Generics and ways of being normal

Linguistics and Philosophy 40 (2):101-118 (2017)
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This paper is concerned with the semantics of bare plural I-generics such as ‘Tigers are striped’, ‘Chickens lay eggs’, and ‘Kangaroos live in Australia’. In a series of recent papers, Bernhard Nickel has developed a comprehensive view of a certain class of bare plural I-generics, which he calls characterizing sentences :629–648, 2009. doi:10.1007/s10988-008-9049-7; Linguist Philos 33:479–512, 2010a. doi:10.1007/s10988-011-9087-4; Philos Impr 10:1–25, 2010b). Nickel’s ambitious proposal includes a detailed account of their truth-conditions, an account of certain pragmatic phenomena that they give rise to, a metaphysical picture of their truth-makers in terms of mechanisms, and an epistemological story connecting characterizing sentences to such concepts as induction and explanation. This paper offers an extended critique of the central truth-conditional component of Nickel’s proposal. In a nutshell, his account has it that ‘Tigers are striped’ is true iff, for tigers, there is a way of being normal with respect to fur-pattern such that all tigers that are normal that way are striped. I begin by explaining what characterizing sentences are and distinguish several readings that are available for sentences with bare plurals in subject position. I then introduce Nickel’s account and discuss some of its predictions which, in my view, seem highly problematic. Moreover, I argue that Nickel’s principle of Homogeneity does not go together well with his proposed truth-conditions, and that his truth-conditional account violates a plausible principle about the logic of generics, a principle I call generic non-contradiction.



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Miguel Hoeltje
Universität Duisburg-Essen

Citations of this work

Taste, traits, and tendencies.Alexander Dinges & Julia Zakkou - 2021 - Philosophical Studies 178 (4):1183-1206.
Characterizing Generics Are Material Inference Tickets: A Proof-Theoretic Analysis.Preston Stovall - 2019 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy:1-37.
Ways of Normality: Reply to Hoeltje.Bernhard Nickel - 2018 - Linguistics and Philosophy 41 (3):289-293.

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References found in this work

Plurality, Conjunction and Events.Peter Lasersohn - 1994 - Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Generics and the Ways of Normality.Bernhard Nickel - 2008 - Linguistics and Philosophy 31 (6):629-648.
Bare Plurals, Bare Conditionals, and Only.Kai von Fintel - 1997 - Journal of Semantics 14 (1):1-56.
Leslie on Generics.Rachel Katharine Sterken - 2015 - Philosophical Studies 172 (9):2493-2512.

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