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Stuff

Edited by Henry Laycock (Queen's University, Clare Hall Cambridge)
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Summary The category of stuff is notoriously vague, due in part to the unclear and ill-defined contrast between 'stuff' and 'things' . In particular, while there appears to be a loose and informal consensus within philosophy that 'stuff' is to be treated as an extremely general concrete noun - to be applied to substances like sugar, flour, dough and plutonium (but not to the extension of such nouns as 'furniture') - and to be juxtaposed to 'things', as in some of Quine's writings, there is little consensus as to the extension of 'things'. For some, 'things' should here be understood to cover, roughly, Aristotle's substances - substances in that very different sense of being discrete, concrete, organised individuals consisting of both form and matter, stuff and structure. For others, 'things' is understood more generally as 'objects' in the traditional purely logical sense - roughly, whatever counts as the value of a variable - and the question then arises of whether the initial dichotomy can be preserved, or not. It is here that the nature of the metaphysical dichotomy, if such it be, meets the semantical dichotomy of so-called mass and count nouns. Some concrete nouns that are semantically mass are, in virtue of their particular semantic character, nouns for things described collectively. Thus 'furniture' denotes not stuff but things, while other mass nouns such as 'soup' are naturally words for stuff. However, if 'things' is construed purely logically, as with Quine or Witttgenstein, then it is often argued that mass nouns too are words for things - 'quantities', 'parcels', 'portions', etc. of stuff. Stuff on such accounts is often theorised in terms of a mereology, and here again, the fields of metaphysics and semantics virtually coincide. More recently, and consequent on studies of non-singular reference and predication, the question of whether our standard 'singularist' logic is suited to the analysis of mass nouns in general, and words for stuff in particular, has been pressed. Here, the logico-semantic writings of George Boolos and Tom McKay on plurals have acquired a certain relevance, and figure in the more recent logico-metaphysical writings of Laycock on the topics of things or objects, stuff, and mass nouns. The overlap between this topic and related issues in the philosophy of language is represented in the entry on mass nouns and count nouns.
Key works Both Quine 1957, and Strawson 1959, describe an obscure category of 'stuff' or 'features' as pre-individuative or pre-particular, and as 'prior' to speaking of objects. Against this, the influential Cartwright 1965 and Cartwright 1970 attempt to show that talk of stuff is really talk of discrete objects of a special type, or quantities. Laycock 1972 maintains that stuff is better understood as a plurality of elements, and Laycock 1975 attacks Cartwright-style accounts of references to stuff as singular. Hacker 1979 provides a synoptic but probing review of work to that date, and Laycock 2006 suggest an account entirely beyond ontologies of objects, while Laycock 2010 recontructs divergent formal conceptions of the object category itself. Steen 2012 offers a synoptic treatment of the entire debate to date.
Introductions Chappell 1970
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  1. [author unknown] (1996). John Philoponus' New Definition of Prime Matter: Aspects of its Background in Neoplatonism and the Ancient Commentary Tradition. BRILL.
    This is the first full discussion of Philoponus' account of matter. It is shown here that philosophical problems in Neoplatonism motivated the definition of prime matter as three-dimensional extension, and that Plotinus, Syrianus, and Proclus prepared the way for Philoponus.
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  2. Ana Alfonso-Goldfarb & Marcia Ferraz (2013). Gur, Ghur, Guhr or Bur?: The Quest for a Metalliferous Prime Matter in Early Modern Times. British Journal for the History of Science 46 (1):23-37.
    It has been traditionally held that the idea of a prime matter of metals was abandoned in the eighteenth century, especially after the failure of Hermann Boerhaave to find it in mercury. However, documents tell a different story: the search for the metalliferous principle, in the form of an odd substance known as Gur, Guhr, Ghur or Bur, was very much alive in the 1700s. This was a project that involved Boerhaave himself, as is shown by his correspondence with J.B. (...)
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  3. Albert G. A. Balz (1955). Prime Matter and Physical Science. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 29:5 - 25.
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  4. David Barnett (2004). Some Stuffs Are Not Sums of Stuff. Philosophical Review 113 (1):89-100.
    Milk, sand, plastic, uranium, wood, carbon, and oil are kinds of stuff. The sand in Hawaii, the uranium in North Korea, and the oil in Iraq are portions of stuff. Not everyone believes in portions of stuff.1 Those who do are likely to agree that, whatever their more specific natures, portions of stuff can at least be identified with mereological sums of their subportions.2 It seems after all trivial that a given portion of stuff just is all of its subportions (...)
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  5. John Baxter (2010). Perilous Stuff. Renascence 62 (2):89-115.
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  6. G. Bealer (1975). Predication and Matter. Synthese 31 (3-4):493 - 508.
