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There are many fascinating views regarding material constitution. It seems to

There are many fascinating views regarding material constitution. It seems to me that a car, for example, could not be one or several parts, all of its parts laid out in front of you, all of its parts put together, or enough parts put together in such a way that it allow the object to carry out its primary function (transportation). Therefore, it seems to me that a car is merely a fiction or perhaps it is better to say that the car has no independent "essence" that is separate from the parts. I often wonder if human beings are in the same situation as cars. Is it possible that we are also fictions like cars? This seems difficult to believe because we normally view ourselves as being persistent entities that remain the same. Our bodies certainly change and we might grow (or diminish) in intelligence but we still view ourselves as being the same individual. Thanks

Good question. Some philosophers would say that we really are fictions in just the sense that you suggest. In the case of our psychological being, the idea that we're fictions has a long history, going back at least to early Buddhism, featuring prominently in David Hume's thought, and continuing into the present with the views of such philosophers as Derek Parfit. The same sorts of arguments can be used to support the conclusion that composite physical objects are fictions, and in fact this idea is also very old. Over 2000 years ago, the Buddhist monk Nagasena used the analogy of a chariot, which he understood as a fiction in your sense, to illustrate the Buddhist idea of "anatta" or "no-self."

Most of us probably have the sense that not all composites are equally fictitious. Some objects embody homeostatic mechanisms that help them persist in the face of influences that would otherwise tend to destroy them. Biological systems, including humans, are the most obvious examples. Some objects illustrate what Paul Humphreys describes as a "fusion operation" a real physical operation that binds components together, introducing what is in effect a higher-level entity. An obvious example would be an atom, which is not merely a collection of sub-atomic particles. Without further argument, we can't conclude from the fact that an object is composite that it's an ontological fiction.

Whether talk of "essences" will help us much here is hard to say. To the extent that it will, one might suspect that the "essences" will be cashed out in more revealing terms. But the question of what, if anything, marks the difference between an object and a mere collection is a deep and interesting one.

Good question. Some philosophers would say that we really are fictions in just the sense that you suggest. In the case of our psychological being, the idea that we're fictions has a long history, going back at least to early Buddhism, featuring prominently in David Hume's thought, and continuing into the present with the views of such philosophers as Derek Parfit. The same sorts of arguments can be used to support the conclusion that composite physical objects are fictions, and in fact this idea is also very old. Over 2000 years ago, the Buddhist monk Nagasena used the analogy of a chariot, which he understood as a fiction in your sense, to illustrate the Buddhist idea of "anatta" or "no-self." Most of us probably have the sense that not all composites are equally fictitious. Some objects embody homeostatic mechanisms that help them persist in the face of influences that would otherwise tend to destroy them. Biological systems, including humans, are the most obvious examples. Some objects illustrate...

This is a two part question.

This is a two part question. I have for some time been fascinated by the idea of holism, the idea that systems must be understood as wholes rather than collections of parts. Some have interpreted this to mean a subsuming of the parts into their relations; I believe this is not the case, rather that the individual parts must be placed within the context of the whole in order to understand them fully. Could clear up the definition between these views, and elaborate? The second question is, could it be evidence for holism that things seem to be defined as wholes? E.g., when something is broken, it is because it no longer functions as a whole, or human bodies being defined as wholes (albeit a human being is arguably more than their body so as to avoid any kind of discrimination). I hesitate because it seems that I have heard of a logical fallacy of this kind, but I don't remember what it was.

Holism is a pretty puzzling concept.

I'm not sure the bit about "defined as wholes" necessarily gets it. Suppose I have a chair and I break one of the legs. Then I can't use it as a chair anymore, but if there's a holism here, it seems to be a thin variety. Unless we insist that spatial relations are automatically holistic, then for something to be a chair, it suffices for it to be made up of parts that have a certain spatial configuration. Of course, we single out chairs among various possible configurations because they suit certain of our purposes, but an intact chair seems to me to be no more or less a "whole" than a chair with a missing leg. The broken chair isn't a whole chair, but there doesn't seem to be much metaphysical significance there.

