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Author(s): Hans G. Herzberger

Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 67, No. 6 (Mar. 26, 1970), pp. 145-167

Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

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THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

VOLUME LXVII, NO. 6, MARCH 26, I970

I. SET THEORY AND SEMANTICS

U T NDER the Peano-Ramseydoctrine of parceling out the

logical paradoxes into those pertaining to mathematics

and those pertaining to language, set theory and semantics

have by and large gone their separate ways. And yet it can hardly be

denied that the known paradoxes of set theory and semantics do

after all have some common structure. The case has been forcefully

presented by James Thomson for three of these paradoxes: Grel-

ling's and Richard's (which are semantic) and Russell's (which is

not).' According to Thomson, each of these paradoxes can be under-

stood in terms of a certain result in the theory of relations:

Ti (Thomson): Nothing can bear any relation R to exactly

those things which do not bear R to themselves.

Russell's and Grelling's paradoxes are special cases of (Ti), putting

membership and satisfaction respectively for the abstract relation

R; and Richard's paradox comes about by further transformation of

the latter case. Having seen this much common structure across the

two lists of paradoxes, one is prompted to search for more and to

speculate on the possibility of a general and abstract account to

cover them all.

The very conception of a structural theory of these paradoxes

forces certain comparative inquiries that promise to benefit both

disciplines. Since diagonal results like (Ti) apply to any field, it is

noteworthy that some of their applications are paradoxical while

others are not. Nor does there seem to be an exact correspondence

of cases even across disciplines infected with paradox, like set theory

and semantics. When the two lists of their known paradoxes are con-

1J. F. Thomson, "On Some Paradoxes," in R. J. Butler, ed., Analytical Philos-

ophy (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962).

I45

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i46 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

On the one hand, the most prominent of semantic paradoxes (the

Liar and its variations) have no full-scale counterpart in set theory,

although their structural analogues therein (the "extraordinary"

classes) have seemed perplexing.2 This family of paradoxes and near-

paradoxes arises from certain kinds of "groundlessness" up for dis-

cussion in section II. On the other side, set theory has paradoxes of

"groundedness" whose semantic analogues have gone unremarked.3

This failure of correspondence will be repaired in section in, ad-

vancing one step the program of a structural theory of paradox.

Within this program the fact that some interpretations of diag-

onal results are paradoxical while others are not calls for explana-

tion. Linguistic expressions figure in both set theory and semantics,

having a subtle and complex relation to sets in the one theory, and

to concepts and statements in the other. In semantics, which is the

primary concern here, the paradoxes evidently owe their perplexing

character to certain limitations inherent in any language, both with

regard to expressive capacity and with regard to expressive struc-

ture.

The obverse side of a paradox is a theory adequate to cope with

it. Here it must be acknowledged that there is hardly anything in

semantics to compare with the rich and varied development of

axiomatic set theory. Perhaps the semantic paradoxes have seemed

less urgent, because a hierarchy of levels avoids them in connection

with formalized languages, and the problems were for a long time

abandoned in connection with natural languages.' Semantics of nat-

ural language has hardly emerged from its naive or "Cantorian"

phase. One striking indication of this is the widespread assumption

2 Since D. Mirimanoff's "Les Antinomies de Russell et de Burali-Forti et le

probU~me fondamental de la theorie des ensembles," L'Enseignement Mathema-

tique, xrx (1917), there has been a tendency in axiomatic set theory to banish

extraordinary sets by a special axiom of "regularity." I am indebted to Thomson

for pressing the case of grounding as a link between set theory and semantics.

3 The paradox of grounded sets was first discovered by Mirimanoff (op. cit.)

and reclaimed by Shen Yuting, "Paradox of the Class of All Grounded Classes,"

Journal of Symbolic Logic, xviIn, 2 June 1953): 114.

4 The watchword here is Tarski's declaration: "The breakdown of all previous

attempts leads us to suppose that there is no satisfactory way of solving our

problem ... I now abandon the attempt to solve our problem for the language of

everyday life and restrict myself henceforth entirely to formalized languages," pp.

164-165 of "The Concept of Truth in Formalized Languages" in Logic, Semantics,

Metamathematics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956). Quite recently the subject has

been taken up again in connection with "free logic"; see B. C. van Fraassen,

"Presupposition, Implication, and Self-reference," this JOURNAL, LXV, 5 (March 7,

1968): 136-152, and references therein. Let me note here my indebtedness to van

Fraassen for an improvement in the formulation of "groundlessness" in section ii.

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PARADOXES OF GROUNDING IN SEMANTICS 147

versal" in much the sense formulated by Tarski:

A characteristic feature of colloquial language (in contrast to various

scientific languages) is its universality. It would not be in harmony

with the spirit of this language if in some other language a word oc-

curred which could not be translated into it; it could be claimed that

'if we can speak meaningfully about anything at all, we can also speak

about it in colloquial language' (164).

This universality thesis, which Tarski offers by way of diagnosis of

the semantic paradoxes, puts forward a striking claim which, if the

means be available, deserves being put to the test. In section v I pro-

pose to develop those means, and to show that universality cannot

be "the spirit" of natural language, inasmuch as every conceptual

framework suffers the same kind of inherent limitations on expres-

sive capacity that have long been recognized in connection with lan-

guages built upon quantification theory. This result, though reached

by an elementary argument, has certain unsettling consequences for

semantic theory and for the philosophical issue of the relation be-

tween language and thought.

II. PARADOXES OF GROUNDLESSNESS

Some of the common ground between set theory and semantics can

be studied by way of a correspondence between sentences and classes.

Consider the Liar paradox, in its simplest form (Lukasiewicz) in-

volving a sentence which, like (1), purports to deny its own truth:

1. (1) is not true.

