Two Notions of Resemblance and the Semantics of 'What it's Like'

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Abstract
According to the resemblance account of 'what it's like' and similar constructions, a sentence such as 'there is something it’s like to have a toothache' means 'there is something having a toothache resembles'. This account has proved controversial in the literature; some writers endorse it, many reject it. We show that this conflict is illusory. Drawing on the semantics of intensional transitive verbs, we show that there are two versions of the resemblance account, depending on whether 'resembles' is construed notionally or relationally. While well-known criticisms of the resemblance account undermine its relational version, they do not touch its notional version. On the contrary, the notional version is equivalent to various accounts usually interpreted as rivals to resemblance. We end by noting that this resolution of the controversy (a) explains why 'like', which is a comparative, appears in a construction that concerns the properties of events, and (b) removes any pressure to suppose that 'like' is ambiguous between a comparative and a non-comparative sense.
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Archival date: 2020-11-28
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2020-11-28

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