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FIRST ORDER THEORIES OF
INDIVIDUAL CONCEPTS AND
John McCarthy, Stanford University
2000 Oct 31, 10:36 a.m.
We discuss ﬁrst order theories in which individual concepts are
admitted as mathematical objects along with the things that reify
them. This allows very straightforward formalizations of knowledge,
belief, wanting, and necessity in ordinary ﬁrst order logic without
modal operators. Applications are given in philosophy and in artiﬁcial
intelligence. We do not treat general concepts, and we do not present
any full axiomatizations but rather show how various facts can be
“...it seems that hardly anybody proposes to use diﬀerent variables for
propositions and for truth-values, or diﬀerent variables for individuals
and individual concepts.”—(Carnap 1956, p. 113).
Admitting individual concepts as objects—with concept-valued con-
stants, variables, functions and expressions— allows ordinary ﬁrst or-
der theories of necessity, knowledge, belief and wanting without modal
operators or quotation marks and without the restrictions on substi-
tuting equals for equals that either device makes necessary.
In this paper we will show how various individual concepts and
propositions can be expressed. We are not yet ready to present a full
collection of axioms. Moreover, our purpose is not to explicate what
concepts are in a philosophical sense but rather to develop a language
of concepts for representing facts about knowledge, belief, etc. in the
memory of a computer.
Frege (1892) discussed the need to distinguish direct and indirect
use of words. According to one interpretation of Frege’s ideas, the
meaning of the phrase “Mike’s telephone number” in the sentence “Pat
knows Mike’s telephone number” is the concept of Mike’s telephone
number, whereas its meaning in the sentence “Pat dialed Mike’s tele-
phone number” is the number itself. Thus if we also have “Mary’s tele-
phone number = Mike’s telephone number”, then “Pat dialed Mary’s
telephone number” follows, but “Pat knows Mary’s telephone number
It was further proposed that a phrase has a sense which is a con-
cept and is its meaning in oblique contexts like knowing and wanting,
and a denotation which is its meaningin direct contexts like dialing.
Denotations are the basis of the semantics of ﬁrst order logic and
model theory and are well understood, but sense has given more trou-
ble, and the modal treatment of oblique contexts avoids the idea. On
the other hand, logicians such as Carnap (1947 and 1956), Church
(1951) and Montague (1974) see a need for concepts and have pro-
posed formalizations. All these formalizations involve modifying the
logic used; ours doesn’t modify the logic and is more powerful, be-
cause it includes mappings from objects to concepts. Robert Moore’s
forthcoming dissertation also uses concepts in ﬁrst order logic.
The problem identiﬁed by Frege—of suitably limiting the appli-
cation of the substitutitivity of equals for equals—arises in artiﬁcial
intelligence as well as in philosophy and linguistics for any system that
must represent information about beliefs, knowledge, desires, or logi-
cal necessity—regardless of whether the representation is declarative
or procedural (as in PLANNER and other AI formalisms).
Our approach involves treating concepts as one kind of object in
an ordinary ﬁrst order theory. We shall have one term that denotes
Mike’s telephone number and a diﬀerent term denoting the concept
of Mike’s telephone number instead of having a single term whose
denotation is the number and whose sense is a concept of it. The
relations among concepts and between concepts and other entities are
expressed by formulas of ﬁrst order logic. Ordinary model theory can
then be used to study what spaces of concepts satisfy various sets of
We treat primarily what Carnap calls individual concepts
Mike’s telephone number or Pegasus and not general concepts like tele-
phone or unicorn. Extension to general concepts seems feasible, but
individual concepts provide enough food for thought for the present.
This is a preliminary paper in that we don’t give a comprehensive
set of axioms for concepts. Instead we merely translate some English
sentences into our formalism to give an idea of the possibilities.
2 Knowing What and Knowing That
To assert that Pat knows Mike’s telephone number we write
true Know(P at, T elephone M ike)
with the following conventions:
Another convention is to capitalize the ﬁrst letter of a constant,
variable or function name when its value is a concept. (We con-
sidered also capitalizing the last letter when the arguments are
concepts, but it made the formulas ugly).
which takes the person himself into the telephone number itself.
We do not propose to identify the function T elephone with the
general concept of a person’s telephone number.
value of X. Thus in (1) Know(P at, T elephoneM ike) is a propo-
sition and not a truth value. Note that we are formalizing know-
ing what rather than knowing that or knowing how . For AI and
for other practical purposes, knowing what seems to be the most
useful notion of the three. In English, knowing what is written
knowing whether when the “knowand” is a proposition.
true Know(P at, T elephoneM ike)
when we don’t intend to iterate knowledge further. know is a
predicate in the logic, so we cannot apply any knowledge opera-
tors to it. We will have
know(pat, T elephone M ike) ≡ true Know(P at, T elephone M ike).(2)6. We expect that the proposition Know(P at, T elphone M ike) will
be useful accompanied by axioms that allow inferring that Pat
will use this knowledge under appropriate circumstances, i.e. he
will dial it or retell it when appropriate. There will also be
axioms asserting that he will know it after being told it or looking
it up in the telephone book.