Sentences that are about themselves in this way are analogous to

self-membered classes. Momentarily conceding sense to the notion

of aboutness, each sentence has a certain domain. For a simple sen-

tence whose main verb is intransitive, the domain comprises every-

thing that satisfies its underlying subject term.5 For some examples,

(1) has for its domain the unit set whose sole member is the sen-

tence (1) itself; (2) has for its domain the set of those sentences ap-

pearing on the board; and (3) has for its domain the whole written

corpus of Gertrude Stein:

2. Some of the sentences on the board are astonishing.

3. Much of Gertrude Stein's writing is enigmatic.

More complex sentences built up from connectives, transitive verbs,

5 Where underlying grammatical subject is taken in the sense of N. Chomsky,

Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1965), with articles

and quantifiers dropped.

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148 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

domains. Thus (4) has for its domain an ordered pair of classes: the

terms of Sanskrit first and the expressions of Basic English second:

4. Certain Sanskrit terms defy translation into Basic English.

The general notion of a domain is more readily indicated than ex-

plicated, but the analysis to follow depends on no problematic cases,

and ultimately proves independent of any particular explication of

'domain'.

The relation between a sentence S and its domain D(S) is sensi-

tive to some of the same factors that are operative in general set

theory. In case some members of D(S) themselves are sentences, they

in turn will have their own domains, which collectively can be

designated D2(S): the aggregate of the domains of all sentences in

the domain of S. And it can happen that some members of D2(S)

are sentences, and so on. Any sentence for which this process fails

to terminate will be called "groundless":

'S is groundless' abbreviates 'for each integer k, Dk(S) is non-

empty'.

For a case in point, (1) is groundless, being itself a member of Dk(l)

for each k; and so is (2), if it happens to be one of the sentences on

the board. With a self-conscious writer like Gertrude Stein, there

is no assurance that (3) is grounded; but (4) at any rate is grounded,

given the character of Basic English.

Groundless sentences, like groundless classes, are pathological;

to adapt Mirimanoff's term, they are "extraordinary." Some of

them give rise to paradox, which is to say they collide with cher-

ished conceptual principles like the abstraction principle of naive

set theory (that every condition determines a set) or its counterpart

in naive semantics (that every sentence determines a statement).6

In both set theory and semantics there is a temptation to banish

everything extraordinary by some "grounding" axiom that denies

groundless classes the status of sets or denies groundless sentences

the status of statements. In set theory, grounding requirements have

wide currency; in semantics they have been widely honored though

6 There is much terminologicalvarianceover this principle, depending on how

the relation between sentences and truth values is viewed. Some would prefer

'expresses'or 'conveys'or 'is' or 'can be used to make' over 'determines',and some

would prefer 'proposition'or 'truth value' over 'statement'.In whatever terminol-

ogy, this is the naive principle of bivalence (see van Fraassen,op. cit.).

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PARADOXES OF GROUNDING IN SEMANTICS 149

formulation.7 A first effort in this direction might read:

Semantic Grounding Condition: Any given sentence deter-

mines a statement only if it is grounded or is nonsemantic

(in the sense of incorporating in purely referential position

no semantic term).8

In going beyond the cases involved in actual antinomies, such a

condition would do some justice to the facts of language, encom-

passing as it does "positive" along with "negative" cases, "mixed"

as well as "pure" cases, and "regressions" along with "cycles"; these

contrasts will be taken in turn.

First, (5) is a positive case by contrast with (1):

5. (5) is true.

and it has commonly been urged that such positive variants of the

Liar, while responsible for no contradiction, are fully as patho-

logical as the negative forms which they resemble in being both

semantic and groundless.

A "mixed" example is provided by Buridan's sophistical proof of

the existence of God.9 Suppose that a certain board contains just the

two sentences:

6. God exists.

7. None of the sentences on the board are true.

by embracing theology. The same grounding condition which cir-

cumvents contradiction in connection with (1), deals appropriately

7 In set theory the classical formulation is von Neumann's Fundierungsaxiom;

in informalsemanticsthe doctrine that semantictermsare "parasitic"accordswith

a grounding requirement,as does the separationbetween language and metalan-

guage in formal semantics.Early formulationsof the informal semantic doctrine

can be found in Ramsey'sessay "Factsand Propositions"(1927) reprinted in his

The Foundations of Mathematics and Other Essays, and in C. H. Langford's review

of a paper by H. Behmann, Journal of Symbolic Logic, ii (1937),p. 92; compare

also G. Ryle's"Heterologicality,"Analysis,xix (1951).

8 Purely referential positions of terms are those subject to the substitutivity of

identity, according to W. V. Quine, Word and Object (Cambridge,Mass.: MIT

and Wiley Press, 1960). Semantic terms are those in the family of 'true', 'satis-

fies',and 'denotes'.

9 Compare Sophism 12, John Buridan: Sophisms on Meaning and Truth, T. K.

Scott,ed. (New York:Appleton-Century-Crofts,

1966),p. 206.

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I50 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

with cases like (7) that are pathological while falling short of

antinomy.

Finally there are cases involving a vicious semantic regress but

no vicious circle. All the cases so far have involved a sentence that

belongs to its own ancestral domain. On a deeper analysis, however,

it is not the cyclical character of these cases that renders them patho-

logical; and it is a virtue of the grounding condition that it brings

this out. Consider that all the cases so far suffer from "unconsum-

mated reference" 10 much like the bureaucratic regress in which

each clerk endlessly refers you to the next to settle your accounts.

Such regresses are pathological whether cyclic or not. For a seman-

tic example, imagine an endless sequence of sentences, all distinct,

whose representative form (for the nth sentence of the sequence) is:

8. Sna1 is true.

Here each sentence of the sequence belongs to the domain of its

predecessor. Any natural language is bound to admit regressions of

this sort, and sentences belonging to such regresses are semantically

pathological in having their content somehow left undetermined.

There is something schematic in the concept of truth, which re-

quires filling in. Failing that, sentences of the type of (8) lose their

comprehensibility. Poincar6 and Russell took the vicious circle to

be fundamental for the logical paradoxes; 11 but examples of the

type of (8) indicate that the pathological character of those para-

doxes is due rather to the vicious regress. It remains true that strict

antinomy is known only for the cyclic cases; however, in accordance

with the diagnosis of "positive" and "mixed" variants of the Liar

paradox, contradiction is viewed here as but the extreme symptom

of semantic pathology.

