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Truth-conditions of generic sentences: two contrasting views

By Greg N. Carlson


In this work, which is intended to form a very general backdrop for considering the semantics of generic sentences, we are going to examine some basic assumptions about how work on generics is to proceed, and what basic, empirical issues need to be accounted for by any adequate theory of generic meaning. There are two generally opposed perspectives on how generic sentences can be true or false. One view takes induction as its primary model and attempts to understand generics in terms of the inductive process. The other perspective takes rules and regulations (e.g. of games or legally-regulated activity) as its primary model, and seeks to understand generics in those terms. Our present purposes are to review the primary features of the opposition, to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each, and to discuss reasons for choosing one over the other. The discussion will be cast in terms of a general opposition, though one must eventually allow for mixed or intermediate positions. Work on the semantics of generics, however, tends to take one point of view or the other as its guiding feature, and so considering the opposition in this unqualified form has some merit. Before proceeding, though, I'd first like to get a couple of matters out of the way. First, I will take it for granted that I know what a generic sentence is--any sentence expressing

Year: 1988
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