The Non-Identity of a Material Thing and Its Matter
Fine (Kit)
Source: Mind - 112/446 (April 2003)
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Many philosophers have thought that a material thing is, or may be, one and the same as its matter - that a statue, for example, may be the same as the clay from which it is made or a river the same as the water which flows through it. There appears to be a powerful argument against such views, for the thing in each of these cases would appear to have properties not possessed by its matter. Thus the clay of a statue may exist even though the statue itself has ceased to exist and the river may be composed of different water at different times even though this cannot be true of the water that composes it at any given time. However, these philosophers have responded to this argument by claiming that the apparent difference in properties represents, not a difference in the objects themselves, but a difference in the descriptions under which they may be conceived. We may conceive of a given thing as a statue or some clay or as a river or a body of water, for example, and, depending upon how the object is conceived, we will say one thing about it rather than another.
  2. It is the aim of this paper to show that this counter-response cannot be sustained and that the original argument against identity should therefore be allowed to stand. This is no easy task since there would appear to be nothing in the immediate linguistic data to settle the question one way or the other. However, by working through the consequences of the counter-response for the rest of our language, I think it may be shown to be extremely implausible.
  3. The paper is in two main parts.
    1. The first (§§1-4) is largely concerned with setting up the problem.
      1. We characterize the different forms the identity theory can take (§1),
      2. explain how the argument in favor of non-identity might in principle break down (§2),
      3. present the most plausible versions of such arguments (§3), and then
      4. consider the most plausible counter-response to them (§4).
    2. The second part (§§5-8) embarks on a detailed investigation of the difficulties with the counter-response. It is shown to be unable to account for a wide variety of different linguistic data, that is loosely classified according as to how reference to a material thing might be achieved. Four main kinds of case will be considered:
      1. those in which a sort is explicitly invoked (§5);
      2. those in which it is implicitly invoked (§6);
      3. those in which the very notion of reference is itself used in securing reference (§7); and
      4. those in which there is reference to a plurality of things (§8).


I have two very similar Notes under way on this Paper:-

Write-up3 (as at 18/12/2010 19:58:05): Fine - The Non-Identity of a Material Thing and Its Matter

This write-up is a review of "Fine (Kit) - The Non-Identity of a Material Thing and Its Matter". As usual, my comments universally feature as “Note:”. This is a long and complex paper, and time-constraints will mean that these remarks will need to be brief and fairly superficial. They will not be free-standing in the absence of the paper under review.

Abstract: Fine argues for pluralism, the view that a physical object and the matter that makes it up are different things co-located. He argues against the linguistic arguments put forward by monists who maintain the identity thesis, that a material thing is identical to the matter of which it is composed.

  1. Monism
  2. Opacity
  3. Choice of Example
  4. Predicational Shift
  5. Explicit Invocation of Sorts
  6. Implicit Invocation of Sorts
  7. Implicit Invocation via Reference
  8. Plural Invocation of Sorts