On account of all these cases, one can readily become enamored of

some semantic grounding condition. As Quine puts it for the corre-

sponding principle of set theory: "If the classes it precludes are not

wanted, its sweep is gratifyingly clean." 12 In full strength in set

theory, a grounding axiom is problematic; in semantics it wreaks

10 This apt term is borrowed from J. Searle's dissertation Problems Arising in

the Theory of Meaning out of the Notions of Sense and Reference, Oxford Uni-

versity, 1959.

11 H. Poincar6, "Les Mathematiques et la logique," Revue de Metaphysique et

de Morale, 14 (1906), 294-317, and B. Russell, "Mathematical Logic as Based on

the Theory of Types," American Journal of Mathematics, 30 (1908), 222-262.

12W. V. Quine, Set Theory and Its Logic (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press,

1963), p. 286. The remark occurs in the course of a discussion enumerating some

of the losses incurred by accepting the grounding condition in set theory.

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PARADOXES OF GROUNDING IN SEMANTICS 151

havoc, banishing the laws of logic on their naive construal (as state-

ments about all statements including themselves) along with the

general principles of semantic theory including the grounding con-

dition itself. Also, groundlessness being an inherited characteristic,

such a principle banishes particular semantic statements about

groundless sentences, including innocuous statements like:

9. (1) is groundless.

Before acquiescing in such a "gratifyingly clean sweep" it is appro-

priate to demand more coercive arguments than have yet been pro-

vided that nothing less will do.

Support for a mitigated grounding condition in semantics comes

from the Liar paradox. Scrapping the condition altogether would

rob us of a fitting explanation of that paradox and related phenom-

ena. Semantic theories adequate to natural language appear then

to want a grounding condition reformulated with suitable exemp-

tions, or at any rate a set of semantic principles that, however indi-

rectly, deny statementhood to critical sorts of groundless sentences.

III. PARADOXES OF GROUNDEDNESS

The most elementary paradoxes of set theory deal with classes

whose members are the grounded classes (Mirimanoff's paradox) or

the classes free of cycles of length k (Russell's paradox has k = 1).

Holding to our initial correspondence between sentences and

classes, determined by the function D(S), this family of paradoxes

can be carried over to semantics.

The discussion of the last section ought to provide some indica-

tion that the grounding concept is a central notion of semantics,

perhaps even more so than of set theory. It seems bound to figure

somehow in the principles of any semantic theory adequate to cope

with the paradoxes. More specifically, the discussion so far provides

substantial evidence for the claim:

10. Grounded sentences are immune to the Liar paradox.

The evidence of course is less than conclusive, but the claim at any

rate has been raised and supported by examples. By all known

principles of grammar, (10) is a well-formed English sentence, whose

underlying grammatical subject specifies the condition "grounded

sentence." Recalling how domains are specified, it seems clear that

(10) has for its domain the class of all grounded sentences. Anyone

who has granted this much now falls prey to the paradox of

grounded sentences; for, on foregone assumptions, (10) is demon-

strably both grounded and groundless:

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152 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

a grounded sentence, it follows immediately that (10) itself is

grounded.

(10) is not grounded; for by hypothesis it is a sentence, and has

just been proved grounded, so it is a grounded sentence. By

hypothesis all grounded sentences are in the domain of (10),

so (10) itself is in the domain of (10) and thereby is not

grounded.

Let it be noted that, unlike the Liar, this paradox admits of no

resolution by way of a sentence-statement distinction. Judicious at-

tention to that distinction 13 allows a grammatically well-formed

sentence to have a sense (express a proposition) while it lacks a

truth value (determines no statement), thereby resolving the an-

tinomy and explaining the paradox at one stroke. In the present

case, far from assuming that (10) has a truth value, it needn't even

be assumed to express a significant proposition, but only to be

grammatically well-formed. Nor does the paradox depend on some

shaky reference to all possible languages, for it can be reconstituted

in a form restricted explicitly to the grounded sentences of English.

Reasoning in this way, the pathological character of (10) can be lo-

calized in the assumption that its domain is the class of all grounded

sentences of some implicitly understood language or class of lan-

guages. But this remains unsettling inasmuch as this assumption

seemed to follow from a definition. What is worse, there are grounds

for supposing (10) to say something both true and important about

grounded sentences; and if the paradox disqualifies it from doing

so, how shall that thought be expressed?

Variant paradoxes arise for sentences whose domain purports to

be the class of all acyclic sentences; or for any given integer k, the

class of all sentences free from cycles of length k. Inasmuch as the

concepts of acyclicity and k-acyclicity are less urgent for semantic

theory, these variant paradoxes are proportionately less disturbing;

at any rate they serve to round out the type. And those who are

still persuaded of the Poincare-Russell diagnosis of the paradoxes

can thereby follow through the rest of the discussion in terms of

their own corresponding perplexities.

Another variation on this paradox arises from an alternative cor-

13 Developed along Fregean lines, as expounded in E. J. Lemmon, "Sentences,

Statements and Propositions," in B. Williams and A. Montefiore, British Ana-

lytical Philosophy (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966); or alternatively as

in van Fraassen (op. cit.), reading "bivalent sentence" for "statement."

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PARADOXES OF GROUNDING IN SEMANTICS 153

terms and classes. Let a grounded term be a term that heads no in-

finite sequence of terms each of which is satisfied by its successor in

that sequence. Then the term 'grounded term' comes out both

grounded and groundless. In using the concept of satisfaction in

place of the more complex concept of aboutness, this paradox of

grounded terms is more elementary, and facilitates analysis of the

earlier paradox of grounded sentences. It should prepare us to find

that no language can express its own grounding concepts, the plural

here indicating the proliferation of related concepts due to emerge

in the course of discussion.

IV. SOME DIAGONAL THEOREMS

To go more deeply into this family of paradoxes, it will help to ex-

pose the abstract structure underlying them, and to this end some

further results along the lines of (Ti) will be developed. For any

binary relation, a sequence of elements will be called an R-path

just in case each element bears the chosen relation to its successor in

that sequence; and anything will be called R-grounded just in case

it belongs to the field of the relation R but heads no infinitely long

R-path. Then we get an analogue of Thomson's result:

things.

will perforce be R-grounded; but then it won't bear R to itself. So

there will be at least one R-grounded element to which the chosen

element fails to bear the relation R.