I suspect that new methods will be required to treat
knowing a person.
formalisms in which true has a another argument—a situation,
a story, a possible world, or even a partial possible world (a
notion we suspect will eventually be found necessary).
extending the logic in any way—solely by the introduction of
predicate and function symbols subject to suitable axioms. In
the present informal treatment, we will not be explicit about
sorts, but we will use diﬀerent letters for variables of diﬀerent
The reader may be nervous about what is meant by concept. He
will have to remain nervous; no ﬁnal commitment will be made in this
paper. The formalism is compatible with many possibilities, and these
can be compared using the models of their ﬁrst order theories. Actu-
ally, this paper isn’t much motivated by the philosophical question of
what concepts really are. The goal is more to make a formal structure
that can be used to represent facts about knowledge and belief so that
a computer program can reason about who has what knowledge in
order to solve problems. From either the philosophical or the AI point
of view, however, if (1) is to be reasonable, it must not follow from
(1) and the fact that Mary’s telephone number is the same as Mike’s,
that Pat knows Mary’s telephone number.
The proposition that Joe knows whether Pat knows Mike’s tele-
phone number, is written
Know(J oe, Know(P at, T elephone M ike))
and asserting it requires writing
true Know(J oe, Know(P at, T elephone M ike))
while the proposition that Joe knows that Pat knows Mike’s telephone
number is written
K(J oe, Know(P at, T elephone M ike)
where K(P, Q) is the proposition that P knows that Q. English does
not treat knowing a proposition and knowing an individual concept
uniformly; knowing an individual concept means knowing its value
while knowing a proposition means knowing that it has a particular
value, namely t. There is no reason to impose this inﬁrmity on robots.
We ﬁrst consider systems in which corresponding to each concept
X, there is a thing x of which X is a concept. Then there is a function
denot such that
x = denot X.
We call denotX the denotation of the concept X, and (7) asserts that
the denotation of the concept of P ’s telephone number depends only
on the denotation of the concept P . The variables in (7) range over
concepts of persons, and we regard (7) as asserting that T elephone
is extensional with respect to denot. Note that our denot operates
on concepts rather than on expressions; a theory of expressions will
also need a denotation function. From (7) and suitable logical axioms
follows the existence of a function telephone satisfying
(∀P )(denot T elephone P = telephone denot P ).
Functions like T elephone are then related to denot by equations like
(∀P 1 P 2)(denot P 1 = denot P 2 ⊃ denot T elephone P 1 = denot T elephone P 2).(7)Know is extensional with respect to denot in its ﬁrst argument,
and this is expressed by
(∀P 1 P 2)(denot P 1 = denot P 2 ⊃ denot Know(P 1, X) = denot Know(P 2, X)),(9)(∀P 1 P 2 x u)
(denotes(P 1, x) ∧ denotes(P 2, x) ∧ denotes(T elephone P 1, u)⊃ denotes(T elephone P 2, u))
(12)but it is Not extensional in its second argument. We can therefore
deﬁne a predicate
know(p, X) satisfying
(∀P X)(true Know(P, X) ≡ know(denot P, X)).
(Note that all these predicates and functions are entirely extensional
in the underlying logic, and the notion of extensionality presented here
is relative to denot.)
The predicate true and the function denot are related by
(∀Q)(true Q ≡ (denot Q = t))
provided truth values are in the range of denot, and denot could also
be provided with a (partial) possible world argument.
When we don’t assume that all concepts have denotations, we use
denotes(X, x) instead of a function. The extensionality of
T elephone would then be written
We now introduce the function Exists satisfying
(∀X)(true Exists X ≡ (∃x)
Suppose we want to assert that Pegasus is a horse without asserting
that Pegasus exists. We can do this by introducing the predicate
Ishorse and writing
true Ishorse P egasus
which is related to the predicate ishorse by
denotes(X, x) ⊃ (ishorse x ≡ true Ishorse X))
In this way, we assert extensionality without assuming that all con-
cepts have denotations. Exists is extensional in this sense, but the
corresponding predicate exists is identically true and therefore dis-
In order to combine concepts propositionally, we need analogs of
the propositional operators such as ∧, etc. which we will write And,
etc., write as inﬁxes, and axiomatize by
(true(Q1 And Q2) ≡ true Q1 ∧ true Q2),
etc. The corresponding formulas for Or, N ot, Implies, and Equiv are
(∀Q1 Q2)(true(Q1 Or Q2) ≡ true Q1 ∨ true Q2),
(true(N ot Q) ≡ ¬true Q),
(true(Q1 Implies Q2) ≡ trueQ1 ⊃ true Q2)
(true(Q1 Equiv Q2) ≡ (true Q1 ≡ true Q2)).
