A dilemma about kinds and kind terms
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‘The kind Lion’ denotes a kind. Yet many generics are thought to denote kinds also, like the subject-terms in ‘The lion has a mane’, ‘Dinosaurs are extinct’, and ‘The potato was cultivated in Ireland by the end of the 17th century.’ This view may be adequate for the linguist’s overall purposes—however, if we limit our attention to the theory of reference, it seems unworkable. The problem is that what is often predicated of kinds is not what is predicated of the lion, dinosaurs, and the potato. Thus, kinds are sometimes said to be abstract objects, immanent universals, nominal essences, etc. But the lion is a predatory cat—it is not an abstract object, nor an immanent universal, nor a nominal essence. I consider several proposals about resolving the dilemma; however, the conclusion is that none of the proposals are adequate. We are thus hard pressed to make sense of allegedly kind-denoting generics, and the lesson is a “Socratic” one about the depths of our ignorance.
KeywordsGenerics Generic generalizations Semantics of noun phrases (NPs) Reference and denotation Kind terms Universals Natural and artificial kinds Species Sortals
My thanks to Jody Azzouni, Gary Ebbs, Ben Jantzen, William Lycan, and five reviewers for Synthese for feedback on this material. I also thank an audience at the 2016 Central Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association.
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Conflict of interest
The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.
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