Rearrangement of Particles: Reply to Lowe
Lewis (David)
Source: Analysis 48, 1988, pp. 65-72
Paper - Abstract

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  1. Ordinary things, for instance we ourselves, undeniably persist through time. As we persist, we change. And not just in extrinsic ways, as when a child was born elsewhere and I became an uncle. We also change in our own intrinsic character, in the way we ourselves are, apart from our relationships to anything else. When I sit I'm bent, when I stand I'm straight. When I change my shape, that isn't a matter of my changing relationship to other things, or my relationship to other changing things. I do the changing, all by myself. Or so it seems. What happens must be possible. But how? Nothing can have the two incompatible shapes, bent and straight. How does having them at different times help? In "Lewis (David) - On the Plurality of Worlds" (Blackwell, 1986; henceforth PoW), p. 204, I listed three solutions, and said that only the third was tenable.
  2. The first solution is that the 'properties' are really relations to times. That lets us say that things persist by enduring, the one thing is present at different times; and not mere temporal parts of it, different parts at different times, but all of it, wholly present at each of the times. The whole of me stands in the bent-at relation to some times and the straight-at relation to others. I complained that shapes are properties, not relations. No doubt a friend of the first solution will draw a distinction that he will call the distinction between matters of one's own intrinsic character and matters of one's relationships: having a shape will go on one side, being an uncle on the other. But call it what he will, his account reveals that really he treats shape, no less than unclehood, as a matter of relations. In this account, nothing just has a shape simpliciter. The temporary 'intrinsic properties' of things, so understood, do not deserve the name. This solution amounts to a denial that things really do have temporary intrinsics1, and therefore is untenable.'
  3. The second solution says that there is only one genuine time, the present. Intrinsic properties are genuine properties, and a thing can have them simpliciter, without regard to any relationships to anything else. However, the only intrinsic properties it has simpliciter are the properties it has now. What passes for persistence and change, on this solution, does not really involve other times. Rather, there are 'abstract' ersatz times, to go with the one 'concrete' genuine time. These represent, or misrepresent, the present. If I am bent now, and straight later, there is an abstract misrepresentation of the present according to which I am straight. 'Persistence' and 'change', so understood, do not deserve their names. This solution amounts to a denial of persistence and change, and therefore is untenable.
  4. The third solution, the tenable one, is that incompatible temporary intrinsic properties do not all belong to the same thing. A persisting thing perdures. It consists of temporal parts, or stages, different ones at different times, which differ in their intrinsic properties. When I sit and then stand, bent stages are followed by straight stages. Each stage has its shape simpliciter. Shape is truly intrinsic.
  5. [… snip …]
  6. In his "Lowe (E.J.) - Lewis on Perdurance Versus Endurance" (Analysis 47.3, June 1987, pp. 152-54), E. J. Lowe agrees that we need a solution, and joins me in rejecting the first and second solutions. But he rejects the third solution as well. He finds it 'scarcely intelligible' to say that things like people or puddles, as opposed to events or processes, have temporal parts. I disagree; but won't repeat here what I have said elsewhere about the intelligibility of temporal parts.- Lowe does find perdurance2 intelligible enough to be denied, and deny it he does. After rejecting all three solutions, Lowe is urgently in need of a fourth.
  7. [… snip …]
  8. Here is Lowe's fourth solution. Science teaches that things consist of particles. A change of shape for the thing, for instance for me when I sit and then stand, is a rearrangement of its particles. (Likewise for other intrinsic changes, for instance in my temperature or neural activity.) When the particles are rearranged, they undergo a change in their relations to one another; but no change in their intrinsic properties. In fact, it seems likely that fundamental particles never change their intrinsic properties. An electron or a quark has a certain charge, rest mass, and so on; all constant, from the creation of the particle to its destruction, no matter how the particle may move around and change its relations to other particles. There is no problem of intrinsic change for particles, if they have no temporary intrinsics3. Particles, at least, may safely be supposed to endure; and larger things consist of these enduring particles, undergoing rearrangement but no intrinsic change.


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