When you define satisfaction for quantified formulas, e.g., \(\forall x\, A\), you have to have a way to make \(x\) range over all elements of the domain. Here are the common options:

A. Tarski-style: use variable assignments \(s\colon V \to D\) (where \(V\) is the set of variables and \(D\) the domain), then define \[\mathfrak{M}, s \models \forall x \, A \iff \mathfrak{M}, s’ \models A \text{ for all $x$-variants $s’$ of $s$}.\] This requires a definition of “\(x\)-variant” but is otherwise very clean. Its drawback is that it obscures how we let \(x\) range over all elements of \(D\), and my students have a hard time understanding it and an even harder time working with it.

B. Alternative Tarski-style: we use variable assignments as above, but avoid talking about \(x\)-variants. Instead, we define the notation \(s[m/x]\), the variable assignment just like \(s\) except it assigns \(m \in D\) to \(x\). Then we have \[\mathfrak{M}, s \models \forall x \, A \iff \mathfrak{M}, s[m/x] \models A \text{ for all } m \in D.\]

C. Model theory style: instead of introducing variable assignments that provide the interpretation for variables, we define directly when a formula is satisfied by a sequence of objects: if the variables of \(A\) are among \(y_1, \dots, y_k\) then \(\mathfrak{M} \models A[n_1,\dots, n_k]\) means what \(\mathfrak{M}, s \models A\) means Tarski-style for the assignment \(s\) that maps each \(y_i\) to \(n_i\). Then the clause for the universal quantifier becomes \[\mathfrak{M} \models \forall x \, A[n_1, \dots, n_k] \iff \mathfrak{M} \models A[m, n_1, \dots, n_k] \text{ for all } m \in D.\] This is simple in that it avoids an intermediary function, but can easily be confusing for beginning students because it is neither clean nor precise. We have to understand that \(A\) is a formula with the free variables \(x, y_1\, \dots, y_k\). But what determines the order? Or, put another way, which object interprets which variable?

D. In logic textbooks for philosophers you often see semantics developed for sentences only (i.e., formulas with free variables are avoided). Given a structure \(\mathfrak{M}\) we can define \(\mathfrak{M}[m/a]\) as the structure that’s just like \(\mathfrak{M}\) except the constant \(a\) is interpreted by \(m\in D\). Then we can define truth (not satisfaction) using \[\mathfrak{M} \models \forall x \, A \iff \mathfrak{M}[m/a] \models A[a/x] \text{ for all } m \in D,\] where \(A[a/x]\) is the substitution operation and \(a\) is a constant not already occurring in \(A\).

E. Finally, there’s Robinson-style: we treat every \(m\in D\) as a constant symbol that names itself. Then substituting \(m\) for \(x\) in \(A\) is possible, since \(m\) belongs to both the domain of the structure and to the language, and we can write \[\mathfrak{M} \models \forall x \, A \iff \mathfrak{M} \models A[m/x] \text{ for all } m \in D.\] Naturally, this is not something philosophers like to do because it just seems confused to allow domain elements to function as linguistic symbols naming themselves.

Maybe I’ll find the time to write a paper tracing the origins of all of these at some point. But for now, I wonder: which way is best, pedagogically? Specifically, the Open Logic Project uses Tarski-style, but I’d like to replace it with a definition that is easier to understand and avoids the use of \(x\)-variants. Which would you prefer for the OLP? Which do you prefer in your own teaching or research and why?