When R is interpreted as the converse of the membership rela-

tion, then (T2) yields an analysis of Mirimanoff's paradox of

grounded classes, which results from assuming that some class has

for its members exactly the grounded classes. Interpreting R as the

aboutness relation yields an initial analysis of the paradox of

grounded sentences, which results from assuming that some sentence

is about exactly the grounded sentences. Finally, interpreting R as

the converse of the satisfaction relation yields an analysis of the

paradox of grounded terms.

There is again a whole spectrum of variant cases involving

k-acyclicity with respect to R. Heterologicality in particular is

1-acyclicity with respect to the converse of the satisfaction relation.14

14 Compare Theorem 181 of XV. V. Quine's Mathematical Logic (Cambridge,

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I54 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

direction; these show that when two relations P and R are suitably

related, nothing can bear P to exactly the R-grounded elements.

For any set p of relations, let a mixed p-path be any sequence of ele-

ments each of which bears to its successor at least one of the rela-

tions in P. Let an element be called p-grounded just in case it be-

longs to the field of at least one of the relations in p but heads no

infinite p-path.As a corollary of (T2):

T3. Let P be any relation belonging to some set p of relations.

Then nothing bears P to exactly the p-grounded elements.

To prove this, just take R as the union of all the relations in P;

then the R-paths coincide with the mixed p-paths, and the

R-grounded elements coincide with the p-grounded elements. By

(T2) nothing bears R to exactly the R-grounded elements; and since

P is a subrelation of R, the limitation carries over to P as well.

This result treats R as the union of some family of relations; al-

ternatively R can happen to be the relative product Q[P of some

pair of relations, where 'QIP' abbreviates 'bears Q to at least one

thing that bears P to'. Under special conditions, P now becomes

subject to diagonal limitations with respect to R:

T4. Let R be the relative product QJP of some pair of rela-

tions. If Q includes a function onto the left field of P, then

nothing bears P to exactly the R-grounded elements.

The critical condition requires the existence of a relation F satisfy-

ing three requirements:

a. F is included in Q:[If xFy then xQy]

b. F is a function: [If xFy and xFz, then y = z]

c. F is onto the left field of P: [If wPz then xFw for at least one x]

The major step toward establishing (T4) is taken by:

Lemma: Let F be any function onto the left field of some re-

lation P. Then for each element h there is an element he

bearing FJP to exactly those things to which h bears P.

We want to show that [hPx <-- h*FJPx]. Let h be any element in

the left field of P. and so by hypothesis in the right field of F. At

least one element h* bears F to h. Now suppose hPx: then h*FIPx

by the foregoing consideration. Conversely, if h*FjPx, then hPx,

since by hypothesis F is a function and so h is the only element

borne F by h*. Any element h not in the left field of P bears P to

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PARADOXESOF GROUNDINGIN SEMANTICS 155

nothing, and h* can be taken as any element not in the left field of

F and consequently bearing FjP to nothing.

The hypothesis of (T4) now ensures the existence of some sub-

relation F included in Q and functional onto the left field of P.

By the Lemma, for each element h there is an element h* bearing

FjP (and thereby QJP) to exactly those things to which h bears P.

Now imagine that h bears P to exactly the R-grounded elements;

in that case its counterpart h* would bear R to exactly the

R-grounded elements; but (T2) precludes the existence of any

such h*, and so the Lemma precludes the existence of any such

h, establishing (T4).

Now the paradox of grounded sentences can be seen as an ana-

logue of Richard's paradox, arising directly from an instance of

(T4).15 Temporarily limiting the discussion to simple sentences with

intransitive main verbs, 'about' can be glossed 'has for its under-

lying grammatical subject a term satisfied by', which admits of logi-

cal analysis into the relative product of a grammatical relation J

(has for its underlying grammatical subject) and the converse satis-

faction relation Z (is satisfied by); the role of the grammatical re-

lation J is to identify the term whose satisfaction is in question.

Our self-imposed limitation to simple sentences guarantees that

every sentence under consideration has exactly one grammatical

subject term (J is functional), and the rules of grammar supply for

each term at least one sentence having that term in the position of

grammatical subject (a is onto the set of terms). (T4) now secures

that no term can bear Z to exactly the set of (JIZ)-grounded sen-

tences.

Any pretensions to the notion of aboutness can now be aban-

doned, for J can as well be 'has for its first term' under a conven-

tion of counting from left to right, or right to left, or in any defi-

nite manner, so long as the conditions (a)-(c) of (T4) are fulfilled.

Each such application provides another variation on the grounding

paradox. In similar fashion paradoxes of "grounded paragraphs"

or "grounded books" and so on can be constructed; each ramifies the

set of concepts that prove pathological for any given language.

l5 A version of Richard's paradox comes out as a special case of a variant of

(T4) that results from replacing "R-grounding"therein by "R-irreflexive."Let

Q be any function assigning a number to each term of a given class, and let Z

be the converseof the satisfactionrelation ("is satisfiedby") for those terms. Let

a number be called richardian just in case Q assigns it to no term satisfied by

that number; the richardian numbers then coincide with those that are QjZ-

irreflexive,and the paradox arises from presuming that some term of the given

class can be satisfiedby exactly the richardiannumbers.

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i56 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

In this section the import of these diagonal theorems for conceptual

structure will be explored by way of certain abstract models of con-

ceptual structure. My plan will be to begin with a highly idealized

model and then to proceed to complicate it in various ways. Under

all of these complications, a fundamental result remains invariant.

Within a broad range of alternative models, the grounding concepts

turn out to be systematically elusive for conceptual systems. In each

case this will be shown for the concept of grounded term; it could

be shown in like manner for the other grounding concepts as well.