    First, given criteria for identifying universals and particulars, it is shown that stuffs appear to qualify as neither. Second, the standard solutions to the logico-linguistic problem of mass terms are examined and evidence is presented in favor of the view that mass terms are straightforward singular terms and, relatedly, that stuffs indeed belong to a metaphysical category distinct from the categories of universal and particular. Finally, a new theory of the copula is offered: 'The cue is cold', 'The cube is (...)
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  7. Thomas Bittner & M. Donnelly, A Temporal Mereology for Distinguishing Between Integral Objects and Portions of Stuff.
    In R. Holte and A. Howe (eds.), Proceedings of the Twenty-Second AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence (AAAI-07).
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  8. Paul Bloom (1998). Different Structures for Concepts of Individuals, Stuffs, and Real Kinds: One Mama, More Milk, and Many Mice. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 21 (1):66-67.
    Although our concepts of “Mama,” “milk,” and “mice” have much in common, the suggestion that they are identical in structure in the mind of the prelinguistic child is mistaken. Even infants think about objects as different from substances and appreciate the distinction between kinds (e.g., mice) and individuals (e.g., Mama). Such cognitive capacities exist in other animals as well, and have important adaptive consequences.
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  9. J. Brakel (1986). The Chemistry of Substances and the Philosophy of Mass Terms. Synthese 69 (3):291 - 324.
  10. William Brenner (1976). Prime Matter and Barrington Jones. New Scholasticism 50 (2):223-228.
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  11. Jeffrey E. Brower (2014). Aquinas's Ontology of the Material World: Change, Hylomorphism, and Material Objects. Oxford University Press.
    Jeffrey E. Brower presents and explains the hylomorphic conception of the material world developed by Thomas Aquinas, according to which material objects are composed of both matter and form. In addition to presenting and explaining Aquinas's views, Brower seeks wherever possible to bring them into dialogue with the best recent literature on related topics. Along the way, he highlights the contribution that Aquinas's views make to a host of contemporary metaphysical debates, including the nature of change, composition, material constitution, the (...)
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  12. Tyler Burge (1975). Mass Terms, Count Nouns, and Change. Synthese 31 (3-4):459 - 478.
    The paper develops two approaches to mass term and count noun substantivals. One treats them on the model of adjectives, Designating phases of a more basic substratum. The other treats them in a more commonsense way, As multiply designating individuals. The two accounts are tested against two problems originally raised by aristotle and heraclitus respectively. The comparison is aimed at bringing out certain central features of one-Place predication, Or more materially, Features of the notion of kind.
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  13. Michael B. Burke (1980). Cohabitation, Stuff and Intermittent Existence. Mind 89 (355):391-405.
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  14. William Bynoe, V.
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  15. Christopher Byrne (2001). Matter and Aristotle's Material Cause. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 31 (1):85-111.
    In his metaphysics and natural philosophy, Aristotle uses the concept of a material cause,i.e., that from which something can be made or generated. This paper argues that Aristotle also has a concept of matter in the sense of physical stuff. Aristotle develops this concept of matter in the course of investigating the material causes of perceptible substances. Because of the requirements for change, locomotion, and the physical interaction of material objects, Aristotle holds that all perceptible substances must be extended in (...)
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  16. Irene Caiazzo, Urso of Salerno on Prime Matter Between Plato and Aristotle.
    This article first provides information on the life and work of the physician Urso of Salerno, who was active at the end of the 12th century. It then examines the relations between Urso's work and the Latin translations of Aristotle's libri naturales. It studies the concept of yle or prime matter in the De commixtionibus elementorum libellus, the only work in which Urso discusses yle. Urso explains that yle is created from nothing by the opifex, and he describes its characteristics (...)
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  17. Helen M. Cartwright (1975). Some Remarks About Mass Nouns and Plurality. Synthese 31 (3-4):395 - 410.
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  18. Helen Morris Cartwright (1975). Amounts and Measures of Amount. Noûs 9 (2):143-164.
  19. Helen Morris Cartwright (1972). Chappell on Stuff and Things. Noûs 6 (4):369-377.
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  20. Helen Morris Cartwright (1970). Quantities. Philosophical Review 79 (1):25-42.
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  21. Helen Morris Cartwright (1965). Heraclitus and the Bath Water. Philosophical Review 74 (4):466-485.
  22. Vere Chappell (1973). Matter. Journal of Philosophy 70 (19):679-696.
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  23. David Charles (2004). GC I 5: Simple Genesis and Prime Matter. In Frans de Haas & Jaap Mansfeld (eds.), Aristotle's on Generation and Corruption I Book 1: Symposium Aristotelicum. Clarendon Press
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  24. William Charlton (1983). Prime Matter: A Rejoinder. Phronesis 28 (2):197 - 211.
