Miller (Kristie)
Source: American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 1 (Jan., 2009), pp. 1-18
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction (extracts)

  1. Linguistically, we distinguish between thing terms and stuff terms, where, roughly, "thing" is a count noun, and "stuff' is a mass noun. Syntactically, "thing" functions as a singular referring term, that is, a term that refers to a single "entity" and hence takes "a" and "every" and is subject to pluralization, while "stuff' functions as a plural referring term, that is, it refers to a plurality of "entities" and hence takes "some" and is not subject to pluralization. There exists a thing and some stuff.
  2. In section 2 the paper argues that on all three broad accounts of the nature of stuff, the principle of portion essentialism is inconsistent with the principle of stuff composition. Moreover, it turns out that portions of stuff are very different from what we think of as paradigm portions of stuff. This is not because we are forced to dispense with one of the inconsistent stuff principles. Quite the reverse. Ultimately, neither of the two principles are plausible when considered in terms of so-called paradigm portions of stuff. The principles have led us astray, and they have done so because they have been developed to capture two sets of intuitions, but two sets of intuitions about two distinct types of entity: fundamental portions of stuff and familiar "paradigm" portions of stuff. The assumption is that the latter are just instances of the former. This is a mistake.
  3. In sections 3 and 4 the paper argues that on most ways of thinking about portions of stuff, what we think of as paradigm portions of stuff are not identical to any fundamental portion of stuff. So it cannot be surprising that accounts of the latter fail to preserve our intuitions about the former. Ultimately, it is argued, we should distinguish portions of stuff – the entities whose nature each of the theories attempts to describe – from portions of stuff* – the entities that we mistakenly think of as paradigm portions of stuff.

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