Thursday, November 3, 2011

Causal Relevance and Apples

I was thinking about something Tillman said last class - that the VI/Merricks view meant that apple trees but not apples exist - and this seems like a serious problem for the view. Apple trees exist because the collective activity of an apple tree's parts somehow constitute a life, and it seems that the collective activity of an apple seed's parts should also constitute a life - after all, the seed grows into the tree, and if the seed is not alive, then neither is the tree. So seeds exist.

The problem here is apples.

Apples aren't alive (at least, not by any biological definition) and they are just as causally irrelevant as baseballs - the scent, taste, shape, crunchiness, hardness, etc., of an apple can be explained solely in terms of the collective activity of its atoms... So apples certainly don't exist.

But apple seeds do, and apple seeds are part of an apple - in fact, seeds are the very reason that apples are produced! It certainly wouldn't be reasonable to think that an apple doesn't exist but a part of an apple (the seeds) does exist, as if it were possible for some apple parts to exist by merit of their life and other apple parts to only be atoms arranged apple-wise. That's strange. There would have to be a really good reason to actually believe that.

To sum up: If causal relevance is the only factor VI/Merricks has to offer in determining whether something exists, then trees and seeds exist but fruit (which contains seeds) doesn't exist, because the fruit is causally irrelevant. And that makes no sense.

I think causal relevance just isn't enough to decide whether something exists. What does everyone else think?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

They're Made of Meat

This got buried in a previous post.

Paper Assignment 1

Metaphysics Paper 1
Due Wednesday, October 19

Write a paper on one of the following topics. Both contain arguments that have been used to support eliminativist conceptions of material objects according to which there aren’t certain things (clouds, cats, hands, etc.) that seem to exist, and that do exist according to a commonsense conception of what there is. The main goal of your paper should be to critically assess an argument for eliminativism that can be extracted from one of the following passages. Your paper must contain:
• Your name. Seriously.
• An introduction that tells the reader what you plan to do in your paper.
• A prose summary in your own words of the argument for eliminativism you plan to discuss. If you need to tell a little story in order to set up the argument, this is the place to do it. It’s preferable to not just repeat the example the author uses, but permissible.
• A more formal presentation of the argument you plan to discuss, presented in numbered premise-conclusion form. The argument must be deductively valid. (Do not be tricked into thinking that 1-8 below the Lewis passage is a deductively valid argument. Do not be tricked into thinking that listing Olson’s premises 1-3 constitutes a deductively valid argument.)
• A premise-by-premise explanation and defence of the argument. Explain any technical terms and provide support for each premise. (Recall that what needs explaining depends on your audience. You should take your audience to be an intelligent, interested individual that is not in our class. Don’t assume I’m your audience.) Do not “tell me in other words” what the premise says. Do give me the best reasons you can think of for supposing the premise is correct, whether you think it is or not. Your defence of each premise should be your best answer the question Why think this premise is true?
• A criticism of some premise in the presented argument, explained informally in prose. The criticism should be the best one you can think of. I’m not looking for what others have said here. I’m interested in what you think the best criticism is, whether or not you think the first argument is sound.
• A more formal presentation of your criticism, presented in numbered premise-conclusion form. The argument must be deductively valid. Its conclusion must be the negation of some premise in the first argument.
• An explanation and defence of the premises in your criticism. Same points that apply to explanation and defence of the first argument apply here as well.
• An overall evaluation: Is your criticism of the original argument sound? Why or why not?
• Citations where appropriate, and a list of references at the end of the paper in APA format. (You do not need to refer to any paper other than the ones excerpted below, though you may if it is appropriate.)
Papers should be submitted by email to as an attachment in .doc, .docx, .pdf, .rtf, or shared with me as a google document by midnight, Wednesday October 19. Since I’m giving you so much time to work on these, and since I won’t be able to access late papers until October 25th, I’m simply not accepting late submissions for this assignment.

