The polysemy of ‘part’

Synthese 198 (Suppl 18):4331-4354 (2019)
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Abstract
Some philosophers assume that our ordinary parts-whole concepts are intuitive and univocal. Moreover, some assume that mereology—the formal theory of parts-whole relations—adequately captures these intuitive and univocal notions. Lewis, for example, maintains that mereology is “perfectly understood, unproblematic, and certain.” Following his lead, many assume that expressions such as ‘is part of’ are univocal, topic-neutral, and that compositional monism is true. This paper explores the rejection of –. I argue that our ordinary parts-whole expressions are polysemous; they have multiple distinct, but related, interpretations or meanings. I canvass several criteria by which to test for polysemy, and apply these criteria to some of our parts-whole terminology. I also examine some philosophical examples involving abstracta and abstract parts, which give us additional reasons to think that our parts-whole expressions are polysemous and topic-specific. Yet if so, then compositional pluralism is true.
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Archival date: 2021-10-11
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