Here's the only case I can think of that seems to me a clear case of holism. In classical physics, the state of a whole physical system is just the aggregate, so to speak of the states of the parts. If we're given the position and the momentum of each part of a classical physical system, we are thereby given the state of the whole. We might say that states like this are "conjunctive." In quantum mechanics, there's a different possibility. There are states of two quantum systems that aren't determined by the parts in this way. From the state of the whole, you can infer states for the parts, but from the states of the parts, you can't infer the state of the whole. These states are "entangled" in the argot of quantum theory, and they are ubiquitous and important. (Without them, chemical bonds wouldn't exist, for example.)

This brings us to a more general way of thinking about holism: the idea of supervenience. As an example: suppose you look at a computer screen and see an image. The state of each pixel completely determines what image will be on the screen. That means the facts about the image supervene on the facts about the pixels. One way to think about non-holism is to say that we don't have holism when the facts about the whole supervene on or are fixed by the facts about the parts. If this kind of supervenience breaks down, then, we have holism. That's exactly what the case of entangled quantum states comes to. The state of the pair of systems (or larger collection) need not supervene on the states of the parts.

This is almost certainly not the only reasonable way to think about holism; systems with feedback mechanism are another case that some people describe as holistic. I'll leave it to others to judge whether they're as interesting metaphysically, but in any case, the quantum example seems to me to be a good one. I'm inclined to say that if quantum entanglement doesn't count as holism, then nothing does.

Holism is a pretty puzzling concept. I'm not sure the bit about "defined as wholes" necessarily gets it. Suppose I have a chair and I break one of the legs. Then I can't use it as a chair anymore, but if there's a holism here, it seems to be a thin variety. Unless we insist that spatial relations are automatically holistic, then for something to be a chair, it suffices for it to be made up of parts that have a certain spatial configuration. Of course, we single out chairs among various possible configurations because they suit certain of our purposes, but an intact chair seems to me to be no more or less a "whole" than a chair with a missing leg. The broken chair isn't a whole chair , but there doesn't seem to be much metaphysical significance there. Here's the only case I can think of that seems to me a clear case of holism. In classical physics, the state of a whole physical system is just the aggregate, so to speak of the states of the parts. If we're given the position and the momentum of...

The big bang theory says that time began with the big bang. Is that correct?

The big bang theory says that time began with the big bang. Is that correct? Then does that mean that those who describe the big bang theory as an idea that something comes from nothing are incorrect? If time began with the big bang doesn't that mean there never was a time when there was nothing?

I can't resist responding to one thing that Prof. Stairs says in his excellent reply: "If there's no such [necessary] being, then it might be that there's no explanation for why contingent things exist." I used to think that myself. But as I thought more about the question "Why do any contingent things exist?" I concluded that the question has a very simple answer -- indeed, many simple answers -- if it's a well-posed question in the first place, and those answers have nothing to do with any necessary being. I try to explain why in this paper.

Not quite correct. Cyclic theories still posit a Big Bang, but they also posit a cycle of expansions and collapses. This is not something I know much about but you can read a bit more here If we suppose that the non-cyclic Big Bang model is correct, then in at least one sense, the universe isn't a case of getting something from nothing: it's not an example of matter appearing uncaused in a universe where there are earlier times with no matter. Of course, that's consistent with there being no explanation of why there's matter/energy at all. That may not quite amount to getting something from nothing, but it's an idea that doesn't sit well with everyone. Some versions of the Cosmological Argument are meant to explain why contingent things (like the physical things we're familiar with) exist. The explanations typically appeal to the existence of a Necessary Being—one who's very nature requires that it exist. If there's no such being, then it might be that there's no explanation for why contingent...

Hello everyone. Quixotic Question: has anyone written anything on a materialist

Hello everyone. Quixotic Question: has anyone written anything on a materialist versions of reincarnation? I mean, suppose you cut all the baggage, from karma to "reincarnation research" and the like, and keep strictly to a physicalist worldview (particles and field, say). If you do this necessary surgery, is there anything left to say on the subject (if so, I'd be happy to read about it, so long as the aforementioned surgery has been applied)? Gracias, just a bit curious...

