Research Article

Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 211-244

Mass nouns and plural logic

  • David NicolasAffiliated withInstitut Jean Nicod (EHESS-ENS-CNRS), ENS Email author 

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Abstract

A dilemma put forward by Schein (1993, Plurals and events. Cambridge MIT Press) and Rayo (2002, Noûs, 36, 436–464) suggests that, in order to characterize the semantics of plurals, we should not use predicate logic, but plural logic, a formal language whose terms may refer to several things at once. We show that a similar dilemma applies to mass nouns. If we use predicate logic and sets when characterizing their semantics, we arrive at a Russellian paradox. And if we use predicate logic and mereological sums, the semantics turns out to be too weak. We then develop an account where mass nouns are treated as non-singular terms. This semantics is faithful to the intuition that, if there are eight pieces of silverware on a table, the speaker refers to eight things at once when he says: The silverware that is on the table comes from Italy. We show that this account provides a satisfactory semantics for a wide range of sentences.

Keywords

Mass nouns Singular terms Plurals Plural logic Mereology