Edited by Henry Laycock (Queen's University)
About this topic
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. Gur, Ghur, Guhr or Bur?: The Quest for a Metalliferous Prime Matter in Early Modern Times.Ana Alfonso-Goldfarb & Marcia Ferraz - 2013 - 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. (...)
  2. Review: Frank Arntzenius: Space, Time, and Stuff. [REVIEW]David John Baker - forthcoming - Philosophical Explorations.
  3. Prime Matter and Physical Science.Albert G. A. Balz - 1955 - Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 29:5 - 25.
  4. Some Stuffs Are Not Sums of Stuff.David Barnett - 2004 - 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 (...)
  5. Perilous Stuff.John Baxter - 2010 - Renascence 62 (2):89-115.
  6. Predication and Matter.George Bealer - 1975 - 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 (...)
  7. A Temporal Mereology for Distinguishing Between Integral Objects and Portions of Stuff.Thomas Bittner & M. Donnelly - manuscript
    In R. Holte and A. Howe (eds.), Proceedings of the Twenty-Second AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence (AAAI-07).
  8. Different Structures for Concepts of Individuals, Stuffs, and Real Kinds: One Mama, More Milk, and Many Mice.Paul Bloom - 1998 - 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.
  9. The Chemistry of Substances and the Philosophy of Mass Terms.J. Brakel - 1986 - Synthese 69 (3):291 - 324.
  10. Prime Matter and Barrington Jones.William Brenner - 1976 - New Scholasticism 50 (2):223-228.
  11. Prime Matter and Barrington Jones.William H. Brenner - 1975 - Philosophy Research Archives 1:46-53.
    In Philosophical Review, October 1974, Professor Jones argues that Aristotle's concept of matter is that of any individual item, such as a piece of bronze or a seed, with which a process of coming into existence begins, and which is prior to the product which comes to exist. Aristotle does not try to prove the existence of some sort of "super-stuff" called "prime matter."I argue that Jones' account does not do full justice to Aristotle's analysis of change, or to the (...)
  12. Aquinas's Ontology of the Material World: Change, Hylomorphism, and Material Objects.Jeffrey E. Brower - 2014 - 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 (...)
  13. Mass Terms, Count Nouns, and Change.Tyler Burge - 1975 - 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.
  14. Cohabitation, Stuff and Intermittent Existence.Michael B. Burke - 1980 - Mind 89 (355):391-405.
    I aim to show that there are cases in which an ordinary material object exists intermittently. Afterwards there are a few words about the consequences of acknowledging such cases, but what is of more interest is the route by which the conclusion is reached. When deciding among competing descriptions of the cases considered, I have tried to reduce to a minimum the role of intuitive judgment, and I have based several arguments on "metaphysical principles," two of which I have defended.
  15. Matter and Aristotle's Material Cause.Christopher Byrne - 2001 - 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 (...)
  16. Urso of Salerno on Prime Matter Between Plato and Aristotle.Irene Caiazzo - unknown
    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 (...)
  17. How to Solve the Puzzle of Dion and Theon Without Losing Your Head.Chad Carmichael - forthcoming - Mind.
    The ancient puzzle of Dion and Theon has given rise to a surprising array of apparently implausible views. For example, in order to solve the puzzle, several philosophers have been led to deny the existence of their own feet, others have denied that objects can gain and lose parts, and large numbers of philosophers have embraced the thesis that distinct objects can occupy the same space, having all their material parts in common. In this paper, I argue for an alternative (...)
  18. Some Remarks About Mass Nouns and Plurality.Helen M. Cartwright - 1975 - Synthese 31 (3-4):395 - 410.
  19. Amounts and Measures of Amount.Helen Morris Cartwright - 1975 - Noûs 9 (2):143-164.
  20. Chappell on Stuff and Things.Helen Morris Cartwright - 1972 - Noûs 6 (4):369-377.
  21. Quantities.Helen Morris Cartwright - 1970 - Philosophical Review 79 (1):25-42.
  22. Heraclitus and the Bath Water.Helen Morris Cartwright - 1965 - Philosophical Review 74 (4):466-485.
  23. IV—Stuff and Things.V. C. Chappell - 1971 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 71 (1):61-76.
  24. Stuff and Things.V. C. Chappell - 1970 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 71:61 - 76.
  25. Matter.Vere Chappell - 1973 - Journal of Philosophy 70 (19):679-696.
  26. GC I 5: Simple Genesis and Prime Matter.David Charles - 2004 - In Frans de Haas & Jaap Mansfeld (eds.), Aristotle's on Generation and Corruption I Book 1: Symposium Aristotelicum. Clarendon Press.
  27. Prime Matter: A Rejoinder.William Charlton - 1983 - Phronesis 28 (2):197-211.
  28. Clouds and Blood. More on Vagueness and the Mass/Count Distinction.Gennaro Chierchia - 2017 - Synthese 194 (7):2523-2538.
