Archive for February 16th, 2014

February 16, 2014

Individuals and categories

by Neil Rickert

If I say “there’s a stray dog in our garden,” you will understand “dog” as referring to some member of the dog category, rather than to a particular dog.  Of course, it is referring to the particular dog that is in the garden, but it is only its being in the garden that makes it particular.  We might say that it is a reference to a member of the category of dogs in the garden.

At another time, I might say something that seems to single out a very specific entity, so I might seem to be talking about a particular individual.

In this post, I want to argue that most ordinary language use is really about categories rather than about individuals.  And, moreover, when it seems to be about an individual, it is really about a very small category.

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