Problem of the Many
The following passage is from Lewis, David. 1993. “Many, But Almost One.” In Lewis, David (ed.) 1999. Papers in Metaphysics and Epistemology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. The argument is due to Unger, Peter. 1980. “The Problem of the Many.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 5: 411-67.
Think of a cloud—just one cloud, and around it a clear blue sky. Seen from the ground, the cloud may seem to have a sharp boundary. Not so. The cloud is a swarm of water droplets. At the outskirts of the cloud, the density of the droplets falls off. Eventually they are so few and far between that we may hesitate to say that the outlying droplets are still part of the cloud at all; perhaps we might better say only that they are near the cloud. But the transition is gradual. Many surfaces are equally good candidates to be the boundary of the cloud. Therefore many aggregates of droplets, some more inclusive and some less inclusive (and some inclusive in different ways than others), are equally good candidates to be the cloud. Since they have equal claim, how can we say that the cloud is one of these aggregates rather than another? But if all of them count as clouds, then we have many clouds rather than one. And if none of them count, each one being ruled out because of the competition from the others, then we have no cloud. How is it, then, that we have just one cloud? And yet we do. (Lewis 1993: 164)
The paradox arises because in the story as told the following eight claims each seem to be true, but they are mutually inconsistent.
1. There are several distinct sets of water droplets sk such that for each such set, it is not clear whether the water droplets in sk form a cloud.
2. There is a cloud in the sky.
3. There is at most one cloud in the sky.
4. For each set sk, there is an object ok that the water droplets in sk compose.
5. If the water droplets in si compose oi, and the objects in sj compose oj, and the sets si and sj are not identical, then the objects oi and oj are not identical.
6. If oi is a cloud in the sky, and oj is a cloud in the sky, and oi is not identical with oj, then there are two clouds in the sky.
7. If any of these sets si are such that its members compose a cloud, then for any other set sj, if its members compose an object oj, then oj is a cloud.
8. Any cloud is composed of a set of water droplets.
(1-8 are from Weatherson, Brian. 2009. “The Problem of the Many.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Peter Unger (1980) holds that the lesson of the problem is that our concept of clouds involves inconsistent presuppositions (viz., 1-8). As such, that concept could not apply to anything. So there are no clouds. And the argument generalizes to all sorts of other things that can be subjected to parallel reasoning: humans, cats, tables, etc., etc.

Many Thinkers
The following passage is from Olson, Eric. 1995. “Why I Have No Hands.” Theoria 61: 182-197.

Consider the following argument for the claim that there are no hands--or feet or ears or any other arbitrary parts of human beings.

Premise One I am the only rational, conscious being--for short, the only person--
now sitting in this chair.

Trust me: my chair isn't big enough for two. You may doubt that every rational, conscious being is a person; perhaps there are beings that mistakenly believe themselves to be people. If so, read ‘rational, conscious being’ or the like for 'person'.

Premise Two Anything that would be rational and conscious in one environment could not fail to be rational or conscious in another environment without differing internally in some way.

Nothing can fail to be rational or conscious merely by having the wrong relational properties. All philosophers of mind except perhaps dualists and eliminative materialists make this assumption. The content of someone's intentional states might be sensitive to her surroundings: on Twin Earth there may be someone whose mind is just like yours except that your thoughts about water correspond in him or her to thoughts about something else, if the colourless, potable liquid called 'water' on Twin Earth is not H2O but a substance with a different chemical composition. But unless mental features are not caused by physical ones, that being could hardly fail to be rational or conscious at all, if you are rational and conscious.

Premise Three If there is such a thing as my hand, there is also such a thing as my "hand-complement": an object made up or composed of just those parts of me that don't share a part with my hand.