The equality symbol “=” is part of the logic so that X = Y asserts
that X and Y are the same concept. To write propositions express-
ing equality of the denotations of concepts, we introduce Equal(X, Y )
which is the proposition that X and Y denote the same thing if any-
thing. We shall want axioms 1
(∀X)(true Equal(X, X)),
(∀X Y )(true Equal(X, Y ) ≡ true Equal(Y, X))
(∀X Y Z)(true Equal(X, Y )∧true Equal(Y, Z) ⊃ true Equal(X, Z)),(23)making true Equal(X, Y ) an equivalence relation, and
(∀X Y x)(true Equal(X, Y )∧
denotes(X, x) ⊃
which relates it to equality in the logic.
We can make the concept of equality essentially symmetric by
replacing (22) by
(∀X Y )(Equal(X, Y ) = Equal(Y, X)),
i.e. making the two expressions denote the same concept.
11995: I should have used an inﬁxed Equal here.
The statement that Mary has the same telephone as Mike is as-
true Equal(T elephone M ary, T elephone M ike)
and it obviously doesn’t follow from this and (1) that
true Know(P at, T elephone M ary)
To draw this conclusion we need something like
true K(P at, Equal(T elephone M ary, T elephone M ike))
and suitable axioms about knowledge.
If we were to adopt the convention that a proposition appearing
at the outer level of a sentence is asserted and were to regard the
denotation-valued function as standing for the sense-valued function
when it appears as the second argument of Know, we would have a
notation that resembles ordinary language in handling obliquity en-
tirely by context. There is no guarantee that general statements could
be expressed unambiguously without circumlocution; the fact that the
principles of intensional reasoning haven’t yet been stated is evidence
against the suitability of ordinary language for stating them.
3 Functions from Things to Concepts
While the relation
denotes(X, x) between concepts and things is many-
one, functions going from things to certain concepts of them seem use-
ful. Some things such as numbers can be regarded as having standard
concepts. Suppose that Concept1 n gives a standard concept of the
number n, so that
(∀n)(denot Concept1 n = n)
We can then have simultaneously
true N ot Knew(Kepler, N umber P lanets)
true Knew(Kepler, Composite Concept1 denot N umber P lanets).(31)
(We have bravely used Knew instead of Know, because we are not
now concerned with formalizing tense.)
(31) can be condensed us-
ing Composite1 which takes a number into the proposition that it is
(∀n)(Composite1 n = Composite Concept1 n),
true Knew(Kepler, Composite1 denot N umber P lanets). (33)
A further condensation can be achieved using Composite2 deﬁned by
(∀N )(Composite2 N = Composite Concept1 denot N ),
letting us write
which is true even though
true Knew(Kepler, Composite2 N umber P lanets),
true Knew(Kepler, Composite N umber P lanets)
is false. (36) is our formal expression of “Kepler knew that the number
of planets is composite”, while (31), (33), and (35) each expresses a
proposition that can only be stated awkwardly in English, e.g. as
“Kepler knew that a certain number is composite, where this number
(perhaps unbeknownst to Kepler) is the number of planets”.
We may also want a map from things to concepts of them in or-
der to formalize a sentence like, “Lassie knows the location of all her
puppies”. We write this
Here Conceptd takes a puppy into a dog’s concept of it, and Locationd
takes a dog’s concept of a puppy into a dog’s concept of its location.
The axioms satisﬁed by Knowd, Locationd and Conceptd can be tai-
lored to our ideas of what dogs know.
A suitable collection of functions from things to concepts might
permit a language that omitted some individual concepts like M ike
(replacing it with Conceptx mike) and wrote many sentences with
quantiﬁers over things rather than over concepts. However, it is still
premature to apply Occam’s razor. It may be possible to avoid con-
cepts as objects in expressing particular facts but impossible to avoid
them in stating general principles.
ispuppy(x, lassie) ⊃ true Knowd(Lassie, Locationd Conceptd x)).(37)4 Relations between Knowing What
and Knowing That
As mentioned before, “Pat knows Mike’s telephone number” is written
true Know(P at, T elephone M ike).
We can write “Pat knows Mike’s telephone number is 333-3333”
trueK(P at, Equal(T elephone M ike, Concept1 “333−3333(cid:48)(cid:48))),(39)
where K(P, Q) is the proposition that
denot(P ) knows the proposi-
tion Q and Concept1(“333 − 3333(cid:48)(cid:48)) is some standard concept of that
The two ways of expressing knowledge are somewhat interdeﬁn-
able, since we can write
(∀P Q)(K(P, Q) = (Q And Know(P, Q)))
(∀P X)(true Know(P, X) ≡ (∃A)(constant A∧true K(P, Equal(X, A)))).(41)Here constant A asserts that A is a constant, i.e. a concept such that
we are willing to say that P knows X if he knows it equals A. This is
clear enough for some domains like integers, but it is not obvious how
to treat knowing a person.
