Irene reflected on how she had got to thinking that her birthday gifts came from one person. She had labelled the source or sources of them “Presenty.” At first she may have been open-minded about whether the gifts came from one or many. But once she’d coined the name, that, in her imagination, solidified the source as being a single person.
This seemed to be confirmed by her discovery of “Flocanrib,” or rather her discovery of her uncles using that term. But she did not see that it was not really a proper name at all. It referred, but not to a particular man or woman. Her breakthrough was seeing the term disassembled into component parts (Flo, Can, and Rib) which corresponded to the gifts; that helped her to see how the referring term “Flocanrib” worked.
Philosophers distinguish singular referring terms from plural referring terms. Consider the word “Justin Bieber.” The function of it, the use of it, is referring to this one particular fellow. It is what philosophers call a singular referring term. Grammarians called it a name or a proper noun. Now consider a sentence like,
As Justin Bieber shopped, a crowd surrounded him and gawked.
The phrase “a crowd” is also a referring term, but (arguably) not a singular one. You might think it refers to a single thing – to a crowd. But what is a crowd? It is merely a plurality of people. Arguably, the term “a crowd” refers not to a thing (entity, being) but to a mere plurality of entities, more specifically, of people – to Sally, Bill, Martha, Janet, and so on.
Some philosophers claim that any two things whatever compose (are parts of) a third thing. They would say that “the crowd” does refer to a thing, a thing composed of Sally, Bill, etc. But they would have to agree that this thing is not a person, not an individual human (even though it has such as proper parts).
A plural referring term need to refer to multiple entities of the same kind. Let us coin such a term. Many Americans love baseball, apple pie, and freedom – let us call such a thing thing or mere plurality “bapfree“. I’m a big friend of bapfree. Note that these items belong in very different categories – one is a game, the other is a kind of dessert, and the third is a concept or property. Or a general might exhort his soldiers in the name of the president, the flag, and the constitution – man, a kind or set of physical object, and a writing. One might call it “preflac,” if one had some need to refer to it by one term. More commonly we’d refer to it by a phrase like “what the general appealed to.”
Next time: what does all this have to do with the Trinity?