I'm not sure who has written on the topic under the specific guise that you ask about, but a good deal of work on personal identity certainly bears on it. The philosopher's question would be whether reincarnation (or something like it) is possible on a physicalist view. And on at least one important account of personal identity, the answer is yes. That account is the "psychological continuity" view. It would say that if there's enough psychological continuity (apparent memories, beliefs, attitudes...) between an earlier person and a later one, then (depending on the version of the view) we either have a case of one and the same person at two different times or of two stages of one and the same person. This would be so regardless of whether we had bodily continuity, though there might well be added clauses about the later person/stage being causally connected to the earlier in the right sort of way, and/or that there not be any "competition" (i.e., no duplicates).

For example: suppose you step into a teletransporter that scans all the information about you, disintegrates your body, beams the information elsewhere and then uses it to assemble a person at the new location. Someone like Derek Parfit would say that so long as there's no duplicate at the end of the process, the newly-constituted being is you -- even though s/he is made of different matter. (Parfit would add that even if there is duplication, everything that's important for survival is still there; Parfit doesn't think identity is important for survival.)

There are other views that have the same upshot. In general, any view of personal identity that doesn't require bodily continuity will likely allow at least in principle for something like reincarnation.

We can close with a small, obvious caveat. The word "reincarnation" suggests the re-embodiment of a non-physical soul or whatnot. If someone insisted that this is what they meant by reincarnation, then what's been described above wouldn't count. But it' alreadt clear from the way you've posed your question that the notion you're interested in doesn't have that restriction.

I'm not sure who has written on the topic under the specific guise that you ask about, but a good deal of work on personal identity certainly bears on it. The philosopher's question would be whether reincarnation (or something like it) is possible on a physicalist view. And on at least one important account of personal identity, the answer is yes. That account is the "psychological continuity" view. It would say that if there's enough psychological continuity (apparent memories, beliefs, attitudes...) between an earlier person and a later one, then (depending on the version of the view) we either have a case of one and the same person at two different times or of two stages of one and the same person. This would be so regardless of whether we had bodily continuity, though there might well be added clauses about the later person/stage being causally connected to the earlier in the right sort of way, and/or that there not be any "competition" (i.e., no duplicates). For example: suppose you step into a...

I've always thought it odd that rivers are said to have a single "source". Isn

I've always thought it odd that rivers are said to have a single "source". Isn't a river the result of all its tributaries? What gives one source priority over the other tributaries to a river? Isn't the distinction mostly made-up?

An interesting question. Start with an artificially simple example: a stream system with the branching structure of a simple "Y." If the two upper parts were equally wide/deep, equally far from the intersection point and at more or less opposite angles to the lower stream, it's hard to see why we'd say that one was a mere tributary and the other the main stream. If one of the upper branches started much farther from the intersection, and was much wider/deeper at that intersection we'd likely say that the other branch was the tributary. Other cases might be harder to classify.

All this suggests that there's a strong element of convention in the river/tributary distinction. But there's a caution. If we asked a relevant expert — a hydrologist — s/he might have things to say that wouldn't occur to casual observers such as you and I. Whether there's a more interesting distinction that hydrologists make between source and tributary for real-world rivers is something I can't say; my knowledge of hydrology doesn't go much beyond the meaning of the word. The caution here is just that there could be more to the matter than meets the eye, and an appropriately modest philosopher will admit that, absent some real empirical knowledge, philosophical analysis by itself can't give us the answer.

An interesting question. Start with an artificially simple example: a stream system with the branching structure of a simple "Y." If the two upper parts were equally wide/deep, equally far from the intersection point and at more or less opposite angles to the lower stream, it's hard to see why we'd say that one was a mere tributary and the other the main stream. If one of the upper branches started much farther from the intersection, and was much wider/deeper at that intersection we'd likely say that the other branch was the tributary. Other cases might be harder to classify. All this suggests that there's a strong element of convention in the river/tributary distinction. But there's a caution. If we asked a relevant expert — a hydrologist — s/he might have things to say that wouldn't occur to casual observers such as you and I. Whether there's a more interesting distinction that hydrologists make between source and tributary for real-world rivers is something I can't say; my knowledge of hydrology...

Hello Philosophers!

Hello Philosophers! Can anyone defend the Ontological Argument against Kant's criticism that existence is not a predicate?