If my hand exists, then "the rest of me but for my hand" exists as well. (I assume that I am a material object, and that my hand, if it existed, would be a part of me.) This is just to say that there is nothing ontologically special about hands: saying that there are hands but no hand-complements would be as arbitrary as saying that there are hands but no feet. Any reasonable ontology of material objects that gives us hands gives us hand-complements as well. This might sound less than obvious because 'hand' is a familiar, compact word of ordinary English, while 'handcomplement' is philosophical jargon. But that is an accidental feature of our language, and presumably reflects our interest in hands and our lack of interest in hand-complements. There is no reason to suppose that it has any ontological significance. Consider that 'cheir' in ancient Greek and 'manus' in Latin, the words that dictionaries translate as 'hand', actually meant something that included eight or ten inches of forearm. Strictly speaking, the ancient Greeks and Romans had no word for what we call hands. But that does not imply that they disagreed with us about what material objects there are.
From these three premises (and a few empirical truths) it follows that there is no such thing as my hand. Suppose there is. Then by Premise Three there is also such a thing as my hand-complement. But my hand-complement differs from me only in its shape, size, and surroundings; its brain, sensory inputs, and behaviour are no different from mine. If you cut off my hand I should still be a person; but in that case I should be internally just like my hand-complement is now--except perhaps for some scar tissue around the wrist, and it's hard to see how that could make the difference between being rational and conscious and not being rational or conscious. And a thing cannot fail to be rational or conscious simply because of its relation to some other thing--simply by having the wrong neighbours. You might decline to call something a "person" for that reason (which seems a bit unfair), but that is beside the point. So by Premise Two, my hand-complement is a rational, conscious being if I am. But I am not my hand-complement. Thus, there are two people—two rational, conscious beings--now sitting in my chair, contrary to Premise One. Therefore I have no hands.
What goes for hands, of course, goes for feet, arms, legs, and the rest of that naïve ontology of "parts of the body" that we learned at nursery school. There are simply no such things. (Olson 1995: 182-3.)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Coincidence and Persons

When Dan Korman came in and talked about coincidence, he went over various issues for the coincidence theorist. One of the issues was this argument.
  1. There is an organism sitting in your chair
  2. That organism is a thinking thing
  3. There is only one thinking thing sitting in your chair
  4. So, you are that organism
The organism is presumably the thing left over after death, and presumably something we are coincident with. Dan concluded that the coincidence theorists only option is to appeal to substance dualism, and reject 2. As someone with dualistic intuitions, I didn't mind this consequence, but Dan didn't seem to happy, and I can see why. It seems a heavy consequence to just get shackled with.

With regards to this issue, I have two questions I'm interested in. Does the coincidence theorist have any other options, with which to make physicalism compatible with their theory? Also, to what extent do other theories have to deal with this problem?

What are everyone's thoughts on this?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"I Am The Table"

See here for an upsetting view of material objects, like tables, that we have neglected to discuss. If you dare.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Personal" Identity: They're Made of Meat?!

We have been focused on the following questions: (roughly) How many material things are there? How do they survive change (if in fact they do)?

This naturally raises other questions, closer to home; questions that are often grouped under the issue of personal identity: What am I? Am I material or not? Do I survive change? If so, how do I manage it?

Some have even been tempted by this question: What is it in virtue of which baby-me is identical to grown-up-me?

Fwiw, I'm rather impersonal about identity; I think it's just that binary relation, governed by Leibniz's Law, that everything bears to itself and never to anything else. But that's just me. And I'm a philosopher. And philosophers, on the whole, don't have an excellent track record in being right about things. So maybe I'm not right about that. But given that I think what I do about identity, I think at least the last question above is a bad question. Briefly, here's why. (This argument is due to Nathan Salmon, a keynote speaker at the most recent meeting for the Society for Exact Philosophy.) The last question asks what it is in virtue of which x at t = y at t*. So since identity is not temporally relative (on the simple view I stated), this question amounts to asking what it is in virtue of which x = y. Now if x is distinct from y, then there is nothing in virtue of which x = y. But if x = y, then the fact that x = y is the very same fact as the fact that x = x. So the question amounts to asking: What is it in virtue of which x = x? Less symbolically, what makes it the case that you are you (and not something else)? What has to be the case in order for you not to be Stephen Harper? What do you have to do to not be him? The only sensible answer I can discern is: Not Much. So I think the last question is not a good question.

The earlier ones are, however. But we are not specifically concerned with persons in this course. We deal with them if they are material, but we deal instead with their material bodies if they are not. Still, there are good questions of personal identity. And I'm willing to bet these questions have occurred to you and you are interested in their answers. See here for an accessible dialogue on what sorts of things we are. (It touches on a lot of issues we touch on, so it's good to check out regardless.) See here for a clever expression of amazement at the suggestion that we are material. (And for that matter, the sort of material we are, given that we are material!)

I'm happy to have an 'Are we souls or what?' free-for-all here, since we're not focusing on that in class. So: Are we souls, or what?