1). Introduction
  1. Motivation: Philosophers differ over whether a thing and the matter of which it is made are one and the same. It appears that they cannot be, because their properties can differ.
    Statue / clay - clay exists before / after statue;
    River / water - river composed of different water at different times, though not at a time.
    • A river is an odd example. Isn’t there more to a river than its water?
    • Note the use of the terms “made” and “compose” – are these the same as one another and are both the same as “constituted by”, or are they purely mereological (and is there a real distinction between constitution and mereological composition)?
  2. Aim: Some philosophers have rejected the distinction, saying that the apparently different properties do not represent difference in the objects themselves, but only in the descriptions under which they are conceived. Fine’s aim is to disprove this; a hard task as there’s nothing immediately obvious in the linguistic data to settle the matter.
  3. Plan: Sections 1-4 set up the problem, sections 5-8 deal with the difficulties for those who uphold the identity of a thing and its matter.
    The headings of the First part are a bit obscure.
    • Section 1 (“Monism”) describes the various forms of the identity theory.
    • Section 2 (“Opacity”) gives an overview and categorisation of arguments in favour on non-identity.
    • Section 3 (“Choice of Example”) gives the most plausible arguments in favour of non-identity.
    • Section 4 (“Predictional Shift”) gives the most plausible response by the identity theorist.
    The headings in the Second part aren’t really further clarified at this point, though the theme is the inability of the identity theory to account for linguistic data, categorised by 4 ways of referring to the material thing.
  4. Scope: Discussion of various relevant themes is excluded:-
    a). The parallels and differences between events and acts.
    b). Eccentric identity-logics
    • b1). Relative identity
    • b2). The denial of the possibility of cross-category identification; the view that identifying a thing and its matter is as ludicrous as identifying a fried egg with the number 3.
    • This sounds like Frege’s Julius Caesar problem.
    • If this was saying that things under different substance concepts cannot be identified, it would be sensible (other than if one concept subsumes the other – as in this cat is that mammal).
    c). Eccentric views on material objects:-
    • c1). Idealism
    • c2). Denial that non-simples exist, or
    • The claim that only living complexes and simples exist.
    d). Arguments in favour of identity.
    • d1). The metaphysical argument: If we have non-identity, then in what does the difference between a thing and its matter consist?
    • d2). The argument from theoretical dispensability
    … Notes: Isn’t the first of these arguments important?
    • Firstly because they connect with Alan Gibbard’s arguments for contingent identity (see "Gibbard (Allan) - Contingent Identity", but these are already probably out of scope, as Fine doesn’t deal with deviant identity-logics), and
    • Secondly for Baker - for the constitution of a statue by its clay – involving a necessary “relation to an art-world”.
  5. Fine refers the reader to the following works where arguments in favour of identity are discussed (though not necessarily supported):
  6. Caveat: Fine doubts that metaphysics in general or this topic in particular are exhausted by linguistic questions, yet he has had to focus on linguistic arguments in this paper. This is a special case: while non-linguistic arguments are presented for non-identity, these are rebutted with the charge of linguistic confusion which itself has to be rebutted.

1). Monism
  1. Fine’s opponents claim that coincident material things are the same.
  2. Coincidence: we need to distinguish spatial from material coincidence (each “at a time”). Spatial coincidents need not be material coincidents, nor vice versa. Examples:
    … a loaf and its bread are materially but not spatially coincident; and
    … a water-logged loaf and a loaf that is waterlogged are spatially but not materially coincident.
    For the purposes of this paper, we require both material and spatial coincidence.
    • Note: These examples need unpacking a bit. The basic idea is that the spatial extent of the loaf is defined by its outer boundary, while that of the bread excludes the volumes occupied only by air-bubbles (or water in the case of a water-logged loaf. This may beg some questions about just what “bread” is – is the only “real” bread unleavened (ie. without air-bubbles), or is it just more concentrated?
  3. Matter: if there is Ultimate matter, then the underlying matter is the ultimate matter; if not, then two things materially coincide at a time if any matter composing either is composed of matter composing the other.
  4. Parts: it is an error to think of coincidents as things with the same parts. This would make the statue and the clay non-coincident, on the grounds that the statue’s arm is part of the statue but not part of the clay.
    • Note: I don’t fully understand, but presumably the idea is that lumps of clay, strictly speaking – and qua lumps of clay – don’t have arms. Statues have arms composed of portions of clay that themselves form part of the whole lump, that itself composes the whole statue.
  5. Modal Considerations: so far we’ve just considered coincidence at a time. We also need consider worldly coincidence where the entire space-time worms in the actual world coincide. Finally, there is necessary coincidence, where the space-time worms in all possible worlds coincide (Fine specifies the qualifications more precisely).
  6. Types of Monism: An Extreme monist identifies “two” things if “they” coincide at any time. A Moderate monist only makes the identification if the coincidence occurs at all times within a world. A Mild monist only makes the identification if the coincidence occurs at all times within all possible world.
  7. Mere Things: monists only see one thing where pluralists see two. What sort do they see? This “mere thing” – the “intrinsic identity” of the thing – differs according to the flavour of monism, but is basically matter. Fine doesn’t take these differences to be significant for this paper.
  8. Strength of Monism: Extreme entails moderate entails mild.
    • Note: that is, an extreme monist is logically also a moderate monist. That is, if I believe that “two” things that are coincident at a time are identical, then obviously I must accept that “two” things that coincide at all times in a world are identical; and, similarly for the other implications.
  9. Strictness: someone who is a moderate monist but not an extreme monist is said to be strictly moderate. So, a moderate monist accepts that there can be distinct objects that coincide at a time, but not ones that coincide within a world.
    • Note: So, is a strictly moderate monist committed to contingent identity? This is the point of "Gibbard (Allan) - Contingent Identity", where Goliath and Lump1 are coincident in the actual world and so, according to strictly moderate monism, are identical, yet they might not have been coincidental (and therefore, it is claimed, might not have been identical).
  10. Extreme monists are said to include:-
  11. Strictly Moderate monists are said to include:-
  12. Opponents of Moderate monism are said to include:-
  13. Strictly moderate monism appears to be a plausible middle ground, since it allegedly avoids the “metaphysical mystery” of distinct worldly coincidents, while accepting distinct temporary coincidents. Yet, extreme monism is more defensible, in that the key arguments involve it. However, Fine avoids taking sides and his arguments cover either extreme or moderate monism.
    • Note: I found this part of the argument obscure and skipped it. I need to return4 later.
  14. Fine also thinks mild monism to be wrong. He claims to have counter-examples to show that even necessary coincidents of the same sort can be distinct. See "Fine (Kit) - A Counter-Example To Locke's Thesis". However, the focus of this paper is on extreme and moderate monism.