Some random suggestions: (1) David Pears pointed out that even if Kant's argument were wholly clear and wholly successful, which it is not, it could only show that existence is not an ordinary predicate, if it is a predicate. His view is that it is a predicate, just a very peculiar one; (2) There is also the view of the celebrated logician, mathematician and philosopher Bolzano, who writes in the Theory of Science ("Kinds of Propositions") that 'I take being [Sein] or actuality [Wirklichkeit] to be precisely what language makes it out to be, namely an attribute; whoever denies this confuses (I believe) actuality with substance. By substance I mean an actuality which is not an attribute of another actuality; hence I admit that we cannot truly predicate the putative abstractum of the substance (substantiality) of any object. For it is part of the concept of substance that there is no property of this kind. But it is not the same with actuality, which I consider to be a mere attribute, not only of substance itself but of each of its attributes, since every attribute of an actual thing is itself actual. And since every attribute of an object can be ascribed to it in a judgment of the form 'A has b', why not the attribute of actuality?' (3) There is a related argument deriving from Russell's Theory of Descriptions in my own Philosophical Propositions, despite the fact that Russell himself took the implication of the theory to be that the ontological argument is no good; (4) There is a defence of a stripped-down version of the ontological argument by the late Gary Matthews and Lynn Baker Rudder in Analysis for 2010.

Sure. Even if existence is not a predicate, it's at least arguable that necessary existence is. (As Norman Malcolm pointed out years ago, there really are two versions of the argument, and the second one deals with necessary existence.) We doubt that existence is a predicate because, roughly, saying that something exists tells us nothing about what it's like. Not so for necessary existence. Not just anything could exist necessarily. The computer I'm typing on is the wrong sort of thing to be a candidate for necessarily existing thing. Assuming that some things are of the right sort to exist necessarily, necessary existence would be a predicate. Whether this is a defense of the argument all things considered is another matter. But I think the point made here is fair as far as it goes. A being that merely happened to exist wouldn't be a being than which none greater can be conceived.

Is it a common belief among philosophers that the external world does not exist

Is it a common belief among philosophers that the external world does not exist independently of consciousness? That consciousness creates the material world rather than the other way around? How can anyone believe this?

I'd say it's an extraordinarily uncommon view among philosophers. Very few philosophers have believed it throughout the history of the discipline (Bishop Berkeley is the most obvious exception) and I can't think of any contemporary philosophers who do, though I'm sure there are some somewhere. Berkeley was an idealist (that's the usual name for such views) because he thought the conception of matter found in Locke, Newton and other thinkers of the time was incoherent. If you read his Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philnous, you may find some of his arguments more interesting that you would have thought.

We could add: orthodox theological views hold that not that our minds make matter, but that God creates the world. And accordng to that same orthodoxy, God isn't a material being. So the view that some mind may be the source of matter is actually not at all uncommon. And for various reasons, contemporary New Age and Magical thinkers often favor a view that puts mind first. If you want a sophisticated treatment of magical ways of viewing the world, I recommend Tanya Luhrmann's Persuasions of the Witch's Craft, still excellent 22 years after it was published.

There's a different sort of view that isn't quite as wild. It doesn't hold that minds make matter, but it does hold that mind brings something to the table. More particularly, the idea is that the world doesn't come pre-sliced into kinds of things; what gets grouped together with what depends on how we classify things. Traditionally, this sort of view was called "nominalism"; to varying degrees and in various ways it's still with us. You can find strains of it in Kantian philosophy, in post-modern thought, under the heading of "social construction," and in various so-called "conventionalist" views in philosophy. Within Anglo-American philosophy, Nelson Goodman was perhaps the staunchest defender of such a view; see his Ways of Worldmaking if you're interested.

So no: the view that mind makes matter is not common among philosophers. But the idea that knowledge has a "constructed" element and that in any case, the world doesn't simply sort itself by itself has a wide variety of defenders.

I'd say it's an extraordinarily uncommon view among philosophers. Very few philosophers have believed it throughout the history of the discipline (Bishop Berkeley is the most obvious exception) and I can't think of any contemporary philosophers who do, though I'm sure there are some somewhere. Berkeley was an idealist (that's the usual name for such views) because he thought the conception of matter found in Locke, Newton and other thinkers of the time was incoherent. If you read his Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philnous, you may find some of his arguments more interesting that you would have thought. We could add: orthodox theological views hold that not that our minds make matter, but that God creates the world. And accordng to that same orthodoxy, God isn't a material being. So the view that some mind may be the source of matter is actually not at all uncommon. And for various reasons, contemporary New Age and Magical thinkers often favor a view that puts mind first. If you want...