  25. Gennaro Chierchia (2010). Mass Nouns, Vagueness and Semantic Variation. Synthese 174 (1):99 - 149.
    The mass/count distinction attracts a lot of attention among cognitive scientists, possibly because it involves in fundamental ways the relation between language (i.e. grammar), thought (i.e. extralinguistic conceptual systems) and reality (i.e. the physical world). In the present paper, I explore the view that the mass/count distinction is a matter of vagueness. While every noun/concept may in a sense be vague, mass nouns/concepts are vague in a way that systematically impairs their use in counting. This idea has never been systematically (...)
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  26. Guy Claessens (2012). Francesco Piccolomini on Prime Matter and Extension. Vivarium 50 (2):225-244.
    This paper examines the view held by Francesco Piccolomini (1523-1607) on the relation between prime matter and extension. In his discussion of prime matter in the Libri ad scientiam de natura attinentes Piccolomini develops a theory of prime matter that incorporates crucial elements of the viewpoint adhered to by the Neoplatonist Simplicius. The originality of Piccolomini’s undertaking is highlighted by contrasting it with the ideas found in Jacopo Zabarella’s De rebus naturalibus . The case of Piccolomini shows that, in order (...)
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  27. Nino Cocchiarella (2002). On the Logic of Classes as Many. Studia Logica 70 (3):303-338.
    The notion of a "class as many" was central to Bertrand Russell''s early form of logicism in his 1903 Principles of Mathematics. There is no empty class in this sense, and the singleton of an urelement (or atom in our reconstruction) is identical with that urelement. Also, classes with more than one member are merely pluralities — or what are sometimes called "plural objects" — and cannot as such be themselves members of classes. Russell did not formally develop this notion (...)
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  28. Kathleen C. Cook (1975). On the Usefulness of Quantities. Synthese 31 (3-4):443 - 457.
    I have argued that there is a philosophical problem posed by a need to determine the reference of expressions which seem to refer to kinds of stuff or matter and to make identity claims about it (e.g., ‘the gold’, ‘the same clay’). Ordinary sortal expressions such as ‘lump’, and ‘piece’ have been shown to be inadequate to the task of providing reference for the expressions in question. What is necessary is an expression which does not have an ordinary sortal use (...)
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  29. Thomas Crowther (2011). The Matter of Events. Review of Metaphysics 65 (1):3- 39.
    A distinction has often been drawn between processes and accomplishments; between, say, *walking* and *walking to the shops*. But it has proved difficult to explain the nature of this distinction in a satisfying way. This paper offers an explanation of the nature of this distinction that is suggested by the idea that there is an ontologically significant correspondence between temporal and spatial notions. A number of writers, such as Alexander Mourelatos (1978) and Barry Taylor (1985), have argued that the spatial (...)
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  30. Alain de Libera & Olivier Massin (2014). Qu'est-ce qu'une fondue ? [What is a fondue?]. In Massin Olivier & Meylan Anne (eds.), Aristote chez les Helvètes. Ithaque
    We review the history of the philosophy of fondue since Aristotle so as to arrive at the formulation of the paradox of Swiss fondue. Either the wine and the cheese cease to exist (Buridan), but then the fondue is not really a mixture of wine and cheese. Or the wine and the cheese continue to exist. If they do, then either they continue to exist in different places (the chemists), but then a fondue can never be perfectly homogenous (it is (...)
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  31. Crawford L. Elder (2011). Familiar Objects and Their Shadows. Cambridge University Press.
    Most contemporary metaphysicians are sceptical about the reality of familiar objects such as dogs and trees, people and desks, cells and stars. They prefer an ontology of the spatially tiny or temporally tiny. Tiny microparticles 'dog-wise arranged' explain the appearance, they say, that there are dogs; microparticles obeying microphysics collectively cause anything that a baseball appears to cause; temporal stages collectively sustain the illusion of enduring objects that persist across changes. Crawford L. Elder argues that all such attempts to 'explain (...)
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  32. Crawford L. Elder (2008). Against Universal Mereological Composition. Dialectica 62 (4):433-454.
    This paper opposes universal mereological composition (UMC). Sider defends it: unless UMC were true, he says, it could be indeterminate how many objects there are in the world. I argue that there is no general connection between how widely composition occurs and how many objects there are in the world. Sider fails to support UMC. I further argue that we should disbelieve in UMC objects. Existing objections against them say that they are radically unlike Aristotelian substances. True, but there is (...)
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  33. Erik Fieremans (2007). Aristotle's Prime Matter. Modern Schoolman 85 (1):21-49.
