The Constitution Question
Wasserman (Ryan)
Source: Nous, Dec2004, Vol. 38 Issue 4, p693, 18p
Paper - Abstract

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Topics Addressed1

  1. Focuses on the constitution view2.
  2. Defense of the constitution view3;
  3. Existence of objects of the common-sense ontology;
  4. De re modal4 properties of the objects;
  5. Identity and constitution.

Author’s Introduction (Full Text)
  1. Michelangelo’s David is constituted by a particular chunk of marble. The flag that hangs at the nearby courthouse is constituted by a piece of fabric. I am constituted by my body. This much is familiar. But what is the relation of constitution at work in these various cases?
  2. In this paper I propose to address this question as it arises for one particular metaphysical view, what is sometimes called the constitution view5. . The defender of the constitution view6 makes three important claims.
    • First, objects of the common sense ontology exist. So, for example, there are lumps of clay, human bodies, statues7 and persons8.
    • Second, these objects have the sorts of de re modal9 properties and persistence conditions10 that common sense attributes to them11. Lumps of clay, for example, can survive being squashed, while statues12 cannot.
    • Third, the defender of the constitution view13 claims that constitution is not identity.
    The idea that constitution is not identity follows quite naturally from the previous two assumptions. For consider a particular statue14 that is constituted by an ordinary lump of clay. Given the first assumption above, the constitution theorist recognizes the existence of the statue15 and the lump and, given the second, the constitution theorist claims that these objects differ in their de re modal16 properties. The constitution theorist concludes that, despite the fact that the statue17 and the lump stand in a very intimate relationship, they are nonetheless distinct18.
  3. The constitution view19 is a natural one. It is also quite popular, having been defended by But the constitution theorist also faces a pressing question: if constitution is not identity, then just what is it?

Contents & Plan (Full Text)

In this paper I investigate the various ways in which the constitution theorist might answer (the) question (of what constitution is). In section 1, I deal with some preliminary issues concerning the nature of constitution. Then, in the following four sections, I discuss four different conceptions of the constitution relation that have been defended in the literature. I conclude in section 6 by exploring a deflationary account of constitution.
  1. The Constitution Question
  2. The Parthood Analysis of Constitution
  3. The Destruction Analysis of Constitution
  4. The Explanatory Analysis of Constitution
  5. The Modal20 Analysis of Constitution
  6. The Deflationary View of Constitution

Author’s Clarification of the Constitution Question (Extract from Section 1)
  1. We can begin with a few preliminary comments concerning the adequacy conditions on any proposed answer to the Constitution Question.
    • First, it is a standard assumption on the part of constitution theorists that constitution requires spatial coincidence — x constitutes y at t only if x and y have the same spatial location21 at t.
    • Second, it is often said that constitution requires material coincidence — x constitutes y at t only if x and y have all the same parts22 at t. For the purposes of this paper, I will suppose that material23 coincidence is indeed a necessary condition on constitution, though nothing I have to say will turn on this assumption.
  2. We can also make some preliminary comments about the formal properties of the constitution relation.
    • First, I take it that the constitution relation is transitive24. So, consider a representative clay statue25 (Statue) and the lump of clay (Lump) from which it is made. If Lump is constituted by a certain aggregate of elementary particles and Statue is constituted by Lump, then Statue is also constituted by that particular aggregate of elementary particles.
    • Second, I take it that the constitution relation is irreflexive, for the defenders of the constitution view26 traditionally deny that objects like Lump and Statue constitute themselves.
    • Finally, I take it that the constitution relation is asymmetric, for the defenders of the constitution view27 will want to say that, while Lump constitutes Statue, Statue does not constitute Lump.
  3. In claiming that the constitution relation is both irreflexive and asymmetric, I commit the constitution theorist to the claim that constitution is not mere coincidence, for coincidence (the sharing of spatial location or parts) is both reflexive and symmetric. This is a substantial commitment, but it is also welcomed by most constitution theorists.
  4. (In summary) constitution requires material (as well as spatial) coincidence and that it is a transitive, irreflexive, asymmetric relation.

Author’s Conclusion (Full Text)
    I conclude that the theoretical objections to the deflationary view of constitution fail, as do the objections from intuition. Accordingly, I see no reason to think that there is a deep metaphysical relation of constitution, as distinct from material coincidence. We are left with what I judge to be a plausible view concerning the nature of constitution: there is no constitution, only coincidence.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: I'm not sure where this list came from!

Footnote 5: For the constitution view, Click here for Note.

Footnote 8: The constitution theorist thus rejects the sparse ontology of "Merricks (Trenton) - Objects and Persons" and "Unger (Peter) - There are no Ordinary Things".

Footnote 11: The constitution theorist thus rejects the ‘dominant kind view’, defended by "Burke (Michael) - Preserving the Principle of One Object to a Place: A Novel Account of the Relations Amongst Objects, Sorts, Sortals, and Persistence Conditions" and "Rea (Michael) - Constitution and Kind Membership".

Footnote 18: I should also add that defenders of the constitution view typically claim that the sorts of objects under discussion are enduring objects which are ‘wholly present’ whenever they exist. Thus, most constitution theorists reject the perdurantism of "Lewis (David) - On the Plurality of Worlds", "Sider (Ted) - Four-dimensionalism: An Ontology of Persistence and Time" and others.

Footnote 21: See "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View", p. 43 and "Lowe (E.J.) - Kinds of Being: Study of Individuation, Identity and the Logic of Sortal Terms", p. 81.

Footnote 22: See "Thomson (Judith Jarvis) - The Statue and the Clay", p. 155 and "Doepke (Frederick) - The Kinds of Things: A Theory of Personal Identity Based on Transcendental Argument", pp. 196–198.

Footnote 23: For arguments in favor of this assumption, see Sider, Theodore. (2002) ‘‘Review of Lynne Rudder Baker, Persons and Bodies,’’ Journal of Philosophy 99, 45–48., "Wasserman (Ryan) - The Standard Objection to the Standard Account" and "Zimmerman (Dean) - Criteria of Identity and the 'Identity Mystics'", "Zimmerman (Dean) - Persons and Bodies: Constitution Without Mereology?", Zimmerman, Dean. (forthcoming) ‘‘The Constitution of Persons and Bodies: A Critique of Lynne Rudder Baker’s Theory of Material Constitution,’’ Philosophical Topics.

Footnote 24: Baker at one time claimed that the constitution relation is nontransitive, but has since retracted that claim. See "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View", pp. 45–46 and Baker, Lynne Rudder. (forthcoming) ‘‘Making Things Up,’’ Philosophical Topics..

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