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Journal of Philosophical Research

Volume 45, 2020

Z. Zhou
Pages 165-188

Two Conceptions of Omissions

Conceptions of omissions standardly come in two flavours: omissions are construed either as mere absences of actions or are closely related to paradigmatic ‘positive’ actions. This paper shows how the semantics of the verb ‘to omit’ constitutes strong evidence against the view of omissions as involving actions. Specifically, by drawing from an influential fourfold typology of verbal predicates popularised by Zeno Vendler, I argue that declarative statements involving reference to omissions are semantically stative, which is a finding that makes serious trouble for the conception of omissions as being closely related to paradigmatic actions. But references to omissions, in certain linguistic contexts, undergo a shift of meaning to describe processes or activities engaged in by the agent. Still, despite the semantic flexibility of the verb ‘to omit’, its processive reading does not straightforwardly support the second conception of omissions. A subsidiary aim of this paper is to offer a sketch of the metaphysics of processive action in order to show what those who claim that omissions are closely related to actions might be committed to.

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