Do all things exist?

Do all things exist? Nonexistence is the absence of existence, by definition. So, nonexistence does not exist. Therefore there is no such thing as nonexistence. To say that something does not exist thus seems to be a fallacy, since NOTHING does not exist. Everything, therefore, must exist. Is this right? If not, what is wrong with the argument?

Of course, in a perfectly good sense of "exist", existence doesn't exist either. Existence isn't a thing, and so there is no such thing as existence, though of course, bears, bells and BMWs exist, to mention but a few.

And yes: there is no such thing as non-existence, because "non-existence" isn't way of referring to a thing. But unicorns don't exist. Neither do square circles. And, according to some, neither do free lunches. No fallacy there.

Does everything exist? Well, if "everything" means "all the things that exist," then everything exists. (Though of course, this doesn't mean that there is a special thing, namely everything, that exists.) But since, as noted, unicorns don't exist, it's not true that "everything" in the sense of "everything that might have existed" actually exists. It's likewise not true that that every description (e.g., "round square") picks out something that exists. The conclusion of the argument comes partly from trading on ambiguity.

Related: 'existence' and 'nonexistence' are nouns. But that doesn't mean that they're meant to refer to things of a certain kind. Compare: I'm writing this post for the sake of answering your question. 'Sake' is a noun. But there aren't any sakes, even though I really am doing what I'm doing for the sake of what I said I'm doing it for. We use 'existence,' 'exists,' 'non-existence' and 'doesn't exist' to talk about what is and what isn't. Since there clearly are bells, bears, etc. and clearly aren't unicorns and square circles, we can equally clearly say that bears, etc. exist and that unicorns, etc. don't. Notice, however, that so far, we've used the copulative verb "exists" rather than the noun "existence." We can also say things like "the existence of bears is a fact about the world, as is the non-existence of unicorns." But it would be bad business to take the surface grammar here as a guide to metaphysics and to infer the existence of EXISTENCE and NON-EXISTENCE. We get ourselves into philosophical hot water when we turn accidents of language into ontological principles, and we bring the water to a boil when we slip back and forth between different meanings terms without paying attention to where we slide.

Of course, in a perfectly good sense of "exist", existence doesn't exist either. Existence isn't a thing, and so there is no such thing as existence, though of course, bears, bells and BMWs exist, to mention but a few. And yes: there is no such thing as non-existence, because "non-existence" isn't way of referring to a thing. But unicorns don't exist. Neither do square circles. And, according to some, neither do free lunches. No fallacy there. Does everything exist? Well, if "everything" means "all the things that exist," then everything exists. (Though of course, this doesn't mean that there is a special thing, namely everything , that exists.) But since, as noted, unicorns don't exist, it's not true that "everything" in the sense of "everything that might have existed" actually exists. It's likewise not true that that every description (e.g., "round square") picks out something that exists. The conclusion of the argument comes partly from trading on ambiguity. Related: ...

I have been a bit curious about the notion of the use of “possible worlds” as a

I have been a bit curious about the notion of the use of “possible worlds” as a way of communicating whether a proposition is either empirically or rationally true. When a proposition is said to be necessarily true (e.g. Circles are round) it is said that there is no possible world in which circles exist and are not round; circularity and roundness are inherently tied together by their nature. However, it seems upon further reflection that the use of the quantifier “all possible worlds” could only suggest all possible worlds in which ideas or abstract objects like circles and the concept of roundness are like our actual world; or, in a related sense, where there exist beings whose deductive logical “systems” are like ours. If this is true is it possible that our invoking the use of the phrase “all possible worlds” should really indicate “all possible worlds like our own”? While it may be nonsensical to state that there are square circles in some possible world, does it follow that this cannot be true in...

It seem that some issues are getting blurred here. You suggest that when we say there are no possible worlds with round squares, we're implicitly talking only about worlds where the concepts of 'round' and 'square' are as they are in our world, or -- perhaps you see this as the same thing -- only in worlds with beings who think the way we do. But that makes it sound as though it's a matter of how people talk or think. The real point is this: we use the words 'round' and 'square' to pick out certain concepts. People who don't speak English might use different words. Some creatures may not have these concepts at all. And there could be square things or round things -- things that fit the concept we're getting at -- even if there were no thinkers at all. But to revert to world-talk, there aren't any worlds where any round things are also square things --even though there might be worlds where beings use the words 'round' and 'square' to pick out concepts different from ours that don't exclude one another.

