- "Unity without Identity" sets out in explicit detail an account of material constitution, according to which the relation between a statue1 and the piece of marble that it is made of is not identity.
- The relation of constitution is like identity in that if x constitutes y at t, then x and y have many properties in common at t. It is unlike identity in that if x constitutes y at t, then x and y are of different kinds.
- After explaining the notion of borrowing properties, I reply to a number of objections.
Philosophers Index Abstract
Focuses on the material constitution of identity. Dichotomy of identity; Account of constitution; Schema for constitution.
- It is time to rethink age-old questions about material constitution. What is the relation between, say, a lump of clay and a statue2 that it makes up, or between a red and white piece of metal and a stop sign, or between a person and her body? Assuming that there is a single relation between members of each of these pairs, is the relation "strict" identity, "contingent" identity or something else? Although this question has generated substantial controversy recently, I believe that there is philosophical gain to be had from thinking through the issues from scratch. Many of the charges and counter-charges are based on the following dichotomy: For any x and y that are related as the lump of clay is to the statue3 that it makes up, either x is identical to y, or X and y are separate entities, independent of each other. By giving up this dichotomy, we will be able to begin to make sense, I hope, of an intermediate unity relation that holds promise for solving a raft of philosophical problems, including the problem of how persons are related to their bodies. And if I am correct, then this relation — constitution without identity — is ubiquitous and interesting in its own right, apart from the light that it sheds on human persons.
- My overall aim here is constructive: I want to set out and defend an explicit account of what it is for an object x to constitute an object y at time t. According to my account, if x constitutes y (at any time), then x <> y. (Thus, I reject the first half of the dichotomy above.) Although I join the ranks of those who deny that the relation between the members of any of the pairs is identity in any sense, I depart from those ranks by also denying a central aspect of what has been called "the standard account." Suppose that "Copper" is a name for the piece of copper that makes up a copper statue4, "Statue." According to "the standard account," Copper is not (predicatively) a statue5. I believe that "the standard account" construes Copper and Statue as too separate. On my view, by contrast, the relation between Copper and Statue is so intimate that, although Copper and Statue are not identical, Copper is, nonetheless, a statue6 in virtue of the fact that Copper constitutes a statue7. (Thus, I reject the second half of the dichotomy.) Copper borrows the property of being a statue8 from Statue, where "borrowing" is spelled out in detail below. The account of borrowing properties will show why, when x constitutes y at t, x and y share so many of their properties at t, without being identical. So, my account is intended as a third alternative, beyond the alternatives (either identity or separate existence) countenanced by the dichotomy.
- Constitution is a relation in many ways similar to identity, but it is not the same relation as identity. We need constitution to be similar to identity in order to account for the fact that if x constitutes y, then x and y are spatially coincident and share many properties; but we also need constitution to differ from identity in order to account for the fact that if x constitutes y, then x and y are of different kinds and can survive different sorts of changes. Since a large part of my task is to distinguish constitution from identity, I will be emphasizing ways in which x and y are distinct if x constitutes y. But too much emphasis on their distinctness would be misleading: for, as we see in the case of Copper and Statue, x and y are not separate, independently existing individuals. Again: I want to make sense of constitution as a third category, intermediate between identity and separate existence.
- My starting point is with familiar things that populate the everyday world— "moderate-sized specimens of dry goods," as J. L. Austin called them. Beginning in medias res, I want to give a unified account of a fundamental relation — constitution — that holds everywhere one turns: Pieces of paper constitute dollar bills; DNA molecules constitute genes; hunks of metal constitute carburettors; bodies constitute persons; stones constitute monuments; pieces of marble constitute sculptures. If constitution is as widespread a relation as I think it is, then there is good reason to try to develop an account of it.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)