Plurals and Mereology

Salvatore Florio & David Nicolas
Department of Philosophy
University of Birmingham
Birmingham, United Kingdom
Institut Jean Nicod, Département d'études cognitives
ENS, EHESS, CNRS, PSL University
Paris, France


In linguistics, the dominant approach to the semantics of plurals appeals to mereology. However, this approach has received strong criticisms from philosophical logicians who subscribe to an alternative framework based on plural logic. In the first part of the article, we offer a precise characterization of the mereological approach and the semantic background in which the debate can be meaningfully reconstructed. In the second part, we deal with the criticisms and assess their logical, linguistic, and philosophical significance. We identify four main objections and show how each can be addressed. Finally, we compare the strengths and shortcomings of the mereological approach and plural logic. Our conclusion is that the former remains a viable and well-motivated framework for the analysis of plurals.

Keywords: Mass nouns, Mereology, Model theory, Natural language semantics, Ontological commitment, Plural logic, Plurals, Russell’s paradox, Truth theory

Published in Journal of Philosophical Studies - Direct link to article in pdf