Any conceptual system has some concepts (its ideology), some lin-

guistic expressions (its terminology), and some semantic rules that

assign concepts to terms. Alternative models of conceptual struc-

ture can differ in any of these components: they may contrast in

their theory of the relation between concepts and the objects that

fall under them, in the pattern of assignment of concepts to terms,

and so forth. The first model to be considered incorporates concepts

of the classical Fregean sort, and assigns them to terms in a fixed

and unambiguous way. Retaining Fregean concepts, the second

model allows a freer assignment of concepts to terms. The third

model employs a generalized theory of concepts, and the fourth

model generalizes once again, resulting in conceptual frameworks

of a pretty rarefied sort. All that remains in the end is a terminol-

ogy and a free possibility of assigning concepts to its elements, where

those concepts are drawn from a stock that need not be fixed in

advance.

Let an elementary conceptual system be one where both the con-

cepts and the pattern of their assignment to terms are of the neat-

est kind. Let the pattern of assignment be one-to-one, each item of

a given terminology receiving exactly one concept; and let the con-

cepts be of the classical Fregean sort, each concept having a class for

its extension and being wholly characterized by that class. In effect,

then, Fregean concepts may be simply identified with the corre-

sponding classes.

Elementary conceptual systems yield to the neatest of abstract

representations: concepts are tied one-to-one with their extensions,

and so the ideology drops out in favor of an ontology. The semantic

rules assign a class to each term, and the notion of expressibility

in such systems has a neat definition, exemplified by the case: the

16 The models in this section are in part based on R. Smullyan's "representa-

tion systems," simplified and adapted to suit present purposes. See Chapter III

A-1 of his Theory of Formal Systems (Princeton, N.J.: University Press, 1961).

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

PARADOXES OF GROUNDING IN SEMANTICS 157

if and only if the semantical rules of that system assign the class of

horses to at least one of its terms.

It will be clear from what has been said that these systems are de-

signed to express general nonrelational concepts, so that their terms

may be thought of as simple general terms (like 'polish') or complex

general terms (like 'watch-glass-scratch-remover-polish').Every lan-

guage presumably has underlying it some conceptual system, albeit

not necessarily an elementary one. The sentences of a language are

made up of terms and other syntactic elements like connectives,

operators, and variables; and these combine under favorable circum-

stances to express propositions. The relation between terms and

concepts established by the underlying conceptual system should be

thought of as outlining the conceptual capacities of the language,

so that the concepts assigned to any term in the underlying system

are those it can express in some suitably constructed sentence. The

present conceptual models severely abstract from the mechanism of

sentential and propositional structure, so as to provide a working

basis for certain general investigations.

Formally an elementary conceptual system is a triple { T,Nf} con-

sisting of a denumerable set T, its terminology; an abstract class N,

its ontology; and a function f whose value for each term in T is a

subset of N. A concept is expressible in some elementary conceptual

system just in case the semantic rules f assign its extension to at

least one of the terms of that system.

The semantic rules of any elementary conceptual system deter-

mine a relation of satisfaction that is subject to the abstract diagonal

theorems, so that no terms of any such system can possibly be satis-

fied by exactly the grounded terms of that system; thereby the con-

cept grounded term for any such system is inexpressible therein. It

can always be expressed in some expansion of the system, but that

expansion has a different class of grounded terms, which once again

earmarks an inexpressible concept:

T5. The concept grounded term for any elementary conceptual

system is inexpressible within that system.

Elementary conceptual systems being what they are, this limitation

should come as no surprise. Those systems are very neat, and natural

language is not; so there is no argument from the incompleteness of

the abstract model to the incompleteness of some language as rich

and complex as English. In many respects the concepts of English

are not classical Fregean concepts, nor can their manner of assign-

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Z58 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

begun. It is interesting to see, however, that this limitative result

remains stable under a host of variations and complications on the

abstract model.

The first complication we might take into account allows for mul-

tiplicity of sense and "growth" of the language in a limited way.

Instead of assuming a one-to-one correlation between terms and the

Fregean concepts they express, let each term be assigned a possibly

empty class of Fregean concepts. By a type 2 conceptual system then

let us understand a triple {T,N,o} where the terminology T and on-

tology N are as before and where the semantic rules now are a fam-

ily o of functions, each of which is a partial function over T whose

value for any term within its domain is a subset of the ontology.

o being a set of functions, the whole set can be applied en bloc to

any term t, resulting a set t (t) of values. ?(t) specifies for the given

term the various extensions determined by its alternative senses

within the system. Any term whose value under o is the empty set, is

meaningless within the system; by contrast, if ?(t) has for its sole

member the empty set, the term in question has a sense but has,

like 'greatest prime', a null extension; and if ?(t) has a plurality of

members, then the term in question is ambiguous within the system.

It is now possible to represent growth of the language in a limited

way without increasing the terminology; for there is always the pos-

sibility of assigning new senses to old terms by adding new functions

to the semantic rules o.

There can be little doubt that (T5) carries over to type 2 con-

ceptual systems in spite of their increased flexibility. Corresponding

to each function in t is a relation over the ontology N; let p be the

class of all those relations, and let G(p) be the class of all p-grounded

elements in the sense of (T3). By (T3) it then follows that no term

in T can have assigned to it the class G(p), and so no term of the

system expresses the concept grounded term for the system.

Fregean concepts are truth functions; as such they are extensional.

Some further expressive capacity may now be gained by scrapping

the one-to-one correlation between concepts and classes in favor of

a many-one correlation. Each subclass of the ontology now has a

family of potential concepts associated with it. Concepts now will

be something like propositional functions rather than truth func-

tions. How this theory of concepts is to be elaborated in further de-

tail is of no present concern, for what is being sought here is not

so much a characterization of languages and their conceptual sys-

tems as an index of their expressive richness and limitations. Let a

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

PARADOXES OF GROUNDING IN SEMANTICS 159

allow terms to have distinct but coextensive senses, we need only

revise our definition of expressibility and our remarks on ambigu-

ity. We now have a merely negative notion of expressibility: a con-

cept is inexpressible in some type 3 conceptual system if the seman-

tic rules assign its extension to no term of that system. Secondly, we

now have a sufficient but no longer necessary condition of ambigu-

ity, for a term t might be ambiguous within a type 3 conceptual

system even though ?(t) was a unit class, provided that the different

senses of the term were coextensive, as happens with 'light unicorn'.

