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Generics in Use



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Bosse, Anne 


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.





Langton, Rae
Holton, Richard


generics, non-specificity


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
AHRC (1939252)
The research that led to this thesis was supported by funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.