Using the standard concept function Concept1, we might replace
(∀P X(true Know(P, X) ≡ (∃a)(true K(P, Equal(X, Concept1 a))))(42)with similar meaning.2
(41) and (42) express a denotational deﬁnition of Know in terms
of K. A conceptual deﬁnition seems to require something like
(∀P X)(Know(P, X) = Exists X And K(P, Equal(X, Concept2 denot X))),(43)where Concept2 is a suitable function from things to concepts and
may not be available for all sorts of objects.3
21995: This idea is used in my Elephant 2000 paper to discuss the notion of a responsive
answer to a question.
31995: At present I don’t see why Concept2 needs to be diﬀerent from Concept1.
5 Replacing Modal Operators by Modal
Using concepts we can translate the content of modal logic into or-
dinary logic. We need only replace the modal operators by modal
functions. The axioms of modal logic then translate into ordinary
ﬁrst order axioms.
In this section we will treat only unquantiﬁed
modal logic. The arguments of the modal functions will not involve
quantiﬁcation although quantiﬁcation occurs in the outer logic.
N ec Q is the proposition that the proposition Q is necessary, and
P oss Q is the proposition that it is possible. To assert necessity or
possibility we must write true N ec Q or true P oss Q. This can be
abbreviated by deﬁning nec Q ≡ true N ec Q and poss Q correspond-
ingly. However, since nec is a predicate in the logic with t and f as
values, nec Q cannot be an argument of nec or N ec.
Before we even get to modal logic proper we have a decision to
make—shall N ot N ot Q be considered the same proposition as Q, or
is it merely extensionally equivalent? The ﬁrst is written
(∀Q)(N ot N ot Q = Q)
and the second
(∀Q)(true N ot N ot Q ≡ true Q).
The second follows from the ﬁrst by substitution of equals for equals,
but the converse needn’t hold.
In Meaning and Necessity, Carnap takes what amounts to the ﬁrst
alternative, regarding concepts as L-equivalence classes of expressions.
This works nicely for discussing necessity, but when he wants to discuss
knowledge without assuming that everyone knows Fermat’s last theo-
rem if it is true, he introduces the notion of intensional isomorphism
and has knowledge operate on the equivalence classes of this relation.
If we choose the ﬁrst alternative, then we may go on to identify any
two propositions that can be transformed into each other by Boolean
identities. This can be assured by a small collection of propositional
identities like (44) including associative and distributive laws for con-
junction and disjunction, De Morgan’s law, and the laws governing
the propositions T and F . In the second alternative we will want the
extensional forms of the same laws. When we get to quantiﬁcation
a similar choice will arise, but if we choose the ﬁrst alternative, it
will be undecideable whether two expressions denote the same con-
cept. I doubt that considerations of linguistic usage or usefulness in
AI will unequivocally recommend one alternative, so both will have to
Actually there are more than two alternatives. Let M be the free
algebra built up from the “atomic” concepts by the concept forming
function symbols. If ≡≡ is an equivalence relation on M such that
(∀X1 X2)((X1 ≡≡ X2) ⊃ (true X1 ≡ true X2)),
then the set of equivalence classes under ≡≡ may be taken as the set
Similar possibilities arise in modal logic. We can choose between
the conceptual identity
(∀W )(P oss Q = N ot N ec N ot Q)
and the weaker extensional axiom
(∀Q)(true P oss Q ≡ true N ot N ec N ot Q).
We will write the rest of our modal axioms in extensional form.
(∀Q)(true N ec Q ⊃ true Q)
(∀Q1 Q2)(true N ec Q1∧true N ec(Q1 Implies Q2) ⊃ true N ec Q2)(50)yielding a system equivalent to von Wright’s T.4
S4 is given by adding
(∀Q)(true N ec Q ≡ true N ec N ec Q)
and S5 by adding
(∀Q)(true P oss Q ≡ true N ec P oss Q).
4It seems that something to replace necessitation is needed to get T and likewise for
S4 and S5.
Actually, there may be no need to commit ourselves to a particular
modal system. We can simultaneously have the functions N ecT , N ec4
and N ec5, related by axioms such as
(∀Q)(true N ec4 Q ⊃ true N ec5 Q),
which would seem plausible if we regard S4 as corresponding to prov-
ability in some system and S5 as truth in the intended model of the
Presumably we shall want to relate necessity and equality by the
(∀X)(true N ec Equal(X, X)).
Certain of Carnap’s proposals translate to the stronger relation
(∀X Y )(X = Y ≡ true N ec Equal(X, Y )),
which asserts that two concepts are the same if and only if the equality
of what they may denote is necessary.
