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Mass terms

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-X023-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Mass terms are words and phrases such as ‘water’, ‘wood’ and ‘white wallpaper’. They are contrasted with count terms such as ‘woman’, ‘word’ and ‘wild wildebeest’. Intuitively, mass terms refer to ‘stuff’; count terms refer to ‘objects’. Mass terms allow for measurement (‘three kilos of wood’, ‘much water’); count terms allow for counting, quantifying and individuating (‘three women’, ‘each word’, ‘that wildebeest over there’).

Philosophical problems associated with mass terms include (1) distinguishing mass from count terms, (2) describing the semantics of sentences employing mass terms, and (3) explicating the ontology presupposed by our use of mass versus count terms. Associated with these philosophical issues – especially the third – are the meta-philosophical issues concerning the extent to which any investigation into the linguistic practices of speakers of a language can be used as evidence for how those speakers view ‘reality’.

Citing this article:
Pelletier, Jeffry. Mass terms, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-X023-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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