Questioning Quine’s Assertion that Mass Terms like “Water” Ill-Fit the Singular/General Dichotomy
In §19 of Word and Object Quine claims that mass terms ill-fit the dichotomy between singular terms and general terms. In so doing, Quine is able to demonstrate a serious problem regarding the criteria of identity of the class of objects/‘stuff’ to which mass terms refer. Nevertheless, Quine’s account that mass terms are, in predication, ambiguous between singular/general, and that they therefore ‘ill-fit’ this dichotomy, faces several issues, and his onto- grammatical paradigm is therefore inadequate or incomplete in at least the following regards: (§2) Quine’s account of the childhood development conceptual scheme is problematically committed to Skinnerian behaviourism; (§3) mass terms are not the only type of nouns which are ambiguous between singular/general [and therefore Quine is incorrect to see this ambiguity as unique and significant]; (§4) Quine failed to distinguish, within the category of mass terms, between stuff nouns and non-stuff nouns; (§5) the artificial reduction of mass terms to singular terms belies a problematic commitment to an ontology based in first-order predicate logic and naturalized epistemology; (§6) Quine’s attachment to an object ontology gives rise to metaphysical inconsistencies, and (§7) there are merits to P.F. Strawson’s opposing theory of the singular/general division, of instantiation by feature-placing, alongside various other views which provide a solution to Quine’s problem of mass terms.
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