Predication is one of the most basic features of our language. To use a predicate in discussion of the actual world is to make a claim about the way the world (or whatever specific part of it we happen to be speaking about) is. It’s obvious that word-world connections such as those we see in predication are (or at least should be) at the root of general semantic theories.
Specifically, we say that something falls under the predicate ‘is a house’ or ‘is blue’ if we wish to express that that thing is a house or it is blue. But what isn’t as obviously seen as lying at the root, but which I argue is at this root nonetheless, is the notion of individuation. The idea is the following.
If we use the predicate `is a house’ or `is blue’ correctly in discussion, it seems uncontroversial that we can assert sentences (1) and (2):
(1) `there is a house’
(2) `there is a blue thing’
I assert that (4) is a reasonable paraphrase of (2). And while it may be that (3) is not quite a reasonable paraphrase of (1), but I’d like to argue that (3) reasonably follows from (1):
(3) `something is a house’
(4) `something is blue’
Now (3) and (4) are straightforwardly and most naturally translated into a first order formal language as the existentially quantified sentences:
(5) `(∃x)x is a house’
(6) `(∃x)x is blue’.
Our first order paraphrases lead the way here, but I’ll make an explicit claim for the sake of clarity. We can go further and claim (it seems to me not unreasonably) that we mean to make a claim of a certain individual – either that it is blue or is a house, then this most basic notion of predication involves the notion of individuation – at least the notion of individuation relative to a certain predicate that either applies or doesn’t. (I’m assuming — uncontroversially, I hope — that we could start with sentences such as (1*) `That is not a house.’ and (2*) `That is not blue.’ and reason to (5*) `(∃x)(~(x is house))’ and `(6*) (∃x)(~(x is blue))’. I think this brief aside is justification for why we can assert that predication involves the notion of individuation relative to a certain predicate that either applies or doesn’t.)
I believe that we can conclude that the notion of predication requires that there is already a class of individuals (again, relative to that predicate) that can either fall under a predicate or not.
Are there then really individuals simpliciter? That is, are there really individuals irrespective of various predications? This is, of course, a thorny philosophical issue. An issue that might not be so easily decided by mere recourse to ordinary language.