The polysemy of ‘part’

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4 Scopus citations


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 (Parts of classes. Blackwell, Oxford, 1991: p. 75), for example, maintains that mereology is “perfectly understood, unproblematic, and certain.” Following his lead, many assume that expressions such as ‘is part of’ are (i) univocal, (ii) topic-neutral, and that (iii) compositional monism is true. This paper explores the rejection of (i)–(iii). 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4331-4354
Number of pages24
StatePublished - Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Springer Nature B.V.


  • Composition
  • Compositional pluralism
  • Mereology
  • Parts
  • Polysemy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • General Social Sciences


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