Sortals for dummies

Erkenntnis 69 (2):145 - 164 (2008)
Advocates of sortal essentialism have argued that concepts like “thing” or “object” lack the unambiguous individuative criteria necessary to play the role of genuine sortals in reference. Instead, they function as “dummy sortals” which are placeholders or incomplete designations. In disqualifying apparent placeholder sortals, however, these philosophers have posed insuperable problems for accounts of childhood conceptual development. I argue that recent evidence in psychology demonstrates that children do possess simple or basic sortals of physical objects or things. I contend that these concepts provide the genuine individuative criteria necessary for reference. As a consequence, sortalism can be made compatible with the developmental facts of conceptual development.
Keywords Sortals  Concepts  Conceptual development  Bare particulars
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