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Counting, measuring, and the fractional cardinalities puzzle

Abstract

According to what I call the Traditional View, there is a fundamental semantic distinction between counting and measuring, which is reflected in two fundamentally different sorts of scales: discrete cardinality scales and dense measurement scales. Opposed to the Traditional View is a thesis known as the Universal Density of Measurement: there is no fundamental semantic distinction between counting and measuring, and all natural language scales are dense. This paper considers a new argument for the latter, based on a puzzle I call the Fractional Cardinalities Puzzle: if answers to ‘how many’-questions always designate cardinalities, and if cardinalities are necessarily discrete, then how can e.g. ‘2.38’ be a correct answer to the question ‘How many ounces of water are in the beaker?’? If cardinality scales are dense, then the answer is obvious: ‘2.38’ designates a fractional cardinality, contra the Traditional View. However, I provide novel evidence showing that ‘many’ is not uniformly associated with the dimension of cardinality across contexts, and so ‘how many’-questions can ask about other kinds of measures, including e.g. volume. By combining independently motivated analyses of cardinal adjectives, measure phrases, complex fractions, and degrees, I develop a semantics intended to defend the Traditional View against purported counterexamples like this and others which have received a fair amount of recent philosophical attention.

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Correspondence to Eric Snyder.

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Snyder, E. Counting, measuring, and the fractional cardinalities puzzle. Linguist and Philos 44, 513–550 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10988-020-09297-5

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Keywords

  • Counting
  • Measuring
  • Fractions
  • Measure phrases
  • Degrees