Since the transition from type 2 to type 3 conceptual systems

changes nothing that is relevant to the limitative argument, it is

clear that the concept of grounded term is systematically elusive

within type 3 conceptual systems as well. Let us proceed now to a

more drastic innovation.

One of the most impressive departures of natural language from

the elementary model with which we began lies in its "openness."

The introduction of new senses for old terms has already been ac-

commodated. Besides this degree of freedom, it seems doubtful that

anything like a fixed ontology can be fastened onto English. In-

stead of taking a natural language on the model of a conceptual

system with fixed terminology, ideology, and fixed semantic rules,

it may seem more appropriate to think of it as a conceptual frame-

work rather like an uninterpreted calculus which can be used in

various ways on occasion to suit the purpose at hand. We want to

think of language, then, along the lines of Descartes and Leibniz

as a "universal instrument for the free expression of thought," in-

sofar as this proves possible. The framework should allow some

terms at least the kind of freedom of expression enjoyed by demon-

stratives like 'these' and 'those', so that in particular there should

be some term whose conceptual capacities match those of the En-

glish term'these terms'.

Thinking of the matter informally, each natural language has

some terms whose sense renders them capable of referring to any-

thing that can be indicated or brought into the focus of attention

in any way; at least this is the naive view of pure demonstrative

terms. This tempts one to surmise that the limitations so far en-

countered could be transcended within this generalized model of a

conceptual framework. No definite term of English can have as-

signed to it the class of all grounded terms of English; but German

has a term ('fundierter Term in englischen Sprache') for that class.

Even in elementary conceptual systems there is no difficulty in hav-

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i6o THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

ing a term of one system express the concept of grounding for some

second system. If indefinite terms have the complete freedom naively

ascribed to them, it should be possible for the indefinite term of

English to play vicar for the definite term of German, so that En-

glish after all could express its own grounding concept.

Abstractly a conceptual framework may be thought of as having

a fixed terminology but no fixed ontology, and the free possibility of

associating concepts with terms rather than any one definite and

fixed association of concepts with terms. It is possible to take the

terminology as fixed by the device of taking it broad enough, say

as the class of all sequences in a universal phonetic alphabet. This

would allow for the grafting onto English of terms from any other

language, and so would seem to be liberal enough. Concepts may

be taken in the liberalized sense of type 3 systems, with their merely

negative notion of expressibility.

Within this kind of framework, contextual parameters intervene

between terms and classes in such a way that it may not be possible

in advance to stipulate a fixed ontology from which those classes

are drawn. However, there is one part of this varying ontology that

remains constant, providing a fixed point in an ever-changing sys-

tem, and that is the terminology itself. All that needs to be known

about a given model in such a framework is that part of the model

relating to this fixed point, which is to say the metalinguistic part

of it.

The abstract representation of such a conceptual framework,

then, is given by a terminology T and a nod in the direction of

some chosen model of conceptual systems. A type 3 conceptual

framework can be identified with the class of all possible type 3

conceptual systems built on an initially fixed terminology. Now

there are two ways of construing the concept of grounded terms

within such a framework: either by way of the terms that are

grounded in some particular realization, or by way of the terms

that are grounded in all possible realizations. On either construal

the limitative result carries over, and the concept of grounding is

inexpressible even in a conceptual framework of this extremely

open sort.

As a corollary, it also follows that there is no such thing as a pure

indefinite term. It appears that the semantic concept of a pure in-

definite term, like the theological concept of an omnipotent being,

is after all subject to tacit reservations. Indefinite terms can con-

textually accomplish any task that any definite term whatsoever can

accomplish, logic permitting.

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

PARADOXES OF GROUNDING IN SEMANTICS i6i

There are yet some ways in which our models might be enriched,

but it becomes increasingly difficult to suppose that further elab-

orations will afford the means for transcending these limitative re-

sults.'7 A fairly substantial case can now be made for the conceptual

incompleteness of every possible language. To recapitulate, ele-

mentary conceptual systems exhibit the neatest structure, and they

give rise to systematically elusive concepts on the basis of simple

combinatorial facts. This feature survives progressive "loosening"

of the relations between terms and concepts on the one hand and

between concepts and classes on the other.

VI. OBTRUSIVENESS OF THE GROUNDING CONCEPTS

When further structure of conceptual systems is brought into ac-

count, a sort of linguistic Gresham's law takes hold, under which

"good" concepts may be driven out by "bad" ones. Conceptual sys-

tems of a regular structure incorporate closure properties that make

the design of a rich language, or discovery of the semantic principles

governing a rich language, a perilous affair.

The neatest paradoxes of the family under discussion take R as

the converse satisfaction relation: Grelling's paradox so results from

(TI), and the paradox of grounded terms so results from (T2). The

relevant theorems show that, contrary to expectations, the expres-

sion 'grounded term' does not hold of exactly the grounded terms,

and the expression 'heterological' does not hold of exactly the

heterological terms. What then are their respective extensions? One

view is that semantic concepts are functions with "singularities," so

that 'grounded term' for example might hold of all the grounded

terms excluding itself.'8 This resolution is "minimal" in the sense

of deleting no more from the naively considered extension of

'grounded term' than logical consistency demands: a single item.

It is also an "inner" as contrasted with a logically possible but not

17 There is, for example, the irksome fact that not every concept after all has

an extension. Let a russellian class be one that is not a member of itself; then

the term 'russellian class' while having a definite sense has no extension, for

want of a class whose members are exactly the russellian classes. A theory of

concepts adequate to such terms calls for extensive revision in our models, which

are all "platonistic." Basically the semantic rules need to associate with terms

"virtual classes" in Quine's sense (see his Set Theory and Its Logic). Further di-

agonal theorems would also be wanted to accommodate these revisions, since

(Ti) through (T4) have also been given "platonistically." These accommodations

run askew to present concerns which always involve real (not merely virtual)

classes that cannot be assigned to any term.

