Generics in Use
University of Cambridge
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Bosse, A. (2021). Generics in Use (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.78800
This thesis is about generics, sentences like ‘Bricks are red’, ‘Boars have bristly hair’, or ‘British people love peas’. In Chapter 1, I consider what makes such sentences generics. I propose that generics should be defined as generalisations that lack overt quantifier expressions. In Chapter 2, I question an assumption made in much of the generics literature, namely that generics express specific generalisations. I consider explanations according to which non-specificity in generics is a by-product of context-sensitivity or semantic incompleteness, but instead propose that generics semantically express non-specific generalisations by default. In Chapter 3, I present a novel account of the semantics of generics that can explain their non-specificity. According to the generality account, generics of the form Fs are G are true iff at least one of several non-generic generalisations about the kind F and the property G is true. In Chapter 4, I turn to the mental states generics give voice to. I evaluate Sarah-Jane Leslie's account, according to which generics express cognitively basic generalisations and propose an alternative. Just as we can express non-specific generalisations in speech using generic sentences, we can also take various propositional attitudes, including of belief, towards them. In Chapter 5, I consider what functional role genericity plays in thought and speech. I argue that because generic beliefs are non-specific, they are also evidentially undemanding: they take whatever evidence they can get. This allows us to form inferentially powerful beliefs and even gain knowledge about kinds based on limited evidence. In Chapter 6, I focus on the connection between generics and stereotyping. I propose an account of stereotypes according to which they involve generic beliefs. I end by considering how this analysis can inform our responses to stereotyping.
The research that led to this thesis was supported by funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.78800
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