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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.

If every thing has being then how can non-being, as a concept, not have being?

If every thing has being then how can non-being, as a concept, not have being? Wouldn't it have being by virtue of its distinction from being? I.e. in being 'non-being'- it 'is' that which is 'not being' (the conceptual complement of being) and as it 'is' non-being - distinct from being, it is 'being' no? And so if this is the case, and being is thus a characteristic of all things - then what of being itself? can non-being, as a concept, not have being?

I see no reason why it can't. I see no reason to think that the concept of non-being (or non-existence, or related concepts) fails to exist. Not every concept must instantiate itself. Indeed, typically concepts don't instantiate themselves: the concept of tree isn't a tree, etc.

It's more controversial whether being (or existence) is a characteristic (or property) of things. You'll find detailed discussion of this issue in the SEP entry linked here. I myself favor the widely held view that all (and only) things exist. It's not clear to me that this view implies that existence is a property, nor is it clear to me that anything of importance turns on whether existence is a property.

Can philosophy speculate as to the likelihood of their being aliens on other

Can philosophy speculate as to the likelihood of their being aliens on other planets or intelligent life elsewhere? If so, what do philosophers have to say about this and what do you philosophers on this forum have to say?

Speculate is pretty much all that philosophers, as such, can do about this question. For what it's worth, however, some well-placed astronomers are confident that life (intelligent or not) does exist elsewhere and that we'll discover evidence of it within 20 years: see this link.

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.

I guess some philosophers discuss whether in some exact location there is only

I guess some philosophers discuss whether in some exact location there is only one object, a statue, or two objects, the statue and the stone it is made of. Are there well-known philosophers who argue that this is a false question, a mere matter of choice of words, that there is no criterion to distinguish one object from two objects? Thank you.

You might also look into the work of philosopher Eli Hirsch (Brandeis University), who argues that various disagreements in ontology, perhaps including the one you mentioned, are "merely verbal" disagreements.

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.

I think for many people the experience of consciousness leads to an unshakable

I think for many people the experience of consciousness leads to an unshakable sense that there is something that exists which can be called consciousness and which is different from matter. Many philosophers deny this. For me the experience of existence leads to an unshakable sense that at least something exists but I can't say exactly what exists. I could say that my experiences must be caused by something but its conceivable that someone would deny that intuition. It wouldn't surprise me if some philosophers completely denied that anything at all exists. What is the name of that way of thinking? What philosophers have advocated that belief?

I am not aware of any philosophers that claim that absolutely nothing exists. The most skeptical position I am aware of is called solipsism, which is the view that only the self exists or that one is only justified in believing the self exists. However, it is a rather rare position.

Descartes famous argument: "I think, therefore I am" has been pretty influential in establishing the existence of the self. However, even this rather intuitive argument has been appropriately criticized by Bertrand Russell insisted that all the argument really proved was that 'thoughts are being thunk.

Why did Descartes pick thinking of all possible attributes to logically

Why did Descartes pick thinking of all possible attributes to logically establish existence? Rocks exist but don't think. What exactly did he have in mind to establish? Was it really existence? Did he have any valid reason to doubt his or our existence? Wouldn't pain be a better criterion? Or movement? Or change? If a non-philosopher raised such a question we would certainly look askance at him and not value his "evidence" either way.

Aha! My answer seems to have crossed in the mail, as it were, with Charles Taliaferro's. Well, there you go, two for the price of one! The price, of course, being free: isn't this a lovely site?

My question regards the existence and location of non-material entities.

My question regards the existence and location of non-material entities. An idea exists? color exists? When we open our brain, all we see is neurons/cells, etc. Using a scientific aproach, we can say that color, sound, taste (etc) don't have physical existence - that is well known. If all we can see is neurons connecting, where these kind of entities exist/happen?. By a scientific point of view all entities must have matter and have a location, or not? I'm particulary interested in the location is space of those entities I mentioned. Someone could say ''The are non-material entities'' and the problem would be solved. Also, I'm assuming things that probably no scientist agrees. I don't hope a conclusive answer, I just want some ideas.

Great question. But one other possibility is that some form of materialism is true: these 'non-material' things might simply be identical to various brain states. So, for example, it's not so much that 'red' (say) is identified with some pattern of neural firing -- but 'perceiving red' may well be, in which case 'perceiving red' would be located wherever those brain cells are. And what are 'ideas', beyond the events of our 'thinking' of them? If nothing, then 'thinking of an idea i' would just be identified with a certain pattern of firing, and located where those neurons are ... Now WHETHER such a materialism is viable or not -- well, that's a vexed and difficult question. And if you are inclined to dispute it (and there are good reasons to do so), then in a way you've taken away the force of your own question -- if you do believe that colors, ideas, thoughts, etc. are NOT to be identified with neural patterns, then you automatically believe in the existence of non-physical things -- in which case you're rejecting what you take to be the scientific view that everything has a location, and your worldview expands to admit non-physical, non-spatial things -- for which to ask after their location is as inappropriate as asking how much the number 3 weighs ...

But really the deepest issue in play here -- is the debate over whether materialism or dualism is the preferred position ...

hope that's a start!


Philosophers have argued that we are not or can not know that we are a substance

Philosophers have argued that we are not or can not know that we are a substance which remains continuous throught out time. Hume, was especially famous for making that point. What about the fear we experience in the face of certain fates? Any reasonable person would want to avoid being tortured and it would be no consolation to "know" that the person who will be tortured is not the same person as the person who dreads it. This is essentially why I can't agree with Hume. I know it doesn't sound like an argument but it still seems like a persuasive position. Have other philosophers offered that rebuttal to Hume? What could you say to refute or bolster this "argument"?

Thank you for your question. Without a doubt, if you told David Hume that 'I am going to be tortured' he would respond 'For goodness sake, run!' The question is, then: is this response incompatible with his philosophical analysis of the concept of substance?

I think we need to distinguish two ways of thinking about 'substance'. The first is substance as metaphysical, as something that exists permanently, without even the possibility of change, as the 'bearer' of properties (Hume has Descartes and Leibniz particularly in mind). The second is a pragmatic sense of substance, as our sense of the identity of things (including ourselves) across time. By pragmatic, I mean that for certain purposes we think of things as basically unchanging, while for other purposes we think of things as not unchanging. For example, if I buy a new car, I consider it unchanging for the purposes of driving every day, staying the same size, staying the same shape and colour. If, however, after a year I tried to return it to the dealership, they would say 'sorry, but this is not the same car, it is now a 'used' car'. Hume has a number of examples of this type in Treatise, Book 1, Part IV, section vi, including the example of a church being the 'same church' even though it has been rebuilt in a different material. The church is both the same church, and a completely different church, depending upon to what pragmatic use you are putting the word 'same'.

Clearly, Hume can deny the validity of an idea of substance in the first sense, while still maintaining the importance of a pragmatic sense. So, yes, it is no consolation to think that the person to be tortured is not the same person as me, because this lack of sameness is of the metaphysical kind. Pragmatically speaking, it is you, so run.