2). Opacity
  1. Standard argument against extreme monism: The statue has different properties to alloy of which it is made, so by Leibniz’s Law, they are non-identical. The same argument is used against mild monism, but using modal properties.
  2. Standard response: different properties only reflect different ways of describing a single object. Example from Quine ("Quine (W.V.) - Ontological Relativity"): 9 is necessarily > 7, but the number of planets isn’t. We can’t deduce that the number of planets is not 9 from this difference in modal properties. Similarly (it is said), you can’t deduce non-identity of a thing and its constituting matter.
  3. Transparent versus opaque contexts: standard stuff. Intensional contexts.
  4. Response (by anti-monist): convert from opaque to transparent context (or find examples from transparent context). Example.
  5. Counter-response (by monist): either
    • (a) agree transparent context, but deny truth-values – deny that a “mere thing” can have a trans-world or trans-temporal identity.
    • (b) deny that transparency has been achieved. Example.
  6. Deadlock: the current situation – monist “fouls” all examples.
  7. Strategy of Fine’s paper: see whether the monist’s allegation of opacity works given our language use in general.
  8. The Monist’s Strategy: Formal languages have been constructed in which the anti-monist’s arguments for non-identity turn out to be invalid. But does this reflect actual language use?
  9. Response: Fine thinks not – but has no way of proving wrong the convinced monist. This is shown by considering the “fanatical mono-referentialist” (such a person may not exist, but is used for the sake of the argument) who claims that every singular referring term refers to the same thing – “the One”.
  10. Example: of Gore and Bush – the claim that “- won the election” is an opaque context. The One won the election in a Bushey fashion but failed to win it in a Gorey fashion. What the anti-monist sees as difference of reference in a transparent context is seen by the FMR as identity of reference (but difference in manner of reference) in an opaque context.
  11. Arbitration: There is no fact of the matter as to whether language is mono- or multi-referential. It is disputed whether the FMR position is the height of absurdity or can be accepted.
  12. Two versions of the fanatical position: conservative and radical.
  13. The Radical: accuses us of being mistaken that “Gore” does not refer to Bush. Also, he has to reject normally-accepted inferences (that the fact that Bush won the election and Gore did not – taken as common ground – licences the inference that Bush is not identical to Gore).
  14. The Conservative: accepts our ordinary identity and reference judgements, so must say that the contexts are opaque. But “‘u’ refers to” is a paradigm case of transparency.

