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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: August 2016

11 - Predicates: the first step in the development of an analytical conception of the meaning of sentences. The dispute between nominalists and conceptualists

from Part II - A first step: analysis of the predicative sentence


The object-orientated conception of the meaning of predicative sentences foundered on the question of how the meaning of the whole sentence results from the meanings of the sentence-components. The only answer the object-orientated position could give was: the meaning of the whole sentence is composed of that for which the singular term stands and that for which the predicate stands. This answer led to the dilemma: either the composition must be construed as the real composition of a complex object or one cannot say what is to be understood by composition here without presupposing precisely that understanding of the sentence which was to be explained.

This result is not purely negative, inasmuch as it prescribes a specific direction of enquiry for a new, no longer object-orientated attempt at an explanation. Firstly, understanding of the predicate has emerged as the – from an object-orientated point of view – critical element in the understanding of a predicative sentence. We will thus first have to try to achieve a new and no longer object-orientated conception of the understanding of a predicate. Secondly, it has at the same time become clear that the problem of the understanding of a predicate – the second of my four questions (see p. 109) – is directly connected with our third question, viz. how we understand the combination of the singular term with the predicate. It would therefore seem plausible that these two questions should now be combined. This gives a concrete clue to the enquiry into the understanding of a predicate. Were we simply to formulate the question concerning the understanding of the predicate thus: what is it to understand a predicate if this understanding cannot consist in the consciousness of an object? we would have no positive clue as to how we should proceed. If, on the other hand, we combine the second question with the third and hold fast to the idea that at any rate the singular term stands for an object, we can ask: if the supplementation of the singular term by a predicate does not have the function of combining the object of the singular term with another object (that of the predicate) how then is it to be understood?

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Traditional and Analytical Philosophy
  • Online ISBN: 9781316535608
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