Mass nouns and stuff: the beginning of a new treatment
Kuiper, Heather Nicole
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This paper attempts to clarify the role mass nouns play in our language, including what they designate and how they designate it. In particular, this paper focuses on demonstrating that mass nouns do not individuate the stuff they designate and consequences for this non-individuative theory. In order to demonstrate that mass nouns do not individuate, I examine grammatical rules for mass nouns and contrast them with rules for singular and plural count nouns. Furthermore, I examine several possible truth conditions for sentences involving mass nouns and demonstrate that no truth conditions which individuate are acceptable. Once this lack of individuation has been demonstrated, I examine issues that arise in language and metaphysics. This examination is necessary because most of our understanding of language and metaphysics centers around medium sized objects. Since mass nouns do not individuate, they are not designating medium sized objects. When examining developments in language, I suggest that the term “the” does not imply uniqueness but rather exhaustiveness and there is already an intuitive way to capture this in first order logic using universals. Furthermore, I suggest that stuff designated by mass nouns cannot be directly referred to and hence cannot occur in a singular term in first-order logic. Finally, I suggest that identity statements should be treated without the identity relation and instead using a biconditional and a universal. When examining developments in metaphysics, I suggest that there cannot be a criterion of identity for stuff because a criterion of identity asks what a single instance is and stuff does not occur in individual instances. Furthermore, I suggest that identity and persistence conditions differentiate for stuff in a way that they do not for individual things. Finally, I address what more must be done in order to have a complete treatment of mass nouns and stuff. This section focuses primarily on first-order logic and how to make stuff a value of a variable while maintaining ontological import. Work in this area still needs to be done and is, I believe, of significant importance.