3). Choice of Example
  1. Standard Examples: cited by the pluralist generally fall into 3 categories, all of which are easily objected to:-
    • Temporal: don’t work against moderate monism.
    • Modal: requires an appeal to debateable de re modal intuitions, best avoided.
    • Constitution: of too limited application. Also, Fine claims that a statue is constituted by alloy NOT a piece of alloy. Consequently, the putative name for this piece does not refer.
  2. Note: The above point is very contentious and needs a lot of argument – even some would do. Gibbard (in "Gibbard (Allan) - Contingent Identity") thinks it legitimate to name his lump Lump1. I need to review5 his arguments. Similarly, Baker has a non-mereological view of constitution – again, this requires following-up6.
  3. Alternative Examples: various predicates and their advantages. Eg. “Defective”, applied to the statue and the alloy. No need for modal or temporal arguments.
  4. Alikeness of Worldly Coincidents: Exaggerated by both monists and pluralists.
  5. Objects in extenso: the (mistaken) view that there’s nothing more to material things than the dimensions they occupy. Counter examples: not just the ones at the start of this section, but purely physical ones: weight, colour, stability.
    • Note: I couldn’t quite follow this – isn’t the weight of the statues just that of the alloy that constitutes it (and so on)?
  6. The Point of ontological differences: meaningful application of predicates. The Sphere of Discourse covers the range of predicates that can meaningfully be applied to the sort. A statue can be Romanesque, but the clay itself cannot. Statues are for aesthetic appreciation. The point of having chairs is that they are comfortable for sitting on.
  7. Dominant and Subordinate Sorts: Footnote. The range of properties of a subordinate sort is not always a subset of those of the dominant sort. Purity applies to gold but not (in the same way) to statues.

4). Predicational Shift
  1. The Monist Position: Claims opacity, so:
    • Must give a reason for the opacity of context.
    • Explain how the context is opaque.
    The second question is given the focus now, the first reserved until later.
  2. The Pluralist Argument: basically:-
    P1: φ(s)
    P2: not-φ(t)
    C: s not = t
    … spelled out in detail. See the paper.
  3. The Monist Challenge – Pathological Breakdown: either s or t doesn’t refer, either above or below the line. Circumvent by avoiding terms like “the alloy”, which might not refer (or not uniquely). Vagueness can be finessed. Otherwise, two options, Referential or Predicational Shift.
  4. Referential Shift: Df & example: Frege & Scott/Waverly.
  5. Predicational Shift: Df & example: Quine & Giorgione/Barbarelli.
  6. Problems with Referential Shift :
  7. Two Responses:
    • Metonymy:
    • Derivation:
      Note: this relates to Baker’s view of Constitution – the having of properties derivatively. Is there really no difference between the monist and pluralist in this regard?
  8. Conclusion on Referential Shift : rejected, leaving opacity due to Predicational Shift the only option – to be addressed in the rest of the paper.

5). Explicit Invocation of Sorts
  1. XXX:
  2. XXX:
  3. XXX:
  4. XXX:
  5. XXX:
  6. XXX:
  7. XXX:
  8. XXX:

6). Implicit Invocation of Sorts
  1. XXX:
  2. XXX:
  3. XXX:
  4. XXX:
  5. XXX:
  6. XXX:
  7. XXX:
  8. XXX:

7). Implicit Invocation via Reference
  1. XXX:
  2. XXX:
  3. XXX:
  4. XXX:
  5. XXX:
  6. XXX:
  7. XXX:
  8. XXX:

8). Plural Invocation of Sorts
  1. XXX:
  2. XXX:
  3. XXX:
  4. XXX:
  5. XXX:
  6. XXX:
  7. XXX:
  8. XXX:

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 3:
  • This is the write-up as it was when this Abstract was last output, with text as at the timestamp indicated (18/12/2010 19:58:05).
  • Link to Latest Write-Up Note.

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