The Semantics of Mass-Predicates
Koslicki (Kathrin)
Source: Noûs, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Mar., 1999), pp. 46-91
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction1

  1. Along with many other languages, English has a relatively straightforward grammatical distinction between mass-occurrences of nouns and their count-occurrences.
  2. What are the semantic differences between these two kinds of noun-occurrences? Although the existing literature on the mass count distinction is quite extensive and spans several decades, it is fair to say that there is still no consensus on how this question ought to be answered. The aim of this paper is to develop the outlines of what I believe to be an attractive new account.
  3. The semantic analysis of nouns in their count-occurrences is not generally perceived as posing special problems, at least as long as the nouns in question occur in the singular rather than the plural. A sentence like 'Socrates is a man' is thought to be true just in case the predicate 'is a man' is true of the subject, Socrates; that is, just in case Socrates is one of the items in the extension of the predicate 'is a man'. There is relatively widespread agreement that nouns in their singular count-occurrences should be treated as playing the semantic role of a predicate.
  4. In contrast, the semantic analysis of nouns in their mass-occurrences is considerably less straightforward. It is much less obvious to which semantic category these nouns-occurrences should be assigned. Do they play the role of a name? That of a predicate? Do they play both roles? As we shall see, the difficulty with nouns in their mass-occurrences is that some of their properties would intuitively make us class them with names, while others point in the direction of predicates. Nouns in their mass-occurrences, in some ways, seem to fall in between names and predicates.
  5. There are, in the literature, three general strategies concerning the semantics of nouns in their mass-occurrences:
    • Name View: When a noun has a mass-occurrence, it always functions semantically as a name.
    • Predicate View: When a noun has a mass-occurrence, it always functions semantically as a predicate.
    • Mixed View: When a noun has a mass-occurrence, it functions semantically either as a name or as a predicate.
  6. It is fair to say that, among these three options, the name view has enjoyed the most popularity.


See Koslicki - The Semantics of Mass-Predicates.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:

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