Saturday, October 8, 2011

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.)

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