Institut Jean Nicod

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David Nicolas (Institut Nicod)


Vendredi 2 octobre 2015 de 11h30 à 13 h - Institut Jean-Nicod, Pavillon Jardin, 29, rue d'Ulm 75005 Paris - Salle de réunion, RDC

Colloquium organisé conjointement avec le séminaire "Réalité et Représentation" (U. Kriegel)

David Nicolas (CNRS, Institut Nicod)

Matter: from language to chemistry

In this talk, I will explore issues ranging from natural language semantics to metaphysics and chemistry.
Languages like English and French have mass nouns, many of which designate substances like water and gold. Two types of semantics have been proposed. The first uses mereological sums as the referents of mass terms (Link 1983, Gillon 1992, etc). The second is based on the idea that, together with plurals, mass nouns have the ability to refer to several things at once (Nicolas 2008).
Barnett (2004) has argued that mereology is inadequate to capture our intuitions about the identity over time of 'non-discrete' matter like (crude) oil or lemonade (what Donnelly & Bittner (2008) call 'structured' matter).
When one considers such cases, it surfaces that Nicolas' semantics requires nouns like (crude) oil and lemonade to be temporary predicates: they apply collectively to certain constituents, when and only when these constituents are appropriately related.
This may seem at first glance to contradict ordinary intuitions: “oil really exists, over and above its constituents”. However, how could such intuitions be tested? And if attested, what weight should they be given?
Can chemistry, the science of matter and its transformations, help us clarify these issues? As I will explain, once the perspective of chemistry is adopted (eg Needham 2010, Needham & Hendry to appear), the metaphysical issues raised by Barnett and Donnelly & Bittner appear in a very different light. More generally, I will explore what can be said about different types of matter from the standpoint of chemistry.