Plurals and Mereology

Abstract

In linguistics, the dominant approach to the semantics of plurals appeals to mereology. However, this approach has received strong criticisms from philosophical logicians who subscribe to an alternative framework based on plural logic. In the first part of the article, we offer a precise characterization of the mereological approach and the semantic background in which the debate can be meaningfully reconstructed. In the second part, we deal with the criticisms and assess their logical, linguistic, and philosophical significance. We identify four main objections and show how each can be addressed. Finally, we compare the strengths and shortcomings of the mereological approach and plural logic. Our conclusion is that the former remains a viable and well-motivated framework for the analysis of plurals.

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Acknowledgements

For helpful comments and discussion, we would like to thank Francesca Boccuni, Andrea Borghini, Colin Caret, Dick Carter, Hana Filip, Brendan Gillon, Simon Hewitt, Thomas Hofweber, David Liebesman, Øystein Linnebo, Manuel Rebuschi, Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra, Ian Rumfitt, Barry Schein, Stewart Shapiro, Eric Snyder, Peter Sutton, Timothy Williamson, Sandro Zucchi, and two anonymous referees. We would also like to thank the audiences at the following venues: ESSLLI 2017, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Institute of Philosophy in London, Tokyo Forum for Analytic Philosophy, Università di Milano, Université de Lorraine, University of Oxford, and Yonsei University. Salvatore Florio’s research was partly funded by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship. David Nicolas acknowledges the support provided by the grant ANR-17-EURE-0017 and by a Distinguished Visiting Fellowship from the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Birmingham.

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Florio, S., Nicolas, D. Plurals and Mereology. J Philos Logic (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10992-020-09570-9

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Keywords

  • Mass nouns
  • Mereology
  • Model theory
  • Natural language semantics
  • Ontological commitment
  • Plural logic
  • Plurals
  • Russell’s paradox
  • Truth theory