A universal scale of comparison

Linguistics and Philosophy 31 (1):1-55 (2008)
Abstract
Comparative constructions form two classes, those that permit direct comparisons (comparisons of measurements as in Seymour is taller than he is wide) and those that only allow indirect comparisons (comparisons of relative positions on separate scales as in Esme is more beautiful than Einstein is intelligent). In contrast with other semantic theories, this paper proposes that the interpretation of the comparative morpheme remains the same whether it appears in sentences that compare individuals directly or indirectly. To develop a unified account, I suggest that all comparisons (whether in terms of height, intelligence or beauty) involve a scale of universal degrees that are isomorphic to the rational (fractional) numbers between 0 and 1. Crucial to a unified treatment, the connection between the individuals being compared and universal degrees involves two steps. First individuals are mapped to a value on a primary scale that ranks individuals with respect to the gradable property (whether it be height, beauty or intelligence). Second, the value on the primary scale is mapped to a universal degree that encodes the value’s relative position on the primary scale. Direct comparison results if measurements such as seven feet participate in the primary scale (as in Seven feet is tall). Otherwise the result is an indirect comparison.
Keywords Comparison  Scales  Degrees  Linear orders  Gradable Adjectives
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