6 More Philosophical Examples—Mostly
Some sentences that recur as examples in the philosophical literature
will be expressed in our notation so the treatments can be compared.
First we have “The number of planets = 9” and “Necessarily 9 =
9” from which one doesn’t want to deduce “Necessarily the number of
planets = 9”. This example is discussed by Quine (1961) and (Kaplan
1969). Consider the sentences
¬nec Equal(N umber P lanets, Concept1 9)
nec Equal(Concept1 number planets, Concept1 9)
Both are true. (56) asserts that it is not necessary that the number
of planets be 9, and (57) asserts that the number of planets, once
determined, is a number that is necessarily equal to 9. It is a major
virtue of our formalism that both meanings can be expressed and
are readily distinguished. Substitutivity of equals holds in the logic
but causes no trouble, because “The number of planets = 9” may be
number(planets) = 9,
or, using concepts, as
true Equal(N umber P lanets, Concept1 9),
and “Necessarily 9=9” is written
nec Equal(Concept1 9, Concept1 9),
and these don’t yield the unwanted conclusion.
Ryle used the sentences “Baldwin is a statesman” and “Pickwick
is a ﬁction” to illustrate that parallel sentence construction does not
always give parallel sense. The ﬁrst can be rendered in four ways,
namely true Statesman Baldwin or statesman denot Baldwin or
statesman baldwin or statesman1 Baldwin where the last asserts
that the concept of Baldwin is one of a statesman. The second can be
rendered only as as true F iction P ickwick or f iction1 P ickwick.
Quine (1961) considers illegitimate the sentence
(∃x)(Philip is unaware that x denounced Catiline)
obtained from “Philip is unaware that Tully denounced Catiline” by
existential generalization. In the example, we are also supposing the
truth of “Philip is aware that Cicero denounced Catiline”. These sen-
tences are related to (perhaps even explicated by) several sentences
in our system. T ully and Cicero are taken as distinct concepts. The
person is called tully or cicero in our language, and we have
tully = cicero,
denot T ully = cicero
denot Cicero = cicero.
We can discuss Philip’s concept of the person Tully by introducing
a function Concept2(p1, p2) giving for some persons p1 and p2, p1’s
(∃P )(true Denounced(P, Catiline) And N ot K(P hilip, Denounced(P, Catiline)))(68)concept of p2. Such a function need not be unique or always deﬁned,
but in the present case, some of our information may be conveniently
Concept2(philip, tully) = Cicero,
asserting that Philip’s concept of the person Tully is Cicero. The
basic assumptions of Quine’s example also include
true K(P hilip, Denounced(Cicero, Catiline))
¬true K(P hilip, Denounced(T ully, Catiline)).
5 From (63), . . ., (67) we can deduce
from (67) and others, and
¬true K(P hilip, Denounced(Concept2(philip, p), Catiline))),(69)
using the additional hypotheses
denounced(p, catiline) ⊃ p = cicero),
denot Catiline = catiline
(∀P 1 P 2)(denot Denounced(P 1, P 2) ≡ denounced(denot P 1, denot P 2)).(72)Presumably (68) is always true, because we can always construct a
concept whose denotation is Cicero unbeknownst to Philip. The truth
of (69) depends on Philip’s knowing that someone denounced Catiline
and on the map Concept2(p1, p2) that gives one person’s concept of
another. If we refrain from using a silly map that gives something like
51995: Quine would also want true N ot K(P hilip, Denounced(T ully, Catiline)).
Denouncer(Catiline) as its value, we can get results that correspond
The following sentence attributed to Russell is is discussed by Ka-
plan: “I thought that your yacht was longer than it is”. We can write
true Believed(I, Greater(Length Y ouryacht,
Concept1 denot Length Y ouryacht)),
where we are not analyzing the pronouns or the tense, but are us-
ing denot to get the actual length of the yacht and Concept1 to get
back a concept of this true length so as to end up with a proposition
that the length of the yacht is greater than that number. This looks
problematical, but if it is consistent, it is probably useful.
In order to express “Your yacht is longer than Peter thinks it is.”,
we need the expression Denot(P eter, X) giving a concept of what
Peter thinks the value of X is. We now write
longer(youryacht, denot Denot(P eter, Length Y ouryacht)),(74)
but I am not certain this is a correct translation.
Quine (1956) discusses an example in which Ralph sees Bernard J.
Ortcutt skulking about and concludes that he is a spy, and also sees
him on the beach, but doesn’t recognize him as the same person. The
facts can be expresed in our formalism by equations
trueBelieve(Ralph, Isspy P 1)
true Believe(Ralph, N ot Issp P 2)
where P 1 and P 2 are concepts satisfying denotP 1 = ortcutt and
denotP 2 = ortcutt. P 1 and P 2 are further described by sentences
relating them to the circumstances under which Ralph formed them.
