Composition and Coincidence
Olson (Eric)
Source: Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 77 (1996), pp. 374-403
Paper - Abstract

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Philosophers Index Abstract

  1. Many philosophers say that the same atoms may compose at once a statue1 and a lump of matter that could outlive the statue2. I reject this because no difference between the statue3 and the lump could explain why they have different persistence conditions4. But if we say that the lump is the statue5, it is difficult to see how there could be any human beings. I argue that this and analogous problems about material objects admit only of solutions that at least appear to be radically at odds with our ordinary thinking.
  2. [First Paragraph] Suppose we take a pound of gold and mould it into the shape of Hermes. Then, it would seem, we shall have a golden statue6 of Hermes, beautiful to behold. We shall also have a lump of gold. And we have the makings of a well-known philosophical puzzle. Many people find it obvious that if we crushed the statue7 or melted it down, we should destroy the statue8 but not the lump of gold. The lump can be deformed and still continue to exist, but the statue9 cannot; that is the nature of lumps and statues10. So the lump can outlive the statue11. Since nothing can outlive itself, it is natural to conclude that the one-pound gold statue12 and the one-pound lump of gold in our example are numerically different. And as statues13 are to lumps, they say, so are brick houses to heaps of bricks, living organisms to masses of matter, and people to their bodies. More generally, certain atoms (or elementary particles or what have you) often compose two numerically different material objects at once. To put it another way, two different material objects may have all the same proper parts (the same parts except themselves) at once. Because of its many defenders and its intuitive attraction, I will call this the Popular View about lumps and statues14 and other familiar material objects.

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