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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. de Libera Alain & Massin Olivier (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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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  5. 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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  6. 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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  7. J. Brakel (1986). The Chemistry of Substances and the Philosophy of Mass Terms. Synthese 69 (3):291 - 324.
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  8. William Brenner (1976). Prime Matter and Barrington Jones. New Scholasticism 50 (2):223-228.
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  9. 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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  10. Michael B. Burke (1980). Cohabitation, Stuff and Intermittent Existence. Mind 89 (355):391-405.
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  11. William Bynoe, V.
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  12. Helen M. Cartwright (1975). Some Remarks About Mass Nouns and Plurality. Synthese 31 (3-4):395 - 410.
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  13. Helen Morris Cartwright (1975). Amounts and Measures of Amount. Noûs 9 (2):143-164.
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  14. Helen Morris Cartwright (1972). Chappell on Stuff and Things. Noûs 6 (4):369-377.
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  15. Helen Morris Cartwright (1970). Quantities. Philosophical Review 79 (1):25-42.
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  16. Helen Morris Cartwright (1965). Heraclitus and the Bath Water. Philosophical Review 74 (4):466-485.
  17. Vere Chappell (1973). Matter. Journal of Philosophy 70 (19):679-696.
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  18. William Charlton (1983). Prime Matter: A Rejoinder. Phronesis 28 (2):197 - 211.
  19. 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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  20. 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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  21. Nino B. 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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  22. 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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  23. 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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  24. 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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  25. 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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  26. Erik Fieremans (2007). Aristotle's Prime Matter. Modern Schoolman 85 (1):21-49.
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  27. Lewis S. Ford (1976). Prime Matter, Barrington Jones, and William Brenner. New Scholasticism 50 (2):229-231.
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  28. 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.
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  29. Daniel W. Graham (1987). The Paradox of Prime Matter. Journal of the History of Philosophy 25 (4):475-490.
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  30. Richard E. Grandy (1975). Stuff and Things. Synthese 31 (3-4):479 - 485.
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  31. 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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  32. Jim Higginbotham (1994). Mass and Count Quantifiers. Linguistics and Philosophy 17 (5):447 - 480.
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  33. 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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  34. 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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  35. 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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  36. 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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  37. Peter Lasersohn (2011). Mass Nouns and Plurals. In Claudia Maienborn, Klaus von Heusinger & Paul Portner (eds.), Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning. De Gruyter Mouton. 2.
  38. Henry Laycock, Words Without Objects - Book and Chapters Abstracts.
    The 'paper' is itself an abstract, hopefully useful, of the book and its chapters from Clarendon Press (April 2006).
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  39. Henry Laycock (2011). Every Sum or Parts Which Are Water is Water. Humana.Mente 19 (1):41-55.
    Mereological entities often seem to violate ‘ordinary’ ideas of what a concrete object can be like, behaving more like sets than like Aristotelian substances. However, the mereological notions of ‘part’, ‘composition’, and ‘sum’ or ‘fusion’ appear to find concrete realisation in the actual semantics of mass nouns. Quine notes that ‘any sum of parts which are water is water’; and the wine from a single barrel can be distributed around the globe without affecting its identity. Is there here, as some (...)
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  40. Henry Laycock (2006). Variables, Generality and Existence. In Paulo Valore (ed.), Topics on General and Formal Ontology. Polimetrica. 27.
    So-called mass nouns, however precisely they are defined, are in any case a subset of non-count nouns. Count nouns are either singular or plural; to be non-count is hence to be neither singular nor plural. This is not, as such, a metaphysically significant contrast: 'pieces of furniture' is plural whereas 'furniture' itself is non-count. This contrast is simply between 'the many / few' and 'the much / little' - between counting and measuring. However not all non-count nouns are, like 'furniture', (...)
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  41. Henry Laycock (2006). Words Without Objects. Clarendon Press Oxford.
    A picture of the world as chiefly one of discrete objects, distributed in space and time, has sometimes seemed compelling. It is however one of two main targets of this work; for it is seriously incomplete. The picture leaves no space for stuff like air and water. With discrete objects, we may always ask "how many?," but with stuff the question has to be "how much?" Within philosophy, stuff of certain basic kinds is central to the ancient pre-Socratic world-view; but (...)
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  42. Henry Laycock (2006). Words Without Objects: Semantics, Ontology, and Logic for Non-Singularity. Oxford University Press.
    A picture of the world as chiefly one of discrete objects, distributed in space and time, has sometimes seemed compelling. It is however one of the main targets of Henry Laycock's book; for it is seriously incomplete. The picture, he argues, leaves no space for "stuff" like air and water. With discrete objects, we may always ask "how many?," but with stuff the question has to be "how much?" Laycock's fascinating exploration also addresses key logical and linguistic questions about the (...)
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  43. Henry Laycock (2005). 'Mass Nouns, Count Nouns and Non-Count Nouns'. In Alex Barber (ed.), Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Elsevier.
    I present a high-level account of the semantical distinction between count nouns and non-count nouns (concrete non-count nouns sometimes being dubbed 'mass nouns'). The basic idea is that count nouns are semantically either singular (one-one semantic correlation) or plural (one-many semantic correlation) and non-count nouns (one-much semantic correlation) are neither.
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  44. Henry Laycock (1989). Matter and Objecthood Disentangled. Dialogue 28 (01):17-.
    The concept of matter is not, I urge, reducible to the concept of an object. This is to be distingusihed from the counterintuitive Aristotelian claim that matter depends for its existence on objects which it constitutes.
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  45. Henry Laycock (1975). Theories of Matter. Synthese 31 (3-4):411 - 442.
    "Matter" may be defined, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, as "The substance, or the substances collectively, out of which a physical object is made or of which it consists". And while the O.E.D. is not the ultimate authority on words, nor is it, I believe, far wrong in this particular case. The definition is, as I shall argue in this paper, in substantial harmony with a tradition of some antiquity, according to which material objects do not constitute a somehow (...)
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  46. Henry Laycock (1972). Some Questions of Ontology. Philosophical Review 81 (1):3-42.
    The views of Quine and Strawson on the significance of 'mass terms' are rehearsed, and the metaphysical status of substances, in the chemist's sense, is considered. It is urged that the ontological dichotomy of particulars and universals is not adequate to accommodate such substances, which are in a sense to be explicated concrete but non-particular.
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  47. Lucía Lewowicz & Olimpia Lombardi (2013). Stuff Versus Individuals. Foundations of Chemistry 15 (1):65-77.
    The general question to be considered in this paper points to the nature of the world described by chemistry: what is macro-chemical ontology like? In particular, we want to identify the ontological categories that underlie chemical discourse and chemical practice. This is not an easy task, because modern Western metaphysics was strongly modeled by theoretical physics. For this reason, we attempt to answer our question by contrasting macro-chemical ontology with the mainstream ontology of physics and of traditional metaphysics. In particular, (...)
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  48. Ned Markosian (2004). Simples, Stuff, and Simple People. The Monist 87 (3):405-428.
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  49. Mohan Matthen & R. J. Hankinson (1993). Aristotle's Universe: Its Form and Matter. Synthese 96 (3):417 - 435.
    It is argued that according to Aristotle the universe is a single substance with its own form and matter.
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  50. Graham J. McAleer (1996). Augustinian Interpretations of Averroes with Respect to the Status of Prime Matter. Modern Schoolman 73 (2):159-172.
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