We can still consider a simple sentence involving the persons as
believespy(ralph, ortcutt), where we deﬁne
believespy(p1, p2) ≡ true Believe(Concept1 p1, Isspy Concept7 p2))(77)using suitable mappings Concept1 and Concept7 from persons to con-
cepts of persons. We might also choose to deﬁne believespy in such
a way that it requires true Believe(Concept1 p1, Isspy P ) for several
concepts P of p2, e.g. the concepts arising from all p1’s encounters
with p2 or his name. In this case
will be false and so would a corresponding
. However, the simple-minded predicate believespy, suitably deﬁned,
may be quite useful for expressing the facts necessary to predict some-
one’s behavior in simpler circumstances.
Regarded as an attempt to explicate the sentence “Ralph believes
Ortcutt is a spy”, the above may be considered rather tenuous. How-
ever, we are proposing it as a notation for expressing Ralph’s beliefs
about Ortcutt so that correct conclusions may be drawn about Ralph’s
future actions. For this it seems to be adequate.
7 Propositions Expressing Quantiﬁca-
As the examples of the previous sections have shown, admitting con-
cepts as objects and introducing standard concept functions makes
“quantifying in” rather easy. However, forming propositions and in-
dividual concepts by quantiﬁcation requires new ideas and additional
formalism. We are not very conﬁdent of the approach presented here.
We want to continue describing concepts within ﬁrst order logic
with no logical extensions. Therefore, in order to form new concepts
by quantiﬁcation and description, we introduce functions All, Exist,
and T he such that All(V, P ) is (approximately) the proposition that
“for all values of V , P is true”, Exist(V, P ) is the corresponding
existential proposition, and T
he(V, P ) is the concept of “the V such
that P ”.
Since All is to be a function, V and P must be objects in the logic.
However, V is semantically a variable in the formation of All(V, P ),
etc., and we will call such objects inner variables so as to distinguish
them from variables in the logic. We will use V , sometimes with
subscripts, for a logical variable ranging over inner variables. We also
need some constant symbols for inner variables (got that?), and we
will use doubled letters, sometimes with subscripts, for these. XX
will be used for individual concepts, P P for persons, and QQ for
The second argument of All and friends is a “proposition with
variables in it”, but remember that these variables are inner variables
which are constants in the logic. Got that? We won’t introduce a
special term for them, but will generally allow concepts to include
inner variables. Thus concepts now include inner variables like XX
and P P , and concept forming functions like T elephone and Know
take as arguments concepts containing internal variables in addition
to the usual concepts.
Child(M ike, P P ) Implies Equal(T elephone P P, T elephone M ike)(78)is a proposition with the inner variable P P in it to the eﬀect that
if P P is a child of Mike, then his telephone number is the same as
All(P P, Child(M ike, P P ) Implies Equal(T elephone P P, T elephone M ike))(79)is the proposition that all Mike’s children have the same telephone
number as Mike. Existential propositions are formed similarly to uni-
versal ones, but the function Exist introduced here should not be
confused with the function Exists applied to individual concepts in-
In forming individual concepts by the description function T he, it
doesn’t matter whether the object described exists. Thus
T he(P P, Child(M ike, P P ))
is the concept of Mike’s only child. Exists T he(P P, Child(M ike, P P ))
is the proposition that the described child exists. We have
true Exists T he(P P, Child(M ike, P P ))
≡ true Exist(P P, Child(M ike, P P )
And All(P P 1, Child(M ike, P P 1) Implies Equal(P P, P P 1)))),(81)but we may want the equality of the two propositions, i.e.
Exists T he(P P, Child(M ike, P P ))
= Exist(P P, Child(M ike, P P )
And All(P P 1, Child(M ike, P P 1) Implies Equal(P P, P P 1))).(82)
This is part of general problem of when two logically equivalent con-
cepts are to be regarded as the same.
In order to discuss the truth of propositions and the denotation
of descriptions, we introduce possible worlds reluctantly and with an
important diﬀerence from the usual treatment. We need them to give
values to the inner variables, and we can also use them for axioma-
tizing the modal operators, knowledge, belief and tense. However, for
axiomatizing quantiﬁcation, we also need a function α such that
α(V, x, π)
is the possible world that is the same as the world π except that
the inner variable V has the value x instead of the value it has in
π. In this respect our possible worlds resemble the state vectors or
environments of computer science more than the possible worlds of the
Kripke treatment of modal logic. This Cartesian product structure on
the space of possible worlds can also be used to treat counterfactual
conditional sentences. 6
Let π0 be the actual world. Let
true(P, π) mean that the proposi-
tion P is true in the possible world π. Then
(∀P )(true P ≡
denotes(X, x, π) mean that X denotes x in π, and let
mean the denotation of X in π when that is deﬁned.
