xtifr wrote:Personally, I think a linguistic analysis of the sentence is far more interesting. Philosophy is great at asking questions, but not so great at answering them. Science (in which category I include Linguistics) is about finding answers. Back to "the horse is a four-legged animal found throughout Eurasia". Linguistically speaking, that looks like a collective noun to me. Which is interesting, because "the horse whinnied" is clearly not using a collective noun. So how do we so easily distinguish those cases, and can any noun be treated as a collective noun? What about "the book is published throughout western Europe"? Somehow, to me, that suggests multiple copies of a particular book.
Did no one else ever learn about the usefulness of context clues way back in elementary school? Or just never figure out that context is useful for more than just figuring out what a new vocabulary word means?
The definite article plus a singular (countable) noun *can* have a generic referent when it's about species, inventions, and body parts, but usually not other things. You can say "the horse" to talk about all of them, but if you do the same with "the Arab", for example, it's racist. My feeling is that this is because it's okay to say things about horses as if they were all the same (at least with respect to whatever fact we're about to state), but not so with races or nationalities of people.
When talking about one of the "permitted" nounds, all you have to help you decide is the context of the rest of the sentence (or more). "The heart weighs between 200 and 350 grams" is about all hearts, while "The heart weighs 343 grams" is about one specific one.
But this is nothing special about 'the + singular' constructions. Statements about "a computer" can be generic or singular, statements about "computers" can be generic or (indefinite) plural, statements about "beer" can be generic or indefinite.
(Incidentally, "the horse" is never collective in the sense that "a herd" is, because when it's used for more than one horse it means *all* horses, whereas "herd" refers to one individual collection of horses.)
Unless stated otherwise, I do not care
whether a statement, by itself, constitutes a persuasive political argument. I care whether it's true.
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