18 As in K. Godel, p. 50 of his "Russell's Mathematical Logic," in P. A. Schilpp,

ed., The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell (New York: Tudor Press, 1944). See also

W. Quine. "On Frege's Way Out," Mind, LXIV (1955): 145-159.

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

i62 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

might hold of some superset of the grounded terms.

Withholding semantic terms from their own range of significance

forestalls some of the grounding paradoxes; but (T4) shows that

others would survive that particular retrenchment. The term

'grounded sentence' needs withholding not from itself but rather

from critical sentences in which it occurs, and the term 'grounded

paragraph' needs withholding from critical paragraphs in which

it occurs, and so on. The rule might seem to be that 'grounded M'

is to be withheld from certain (or, more conservatively, from all)

M's in which it occurs; and this in turn suggests a semantic rule

dealing with the manner in which 'grounded' combines to form

more complex terms. Care should be taken, however, to recognize

that 'grounded' itself is here shorthand for an endless ramification

of terms each of which expands as 'JIZ-grounded' for some chosen

'J'. Precautions would be required for every case in this ramifica-

tion, however artificial the definition of the case may be.

Apart from additional structure of conceptual systems, these con-

siderations indicate complications enough to be sorted out before

an adequate theory of this family of terms can be put forth. Sup-

pose, further, a conceptual system meeting the rather weak condi-

tions:

[Closure under Union]: For any two classes that are represented

in the system, so is the union of these two classes.

[Structural Descriptions]: For each term belonging to the ter-

minology of the system, its unit class is represented in the

system.

where a class is represented in a conceptual system just in case the

semantic rules o assign it to at least one term therein. Now no sys-

tem meeting these two structural conditions admits of a minimal

inner resolution. If, for example, the class of all heterological terms

excluding 'heterological' were represented in such a system, so

would be the already forsworn class of heterological terms. And

by iterating these considerations, no conceptual system meeting

these two structural conditions can even come near to representing

its heterological terms in the technical sense of representing all but

some finite number of them.

Along similar lines it emerges that conceptual systems meeting

further structural conditions cannot express their own fundamen-

tal semantic concepts like truth and satisfaction, the assumption

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

PARADOXES OF GROUNDING IN SEMANTICS i63

that they might do so entailing that they would per impossibile ex-

press their own grounding concepts. Let it suffice here to present the

simplest of these results, an analogue of Tarski's limitative theorem

framed in terms of satisfaction rather than truth.19 Suppose a con-

ceptual system whose structure ensures closure under union and

also:

[Closure under Complementation]: Relative to its ontology, the

complement of any class that is represented in the system, it-

self is represented in the system.

Closure under both union and complementation render the system

boolean, and in particular they ensure closure of represented classes

under intersection, the intersection of any two sets being the com-

plement of the union of their complements. Now imagine any such

boolean system to be augmented so as to incorporate relational

terms, by way of functions in 0 that assign to terms classes of ordered

pairs (subclasses of N2). Consider now two more conditions on such

augmented systems:

[Metalinguistic Identity]: The identity relation over the ter-

minology of the system, is represented in the system.

[Relational Domains]: For any relation that is represented in

the system, so is its domain (the class of its first members).

Now we get the following result on relative representability:

T6. Let S be any boolean conceptual system meeting the struc-

tural conditions [Metalinguistic Identity] and [Relational

Domains]; and let R be any relation over the terminology

of S. Now if the relation R is represented in the system S,

then so is the class of R-heterological terms.

The R-heterological terms are those which do not bear R to them-

selves; those things which do bear R to themselves comprise the

domain of the intersection of R with the metalinguistic identity

relation, that it [Domain (R n I)]; and the R-heterological terms

comprise the intersection of the complement of this class with the

class of terms. The hypothesized conditions clearly suffice to ensure

representability of the complement of [Domain (R n I)]. They also

19 Tarski has this result in one form, and Smullyan has it in another, each

dealing with the concept of truth rather than satisfaction. See Theorem 1, Sec-

tion II.2 of A. Tarski, A. Mostowski, and R. M. Robinson, Undecidable Theories

(Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1953); and Theorem 1.1, Chapter III-A of R. M.

Smullyan, op. cit.

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

I64 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

is just the domain of the metalinguistic identity-relation I; and thus

representability of the relation R secures that of the class R-Het,

within any such system.

In a boolean system of this sort, if R-heterologicality is inexpres-

sible for any reason, so must be the relation R. In particular, then,

the concept of satisfaction for such a system will be inexpressible

within the system. It is well to remark that assumptions of "con-

sistency" of the system or the surrounding language nowhere figure

in the argument; and, to the extent that the indicated conditions

can be interpreted for conceptual frameworks, the results apply

there as well. To make such an application, the complement con-

dition is best reformulated eliminating reference to the ontology;

for example, so as to secure complementation of classes relative to

the terminology T and of relations relative to the class of ordered

pairs of terms, T2.

Even if we assume the model of a conceptual framework to be

adequate to natural language, it would be somewhat premature to

conclude that natural languages cannot express their own concepts

of satisfaction; for the boolean structure and possibly even the sup-

plementary conditions may be held negotiable. Needless to say,

none of the above structural conditions can be forsworn with im-

punity, and much further investigation on their import for nat-

ural languages will be wanted before these problems can be resolved.

VII. UNIVERSALITYLOST

We have now considerable grounds to support the view that no lan-

guage is universal in the sense of Tarski. Every language, however

vast, expresses less than the totality of what can be thought, inas-

much as each language in turn "shows" certain things that cannot

be "said" within it. These limitations clearly hold for languages

even in the extended sense on which they are considered as frame-

works including the possibility of their own indefinite growth by

endless expansion of their semantic rules.

If no language is universal, then Tarski's diagnosis of the seman-

tic paradoxes cannot be strictly accurate:

It is presumablyjust this universalityof everydaylanguage which is

the primarysource of all semanticalantinomies like the antinomy of

the liar or of heterologicalwords.These antinomiesseem to provide a

proof that every language which is universal in the above sense, and

for which the normallaws of logic hold, must be inconsistent.20

20 "Concept of Truth in Formalized Languages," loc. cit.