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  34. Lewis S. Ford (1976). Prime Matter, Barrington Jones, and William Brenner. New Scholasticism 50 (2):229-231.
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  35. F. W. Frankland (1881). The Doctrine of Mind-Stuff. Mind 6:116.
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  36. Brendan S. Gillon (2012). Mass Terms. Philosophy Compass 7 (10):712-730.
    English common nouns, like nouns in many other languages, can be distinguished into count nouns and mass nouns. This article sets out the basic morpho‐syntactic and semantic facts pertaining to these two classes of English nouns. In addition, it summarizes and critically discusses the various theories of the semantics of such nouns.
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  37. Cliff Goddard (2009). A Piece of Cheese, a Grain ofSand:-The Semantics of Mass Nouns and Unitizers. In Francis Jeffry Pelletier (ed.), Kinds, Things, and Stuff: Mass Terms and Generics. OUP Usa 132.
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  38. Jean-Baptiste Gourinat (2009). The Stoics on Matter and Prime Matter : Corporealism and Theimprint of Plato's Timaeus. In Ricardo Salles (ed.), God and Cosmos in Stoicism. Oxford University Press 46--70.
  39. Daniel W. Graham (1987). The Paradox of Prime Matter. Journal of the History of Philosophy 25 (4):475-490.
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  40. Richard E. Grandy (1975). Stuff and Things. Synthese 31 (3-4):479 - 485.
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  41. Peter Hacker (2004). Substance: Things and Stuffs. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 78 (1):41–63.
    We conceive of the natural world as populated by relatively persistent material things standing in spatio-temporal relations to each other. They come into existence, exist for a time, and then pass away. We locate them relative to landmarks and to other material things in the landscape which they, and we, inhabit. We characterize them as things of a certain kind, and identify and re-identify them accordingly. The expressions we typically use to do so are, in the technical terminology derived from (...)
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  42. James Higginbotham (1995). 12. Mass and Count Quantifiers. In Emmon Bach, Eloise Jelinek, Angelika Kratzer & Barbara Partee (eds.), Quantification in Natural Languages. Kluwer 2--383.
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  43. Jim Higginbotham (1994). Mass and Count Quantifiers. Linguistics and Philosophy 17 (5):447 - 480.
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  44. Jamie Horder (2008). Strange Stuff Indeed. Think 6 (17-18):205-209.
    Jamie Horder reviews The Stuff of Thought (London: Allen Lane, 2007) by Steven Pinker.
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  45. Matthew J. Kelly (1966). St. Thomas and the Meaning and Use of “Substance” and “Prime Matter”. New Scholasticism 40 (2):177-189.
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  46. Shieva Kleinschmidt (2007). Some Things About Stuff. Philosophical Studies 135 (3):407 - 423.
    I examine the implications of positing stuff (which occupies an ontological category distinct from things) as a way to avoid colocation in the case of the statue and the bronze that constitutes it. When characterising stuff, it’s intuitive to say we often individuate stuff kinds by appealing to things and their relations (e.g., water is water rather than gold because it is entirely divisible into subportions which constitute or partially constitute H2O molecules). I argue that if this intuition is correct, (...)
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  47. Kathrin Koslicki (1999). The Semantics of Mass-Predicates. Noûs 33 (1):46-91.
    Along with many other languages, English has a relatively straightforward grammatical distinction between mass-occurrences of nouns and their countoccurrences. To illustrate, consider the distinction between the role of ‘hair’ in ~1! and ~2!: ~1! There is hair in my soup. ~2! There is a hair in my soup. In ~1!, ‘hair’ has a mass-occurrence; in ~2!, a ~singular! count-occurrence.
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  48. Kathrin Koslicki (1995). Talk About Stuffs & Things: The Logic of Mass and Count Nouns. Dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    My thesis examines the mass/count distinction; that is, to illustrate, the distinction between the role of "hair" in "There is hair in my soup" and "There is a hair in my soup". In "hair" has a mass-occurrence; in a count-occurrence. These two kinds of noun-occurrences, I argue, can be marked off from each other largely on syntactic grounds. ;Along the semantic dimension, I suggest that, in order to account for the intuitive distinction between nouns in their mass-occurrences and their singular (...)
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  49. John D. Kronen, Sandra Menssen & Thomas D. Sullivan (2000). The Problem of the Continuant: Aquinas and Suárez on Prime Matter and Substantial Generation. Review of Metaphysics 53 (4):863 - 885.
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  50. Heather Nicole Kuiper, Mass Nouns and Stuff: The Beginning of a New Treatment.
    Thesis (Master, Philosophy) -- Queen's University, 2007-09-27 08:36:48.049.
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