says somewhere, for logical purposes to say that something exists is just to say that it really is one of the things we are talking about; whether or not this means it exists in reality depends on whether we are talking about things that really exist. (The phlogiston and Vulcan examples would, I presume, have been handled exactly the same way, with different domains.)

    So (to get to my point) for some people it would be more likely that being true in a made-up story is a way of being true (as it says) than a way of being false. And, whether it’s ultimately coherent or not, it’s coherent enough that there have been intelligent logicians in the past who have explicitly considered the issue and, far from seeing any incoherence, thought it obviously true. (Indeed, they might have seen the reverse as incoherent, making it impossible to talk about fictional characters at all by denying them a domain of discourse.)

  21. William

    1) Santa Claus brings presents to children. T
    (2) Santa Claus is fat. T
    (3) Santa Claus is skinny. F
    (4) Mickey Mouse is a mouse. T
    (5) Mickey Mouse is a donkey. F
    (6) Santa Claus doesn’t exist. T
    (7) Shmanta Shmaus doesn’t exist. NTV
    (8) Xuphy Kishtraa doesn’t exist. NTV
    (9) zxavyw uyiy doesn’t exist. NTV
    (10) sdfsdfsdf doesn’t exist.NTV
    (11) #^*g~)# doesn’t exist NTV

  22. (1) Santa Claus brings presents to children.
    T
    (2) Santa Claus is fat.
    T
    (3) Santa Claus is skinny.
    F
    (4) Mickey Mouse is a mouse.
    T
    (5) Mickey Mouse is a donkey.
    F
    (6) Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
    T
    (7) Shmanta Shmaus doesn’t exist.
    T
    (8) Xuphy Kishtraa doesn’t exist.
    T
    (9) zxavyw uyiy doesn’t exist.
    NTV
    (10) sdfsdfsdf doesn’t exist.
    NTV
    (11) #^*g~)# doesn’t exist.
    NTV

  23. Stephen Yablo

    (1) Santa Claus brings presents to children. T/F depending on context
    (2) Santa Claus is fat.T/F depending on context
    (3) Santa Claus is skinny. F
    (4) Mickey Mouse is a mouse. T
    (5) Mickey Mouse is a donkey. F
    (6) Santa Claus doesn’t exist. T
    (7) Shmanta Shmaus doesn’t exist. T
    (8) Xuphy Kishtraa doesn’t exist. T/NTV
    (9) zxavyw uyiy doesn’t exist. NTV
    (10) sdfsdfsdf doesn’t exist. NTV
    (11) #^*g~)# doesn’t exist.NTV

  24. My naive responses were inconsistent: 1 False, 2 True. At that point I irretrievably lost the critical mass of naivety, and settled on the following:

    1. depends on context
    2. depends on context
    3. false
    4. depends on context
    5. false
    6. true
    7-11 NTV

  25. James C

    I don’t think T/F/NTV is an appropriate set of options. It asssumes there’s only one sense a description can be interpreted in. ‘Santa’ in the sense of a real person, doesn’t exist, so isn’t fat. ‘Santa’ in the sense of a character in a cultural myth, exists, and is fat. There is no single, universal ‘is’.

  26. Jeremy

    T (1) Santa Claus brings presents to children.
    T (2) Santa Claus is fat.
    F (3) Santa Claus is skinny.
    T (4) Mickey Mouse is a mouse.
    F (5) Mickey Mouse is a donkey.
    T (6) Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
    T (7) Shmanta Shmaus doesn’t exist.
    T (8) Xuphy Kishtraa doesn’t exist.
    T (9) zxavyw uyiy doesn’t exist.
    T (10) sdfsdfsdf doesn’t exist.
    T (11) #^*g~)# doesn’t exist.

  27. Sarah

    My first-guess responses were as follows:

    1. F
    2. T
    3. F
    4. T
    5. F
    6. F
    7. DK (may be a name)
    8. DK (may be a name)
    9. DK (may be a name)
    10. F
    11. DK

    I also quizzed my boyfriend, a non-philosopher. Here are his answers:

    1. T
    2. T
    3. F
    4. T
    5. F
    6. F
    7. DK
    8. DK
    9. DK
    10. DK
    11. DK

  28. (1) F (not to real children)
    (2) T (he is fictionally fat)
    (3) F (as above)
    (4) T (he’s a fictional mouse)
    (5) F (he’s a mouse!)
    (6) T (not really)
    (7) DK
    (8) DK
    (9) DK
    (10) DK
    (11) DK

    All my DKs were because any one of the previous commenters may well have named something with that name; but regarding my answer to 6, I take “Santa Claus” to refer to the fictional entity standardly, and “exist” to refer to actual existence standardly.

  29. Chris Tillman

    (1) F
    (2) F
    (3) F
    (4) F
    (5) F
    (6) T
    (7) DK (need more context)
    (8) DK (need more context)
    (9) DK (need more context)
    (10) DK (need more context)
    (11) DK (need more context)

  30. Irene

    (1) Santa Claus brings presents to children. (F)
    (2) Santa Claus is fat. (T)
    (3) Santa Claus is skinny. (F)
    (4) Mickey Mouse is a mouse. (T)
    (5) Mickey Mouse is a donkey. (F)
    (6) Santa Claus doesn’t exist. (T)
    (7) Shmanta Shmaus doesn’t exist. (T)
    (8) Xuphy Kishtraa doesn’t exist. (T)
    (9) zxavyw uyiy doesn’t exist. (T)
    (10) sdfsdfsdf doesn’t exist. (T)
    (11) #^*g~)# doesn’t exist. (T)

Comments are closed.