On a weekend trip to Riga, the capital of Latvia, my husband posed an amusing question. ‘Why,’ he wondered, ‘did we bother taking the trip to Riga, when all there is to see are local attractions?’ ‘After all,’ he continued, ‘we can see local attractions anywhere.’
His argument proved more difficult to refute than common sense says it should be, especially on a warm, lazy vacation day. It seems to involve a play on words similar to the kind Lewis Carroll employed to great effect in Through the Looking Glass. For example, when Alice tells the White King that she sees “nobody” along the road, the King replies that he wishes his eyesight was as keen as Alice’s, for he can hardly see real people, much less “nobody.” The king seems oblivious to the fact that “nobody” does not refer to any particular person, but instead, refers to the fact that there is no particular object in the relevant set of objects (here, people) which corresponds to a predicate (being located along the road).
My husband’s argument appears to exploit the same language feature. The phrase “local attractions” is not itself a particular attraction or attractions, but instead the phrase refers to a set of objects which correspond to a predicate. Presumably, in this case, the predicate would be something like “located in the immediate vicinity of the main subject.”
Thus it appears that my husband is guilty of something like a confusion of logical types. His argument uses a term designating a set as if it was also a member of itself.
Let’s hope this refutation is sufficient to convince my husband to travel again!