The Very Idea of Constitution
Baker (Lynne Rudder)
Source: Baker (Lynne) - Persons and Bodies, Chapter 2
Paper - Abstract

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Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract

  1. Provides a technical account of the idea of constitution. The basic idea of constitution is this: when certain kinds of things are in certain kinds of circumstances, things of new kinds, with new kinds of causal powers, come into existence. For example, when a certain combination of chemicals is in a certain environments, a thing of a new kind—an organism—comes into existence. A world without organisms, even if it contained the “right” combination of chemicals but in the “wrong” environment, would not have the same things in it as a world with organisms. So, constitution makes an ontological difference. It guarantees ontological plurality.
  2. The relationship of constitution is ubiquitous. It is not peculiar to human persons and their bodies. It holds between rivers and aggregates of water molecules, between statues1 and pieces of marble, between genes and groups of DNA molecules, between stop signs and octagonal pieces of metal. If x constitutes y at t, then x and y are spatially coincident at t, but they not identical. If x constitutes y at t, then x and y have different persistence conditions2. Identity is a necessary relation; constitution is contingent. (Indeed, I use the notion of constitution to solve problems that others try to solve by notions of contingent identity3, temporal identity4, relative identity5 and so on. The idea of constitution has an advantage over these other views in that the idea of constitution does not compromise the classical notion of identity in its strict Leibnizian form.) I provide a definition of ‘x constitutes y at t’ in order to show that the idea of constitution-without-identity does not suffer from obvious incoherence.
  3. If x constitutes y at t, then x and y share many of their properties: x weighs 100 lbs. at t if and only if y weighs 100 lbs. at t; x is worth $10,000 at t if and only if y is worth $12,000 at t. Each of these properties has its source in either x or y. If a piece of bronze constitutes a statue6 at t, then what exists at t is a statue-constituted-by-a-piece-of-bronze7, whose weight has its source in its being (constituted by) a piece of bronze, and whose value (usually) has its source in its being a statue8. This observation leads to the notion of ‘having properties derivatively.’ The piece of bronze has its weight nonderivatively; the statue9 has its weight derivatively. The statue10 has its value nonderivatively; the piece of bronze has its weight derivatively. To have a property derivatively is to constitute, or be constituted by, something that has the property independently of its constitution-relations. Only some properties are subject to being had derivatively. All this is spelled out in two definitions. The notion of having a property derivatively explains why if x and y both weigh 100 lbs. at t, and x and y are not identical, it does not follow that there is an object that weighs 200 lbs. where x is at t.
  4. The idea of constitution is decidedly nonreductive. As long as x constitutes y, x has no independent existence. If x continues to exist after the demise of y, then x comes into its own, existing independently. But during the period that x constitutes y, “what the thing really is”—y, constituted by x—is determined by the identity of y. So, what is in front of you when you go to a museum is a statue11 (constituted, perhaps, by a piece of bronze). What the thing most fundamentally is a statue12; but it is constituted by a piece of bronze.
  1. A Description of Constitution
  2. The Road to Essentialism
  3. A Definition of ‘Constitution’
  4. Having Properties Derivatively
  5. Conclusion

Write-up13 (as at 18/12/2010 19:58:05): Baker - The Very Idea of Constitution

This note controls my detailed review of "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - The Very Idea of Constitution", Chapter 2 of "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View". I’ve pirated the Oxford Scholarship Online summaries as a temporary expedient.

OSO Note:
… Further details to be supplied14

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 13:

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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