In fact worlds aren't really the issue here. Philosophers differ sharply in how they think about possible worlds. Some have a robustly realist understanding of them, and others see world-talk as a convenient fiction. But they all agree: given what we mean by 'round' and by 'square' -- given, if you prefer, the concepts we pick out with these words -- it's not possible for anything to be both round and square. Put another way: the world might have been different in an infinity of respects. It might have had golden mountains; it might have had creatures made of silicon; it might have had very different physical laws. But it couldn't have had round squares.

Of course someone could use the words 'round' and 'square' differently, and depending on what they meant, the things they use the sound "round" to describe might overlap with the thing falling under their use of the sound "square." But given what we mean, round squares are impossible. And since they are impossible, there aren't any possible worlds with round squares -- whether or not those worlds include beings with different concepts than ours, or beings who have any concepts at all.

Now you might ask how we know this truth about roundness and squareness. It's a perfectly good question whose answer is still controversial. And it may be that some of our opinions about such matter are flat-out wrong; we may think some things are possible that really aren't. For the advocate of possible worlds, this means that, contrary to our opinion, there are no worlds where such things are true. Likewise we may think some thing are impossible that really are possible. But if they are possible, it's not because some nearby set of concepts fit together in certain ways, nor because some other beings might talk or think differently than we do. It's because, for example, X and Y -- what we mean by 'X' and 'Y' -- don't actually exclude one another. Like so many things, it's not really about us.

It seem that some issues are getting blurred here. You suggest that when we say there are no possible worlds with round squares, we're implicitly talking only about worlds where the concepts of 'round' and 'square' are as they are in our world, or -- perhaps you see this as the same thing -- only in worlds with beings who think the way we do. But that makes it sound as though it's a matter of how people talk or think. The real point is this: we use the words 'round' and 'square' to pick out certain concepts. People who don't speak English might use different words. Some creatures may not have these concepts at all. And there could be square things or round things -- things that fit the concept we're getting at -- even if there were no thinkers at all. But to revert to world-talk, there aren't any worlds where any round things are also square things --even though there might be worlds where beings use the words 'round' and 'square' to pick out concepts different from ours that don't exclude one another. ...

If, as Dawkins reminds us in "The God Delusion", our cellular self is completely

If, as Dawkins reminds us in "The God Delusion", our cellular self is completely renewed over time, should we absolve the criminal of his crimes after time has passed on the grounds that he is no longer the person that committed the crime - for example, the rapist who is not caught until decades after his crime, or the aging general who committed war crimes. If not, does this prove that there is more to the self-hood of a person than just a collection of cells?

And one might add that the cells themselves are hardly immune from "renewal" at the molecular level. So the short version is: If identity requires complete coincidence of matter, then essentially nothing but sub-atomic particles survive over any reasonable stretch of time. That does rather suggest, though the contrary view is certainly held, that identity over time simply does not require complete coincidence of matter. What it does require is not very clear, but that is no reason to despair.

Of course, the question didn't ask about complete coincidence of matter. But it's unclear why anything less might suffice. And, if it does, then you run into issues about transitivity: A might share much of its matter with B, which shares much of its matter with C; but A and C do not share much of their matter.

It's an interesting question, and to answer it, I'm inclined to turn things around. Let's start with what's clear: the fact that the rapist committed the rape seven years ago (supposing for the moment that this is the magic number) isn't a reason to let him off. In fact, the very way you pose the question makes the point. You ask about "the rapist" who committed "his crime" long ago. You've already take it for granted that we can say: this man is the one who committed the crime. And we can say it without worrying about how many cells have come and gone. So yes: there is something more -- or something other -- to the notion of a person than just the idea of a collection of cells. The something needn't be anything spooky. After all, a corporation can exist for a hundred years, even though all the people have changed and all the buildings and equipment it owns have gradually been replaced. Although saying exactly what sameness amounts to here is complicated, it won't call for talking about...

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