The truth condition for All(V, P ) is then given by
(∀πV P )(true(All(V, P ), π) ≡ (∀x)
true(P, α(V, x, π)).
Here V ranges over inner variables, P ranges over propositions, and x
ranges over things. There seems to be no harm in making the domain
of x depend on π. Similarly
(∀πV P )(true(Exist(V, P ), π) ≡ (∃x)
true(P, α(V, x, π)).
61995: (McCarthy 1979) treats “Cartesian counterfactuals”.
The meaning of T
he(V, P ) is given by
(∀πV P x)(
true(P, α(V, x, π)) ∧ (∀y)(
true(P, α(V, y, π)) ⊃ y = x)
he(V, P ), x, π))
(∀π V P )(¬(∃x)(
true(P, α(V, x, π)) ⊃ ¬true Exists T
he(V, P ))).(88)
We also have the following syntactic rules governing propositions
(∀π Q1 Q2 V )(
absent(V, Q1) ∧ true(All(V, Q1ImpliesQ2), π)
⊃ true(Q1ImpliesAll(V, Q2), π))
(∀π V Q X)(true(All(V, Q), π) ⊃ true(Subst(X, V, Q), π)) (90)
absent(V, X) means that the variable V is not present in the
concept X, and Subst(X, V, Y ) is the concept that results from sub-
stituting the concept X for the variable V in the concept Y . absent
and Subst are characterized by the following axioms:
(∀V 1 V 2)(absent(V 1, V 2) ≡ V 1 (cid:54)= V 2),
(∀ V P X)(absent(V, Know(P, X)) ≡
absent(V, P )∧
axioms similar to (92) for other conceptual functions,
(∀V Q)absent(V, All(V, Q)),
(∀V Q)absent(V, Exist(V, Q)),
(∀V Q)absent(V, T
(∀V X)(Subst(V, V, X) = X),
(∀X V )(Subst(X, V, V ) = X)
(∀X V P Y )(Subst(X, V, Know(P, Y ))
= Know(Subst(X, V, P ), Subst(X, V, Y ))),
axioms similar to (98) for other functions,
(∀X V Q)(
absent(V, Y ) ⊃ Subst(X, V, Y ) = Y ),
(∀X V 1 V 2 Q)(V 1 (cid:54)= V 2 ∧ absent(V 2, X)
⊃ Subst(X, V 1, All(V 2, Q)) = All(V 2, Subst(X, V 1, Q)))
(100)and corresponding axioms to (100) for Exist and T he.
Along with these comes an axiom corresponding to α-conversion,
(∀V 1 V 2 Q)(All(V 1, Q) = All(V 2, Subst(V 2, V 1, Q))).
The functions absent and Subst play a “syntactic” role in describ-
ing the rules of reasoning and don’t appear in the concepts themselves.
It seems likely that this is harmless until we want to form concepts of
the laws of reasoning.
We used the Greek letter π for possible worlds, because we did not
want to consider a possible world as a thing and introduce concepts of
possible worlds. Reasoning about reasoning may require such concepts
or else a formulation that doesn’t use possible worlds.
Martin Davis (in conversation) pointed out the advantages of an
alternate treatment avoiding possible worlds in case there is a single
domain of individuals each of which has a standard concept. Then we
(∀V Q)(true All(V, Q) ≡ (∀x)(true Subst(Concept1x, V, Q)).(102)
8 Possible Applications to Artiﬁcial In-
The foregoing discussion of concepts has been mainly concerned with
how to translate into a suitable formal language certain sentences of
ordinary language. The success of the formalization is measured by
the extent to which the logical consequences of these sentences in the
formal system agree with our intuitions of what these consequences
should be. Another goal of the formalization is to develop an idea
of what concepts really are, but the possible formalizations have not
been explored enough to draw even tentative conclusions about that.
For artiﬁcial intelligence, the study of concepts has yet a diﬀerent
motivation. Our success in making computer programs with general
intelligence has been extremely limited, and one source of the limita-
tion is our inability to formalize what the world is like in general. We
can try to separate the problem of describing the general aspects of
the world from the problem of using such a description and the facts
of a situation to discover a strategy for achieving a goal. This is called
separating the epistemological and the heuristic parts of the artiﬁcial
intelligence problem and is discussed in (McCarthy and Hayes 1969).
We see the following potential uses for facts about knowledge:
about what actions will obtain needed knowledge. Knowledge in
books and computer ﬁles must be treated in a parallel way to
knowledge held by persons.
in the usual formalizations of knowledge, and methods of prov-
ing possibility have been neglected in modal logic. Christopher
Goad (to be published) has shown how to prove ignorance by
proving the existence of possible worlds in which the sentence
to be proved unknown is false. Presumably proving one’s own
ignorance is a stimulus to looking outside for the information.
