Contingency and Ideality in Generic Sentences
Matt Teichman (University of Chicago)

August 26, 2016, 7:00am - 8:00am
Logic Group, University of Melbourne

Old Quad
Parkville 3010


Shawn Standefer
University of Melbourne

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Matt Teichman (Chicago) will give a talk titled "Contingency and Ideality in Generic Sentences". The talk will be begin at 11am on August 26.

Abstract: Indefinite generic statements (e.g. "A dog has four legs") and bare plural generic statements (e.g. "Dogs have four legs") are closely connected in meaning, but also differ in subtle ways.  Previous accounts of indefinite generics have typically sought to explain these contrasts by understanding indefinite generic statements as definitional and bare plural generic statements as somehow more accidental.  One problem with this approach is that bare plural generics seem to be intensional in purport, and it isn't entirely clear that being intensional in purport is compatible with being accidental in purport.  But a far bigger problem is that indefinite generics, much like bare plural generics, can have exceptions and still be true.  Definitional accounts wrongly predict that indefinite generics cannot tolerate any exceptions, because if it is part of the definition of a dog that it have four legs, then presumably, there can be no three-legged dogs.  They also fail to predict any entailment relations between the two kinds of generic statement.  

This paper argues for an alternative approach, which involves carrying the standard analysis of bare plural generics over to indefinite generics, as is, while revising the analysis of bare plural generics slightly so as to introduce a gentle amount of further contingency into their truth conditions.  It also provides a straightforward explanation for why every indefinite generic statement entails the analogous bare plural generic statement.  The 'propositional lumping' relation from an early version of situation semantics (Kratzer, 1989) provides an elegant way to incorporate that extra pinch of contingency, and offers some interesting broader lessons about how our observations about ideal circumstances are nonetheless often colored by empirical facts.    

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