    A vagueness-based approach to the mass/count distinction was developed in Chierchia. Liebesman argues against Chierchia’s proposal developing four arguments against it. He furthermore tries to make a case that regardless of the details of C’s proposal no vagueness-based account of the distinction is viable. In this paper I show that Liebesman’s arguments against C don’t go through and that a line of investigation on the mass count contrast in terms of vagueness is not only viable but also perhaps a source (...)
  29. Mass Nouns, Vagueness and Semantic Variation.Gennaro Chierchia - 2010 - 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 (...)
  30. Francesco Piccolomini on Prime Matter and Extension.Guy Claessens - 2012 - 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 (...)
  31. Mass Terms as Subjects.D. S. Clarke - 1970 - Philosophical Studies 21 (1-2):25 - 28.
    This is a criticism of quine's treatment of mass terms such as "water", "gold", Etc. In word and object. Instead of becoming singular terms referring to a "scattered object", It is argued that they either become general terms as subjects of sentences or retain their unique status as ascribed to an indicated place.
  32. On the Logic of Classes as Many.Nino Cocchiarella - 2002 - 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 (...)
  33. On the Usefulness of Quantities.Kathleen C. Cook - 1975 - 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 (...)
  34. The Matter of Events.Thomas Crowther - 2011 - 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 (...)
  35. Qu'est-ce qu'une fondue ? [What is a fondue?].Alain de Libera & Olivier Massin - 2014 - 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 (...)
  36. Summation Relations and Portions of Stuff.Maureen Donnelly & Thomas Bittner - 2009 - Philosophical Studies 143 (2):167 - 185.
    According to the prevalent 'sum view' of stuffs, each portion of stuff is a mereological sum of its subportions. The purpose of this paper is to re-examine the sum view in the light of a modal temporal mereology which distinguishes between different varieties of summation relations. While admitting David Barnett's recent counter-example to the sum view, we show that there is nonetheless an important sense in which all portions of stuff are sums of their subportions. We use our summation relations (...)
  37. Don't Count on It.Rex Downie - 1994 - The Chesterton Review 20 (4):552-554.
  38. Against Universal Mereological Composition.Crawford Elder - 2008 - 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 (...)
  39. Familiar Objects and Their Shadows.Crawford L. Elder - 2013 - 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 (...)
  40. Aristotle's Prime Matter.Erik Fieremans - 2007 - Modern Schoolman 85 (1):21-49.
  41. Prime Matter, Barrington Jones, and William Brenner.Lewis S. Ford - 1976 - New Scholasticism 50 (2):229-231.
  42. The Doctrine of Mind-Stuff.F. W. Frankland - 1881 - Mind 6:116.
  43. Mass Terms.Brendan S. Gillon - 2012 - 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.
  44. Towards a Common Semantics for English Count and Mass Nouns.Brendan S. Gillon - 1992 - Linguistics and Philosophy 15 (6):597 - 639.
    English mass noun phrases & count noun phrases differ only minimally grammatically. The basis for the difference is ascribed to a difference in the features +/-CT. These features serve the morphosyntactic function of determining the available options for the assigment of grammatical number, itself determined by the features +/-PL: +CT places no restriction on the available options, while -CT, in the unmarked case, restricts the available options to -PL. They also serve the semantic function of determining the sort of denotation (...)
  45. A Piece of Cheese, a Grain ofSand:-The Semantics of Mass Nouns and Unitizers.Cliff Goddard - 2009 - In Francis Jeffry Pelletier (ed.), Kinds, Things, and Stuff: Mass Terms and Generics. Oup Usa. pp. 132.
  46. Existence and Strong Uncountability.Jonah P. B. Goldwater - 2017 - Acta Analytica 32 (3):321-331.
    On the standard view for something to exist is for one thing to exist: in slogan form, to be is to be countable. E.J. Lowe argues something can exist without being countable as one, however. His primary example is homogenous “stuff,” i.e., qualitatively uniform and infinitely divisible matter. Lacking nonarbitrary boundaries and being everywhere the same, homogenous stuff lacks a principle of individuation that would yield countably distinct constituents. So, for Lowe, homogenous stuff is strongly uncountable. Olson rejects Lowe’s view (...)
  47. The Stoics on Matter and Prime Matter : Corporealism and Theimprint of Plato's Timaeus.Jean-Baptiste Gourinat - 2009 - In Ricardo Salles (ed.), God and Cosmos in Stoicism. Oxford University Press. pp. 46--70.
  48. The Paradox of Prime Matter.Daniel W. Graham - 1987 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 25 (4):475-490.
  49. Stuff and Things.Richard E. Grandy - 1975 - Synthese 31 (3-4):479 - 485.
  50. John Philoponus' New Definition of Prime Matter: Aspects of its Background in Neoplatonism and the Ancient Commentary Tradition.Frans A. J. De Haas (ed.) - 1996 - 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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