In competitive situations, it may be important to show that a
certain course of action will leave competitors ignorant.
It seems to me that AI applications will especially beneﬁt from
ﬁrst order formalisms of the kind described above. First, many of
the present problem solvers are based on ﬁrst order logic. Morgan
(1976) in discussing theorem proving in modal logic also translates
modal logic into ﬁrst order logic. Second, our formalisms leaves the
syntax and semantics of statements not involving concepts entirely
unchanged, so that if knowledge or wanting is only a small part of
a problem, its presence doesn’t aﬀect the formalization of the other
9 Abstract Languages
The way we have treated concepts in this paper, especially when we
put variables in them, suggests trying to identify them with terms in
some language. It seems to me that this can be done provided we use
a suitable notion of abstract language.
Ordinarily a language is identiﬁed with a set of strings of symbols
taken from some alphabet. McCarthy (1963) introduces the idea of
abstract syntax, the idea being that it doesn’t matter whether sums
are represented a + b or +ab or ab+ or by the integer 2a3b or by the
LISP S-expression (PLUS A B), so long as there are predicates for de-
ciding whether an expression is a sum and functions for forming sums
from summands and functions for extracting the summands from the
sum. In particular, abstract syntax facilitates deﬁning the semantics
of programming languages, and proving the properties of interpreters
and compilers. From that point of view, one can refrain from specify-
ing any concrete representation of the “expressions” of the language
and consider it merely a collection of abstract synthetic and analytic
functions and predicates for forming, discriminating and taking apart
abstract expressions. However, the languages considered at that time
always admitted representations as strings of symbols.
If we consider concepts as a free algebra on basic concepts, then
we can regard them as strings of symbols on some alphabet if we
want to, assuming that we don’t object to a non-denumerable alpha-
bet or inﬁnitely long expressions if we want standard concepts for all
the real numbers. However, if we want to regard Equal(X, Y ) and
Equal(Y, X) as the same concept, and hence as the same “expres-
sion” in our language, and we want to regard expressions related by
renaming bound variables as denoting the same concept, then the al-
gebra is no longer free, and regarding concepts as strings of symbols
becomes awkward even if possible.
It seems better to accept the notion of abstract language deﬁned by
the collection of functions and predicates that form, discriminate, and
extract the parts of its “expressions”. In that case it would seem that
concepts can be identiﬁed with expressions in an abstract language.
10 Remarks and Acknowledgements
The treatment given here should be compared with that in (Church
1951b) and in (Morgan 1976). Church introduces what might be called
a two-dimensional type structure. One dimension permits higher or-
der functions and predicates as in the usual higher order logics. The
second dimension permits concepts of concepts, etc. No examples or
applications are given. It seems to me that concepts of concepts will
be eventually required, but this can still be done within ﬁrst order
Morgan’s motivation is to use ﬁrst order logic theorem proving pro-
grams to treat modal logic. He gives two approaches. The syntactic
approach—which he applies only to systems without quantiﬁers—uses
operations like our And to form compound propositions from elemen-
tary ones. Provability is then axiomatized in the outer logic. His
semantic approach uses axiomatizations of the Kripke accessibility re-
lation between possible worlds.
It seems to me that our treatment
can be used to combine both of Morgan’s methods, and has two fur-
ther advantages. First, concepts and individuals can be separately
quantiﬁed. Second, functions from things to concepts of them per-
mit relations between concepts of things that could not otherwise be
Although the formalism leads in almost the opposite direction, the
present paper is much in the spirit of (Carnap 1956). We appeal to
his ontological tolerance in introducing concepts as objects, and his
section on intensions for robots expresses just the attitude required
for artiﬁcial intelligence applications.
We have not yet investigated the matter, but plausible axioms for
necessity or knowledge expressed in terms of concepts may lead to
the paradoxes discussed in (Kaplan and Montague 1960) and (Mon-
tague 1963). Our intuition is that the paradoxes can be avoided by
restricting the axioms concerning knowledge of facts about knowledge
and necessity of statements about necessity. The restrictions will be
somewhat unintuitive as are the restrictions necessary to avoid the
paradoxes of naive set theory.
Chee K. Yap (1977) proposes virtual semantics for intensional log-
ics as a generalization of Carnap’s individual concepts. Apart from
the fact that Yap does not stay within conventional ﬁrst order logic,
we don’t yet know the relation between his work and that described
I am indebted to Lewis Creary, Patrick Hayes, Donald Michie,
Barbara Partee and Peter Suzman for discussion of a draft of this
paper. Creary in particular has shown the inadequacy of the formalism
for expressing all readings of the ambiguous sentence “Pat knows that
Mike knows what Joan last asserted”. There has not been time to
modify the formalism to ﬁx this inadequacy, but it seems likely that
concepts of concepts are required for an adequate treatment.
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