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

PARADOXES OF GROUNDING IN SEMANTICS i65

language, within a broad range of models of conceptual structure.

Like the elusive barber of Alcala, there is, so far as can now be seen,

no such thing as a language that is universal; and, strictly speaking,

a nonentity cannot be the source of all antinomies. This being

granted, a minor variation on Tarski's diagnosis might be made

to stick; for a presumed nonentity could do the job. Natural lan-

gtuages are very rich, and may perhaps be as close to universal as

any language can be. The presumption that they are strictly uni-

versal might well suffice to explain the grounding paradoxes, and

the falsity of this presumption might eventually suffice to explain

them away. In this connection consider a question and a claim

voiced by Thomson:

If the Barber and 'Heterological' have a common structure, why

should the one need so much more discussionthan the other? First,

there is a common misconception that 'Heterological'is a paradox

essentiallyabout meaning (op. cit., 115).

But now one plausible answer to the question takes issue with the

claim.

Abstract diagonal results like (Tl) and the rest make no claim

specifically about meaning, for they apply to any subject matter;

but the abstractness of those results does not carry over to their

particular applications. Grelling's paradox in particular may be

claimed to turn on puzzling or problematic features of the ideas

of meaning and truth, contrary claims (see op. cit., 110) notwith-

standing, as emerges from contrast with the nonparadox of "contra-

logical" terms. Let two terms be called consonant if they are mu-

tually compatible on each of their various senses; thus 'blue' and

'cowardly' are consonant, whereas 'blue' and 'yellow' are not. Let

a term be called contralogical if it is not self-consonant; the word

'Schnur' in German, with its various contrary senses, is paradigmatic

of a contralogical term.21 Now (Tl) precludes the possibility that

some term of a certain language might be consonant with all and

only the contralogical terms of that language. This may come as a

surprise, or at any rate as news, but hardly engenders that crisis of

intuition or theory characteristic of a genuine paradox.

There is no end to the distinct applications of diagonal results

to language structure; some of them are paradoxical, and others

21 Accordingto Kierkegaardin Either-Or: "The word Schnur ... means in the

first place a string, in the second, a daughter-in-law.The only thing lacking is

that the word Schnur would mean in the third place a camel, in the fourth, a

dust-brush."

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

I66 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

following Tarski, that all the genuine semantic paradoxes owe their

perplexing character to direct or indirect conflict with the univer-

sality principle and that, in particular, the semantic applications

of the diagonal results (Ti) through (T4) divide into paradoxical

and nonparadoxical along just these lines:

Conjecture: An application of the diagonal theorems of section

Iv to language structure is paradoxical if and only if it secures

that a certain class of expressions of some language cannot be

represented by any term in that language.

guage can incorporate expressions of a given kind. Failing some

initial pressure from theory or intuition for such expressions, that

particular application may be frivolous; but the universality prin-

ciple can, according to this conjecture, be relied upon to furnish

such pressure. This view accords with Thomson's own remarks on

Grelling's paradox:

The paradox arises on supposing that the set of heterological ad-

jectives is the extension of some adjective. But it is natural to sup-

pose that this set is the extension of some adjective, namely the ad-

jective 'heterological'(108).

The universality principle supports this "natural supposition,"

while proving irrelevant to the existence of terms consonant with

just the contralogical terms.

This provisional account can be tested by searching for a fuller

characterization of alternative applications of diagonal results to

language structure, with a view to dividing the paradoxical from

the nonparadoxical applications. According to our conjecture, para-

doxes of grounding are bound somehow to involve the concept of

satisfaction; now to get more clear on just how that involvement

runs. The major family of cases comes from (T4), with its com-

posite relation JIZ, taking Z as the converse satisfaction relation and

J as some syntactical relation that serves to identify the term whose

satisfaction is in question. We know that 'about' yields a paradox,

and due consideration will show that its converse does not. This is

as it should be, since the converse of 'about' no longer has the requi-

site structure JIZ, and so fails of a minimal condition on paradoxi-

cal applications of (T4); there is no paradox of "ceilinged" sen-

tences. For relations having the logical analysis JIZ the conditions

(a) through (c) of (T4) have still to be met: J must include a func-

tion onto the set of terms. Each term t must admit of at least one

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

INDETERMINACY OF TRANSLATION AND THEORY i67

on the structure of the language and perhaps even on its vocabulary.

For example, "rhymes with" would satisfy the uniqueness require-

ment only in "blank verse" languages where every term rhymes only

with itself.

Turning now to the import of these results on linguistic theory,

the impossibility of any universal conceptual framework indicates

that any linguistic theory applicable to all natural languages may

be inexpressible in each of them. Strictly speaking, this conclusion

hinges on the proposition that grounding concepts are indispensi-

ble in linguistic theory, either to support restrictions on statement-

hood in treatment of the Liar paradox (section II) or as by-products

of conceptual closure (section VI). Compatible with present results,

Latin might be rich enough to express the complete semantics of

English, and vice versa, but each would have critical expressive

gaps with regard to its own semantic theory, and neither could be

adequate to all languages. Thus it seems that:

Any linguistic theory is either essentially inexpressible in nat-

ural language or else is essentially incomplete.

The incompleteness might be in extent, the theory being applicable

to less than the full range of natural languages; or it might be in

depth, the theory being applicable only to restricted portions of the

languages within its domain. It may be remarked that nothing in

present results militates against the possibility of incorporating the

semantic principles of all natural languages within a specially de-

vised artificial language, unless it be some cherished belief in the

translatability of the language of science into the semi-vernacular.

HANS G. HERZBERGER

University of Toronto

in the following passages from Word and Object *; I call

the first the indeterminacy-of-translation thesis and the

second the thesis of the indeterminacy or revisability of theories.

... manuals for translating one language into another can be set up

in divergent ways, all compatible with the totality of speech disposi-

tions, yet incompatible with one another. In countless places they

* Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, and New York: Wiley, 1960.

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