The Constitution of Persons by Bodies: A Critique of Lynne Rudder Baker’s Theory of Material Constitution
Zimmerman (Dean)
Source: Philosophical Topics Vol. 30, No. 1 (Spring 2002), pp. 295-338
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s introduction

  1. Lynne Rudder Baker and many others think that paradigmatic instances of one object constituting another — a piece of marble constituting a statue, or an aggregate of particles constituting a living body — involve two distinct (i.e., not numerically identical) objects in the same place at the same time. Some who say this believe in the doctrine of temporal parts; but others, like Baker, reject this doctrine. Such philosophers, whom one might call “coincidentalists”, cannot say that these objects manage to share space in virtue of sharing a temporal part confined to just that place and time. But what can or should coincidentalists say about the nature of constitution?
  2. Some have analyzed the relation in ways that imply the sharing, “at some level”, of all and only the same parts. Most would agree, I suspect, that massive part-sharing is at least a central component and necessary condition of constitution. Baker’s theory of constitution, however, makes no appeal to mereology. The leading idea in Baker’s account is, instead, a modal one: objects belonging to constituted kinds are the necessary result of putting objects belonging to appropriate constituting kinds in the right circumstances, circumstances which the constituting objects need not have been in. So putting a piece of man-shaped marble in the right circumstances (e.g., “uncovering” it by chipping away at the larger chunk of marble in which it is embedded, and then putting it on display in a temple) necessarily results in the existence of a second object, a statue, constituted by the marble; but the piece of marble need not have fallen into these circumstances or any others in which it would constitute a statue (e.g., it could have remained forever in the ground, seamlessly blending in with the surrounding marble).
  3. This essay is a critical review of Baker’s modal theory of constitution, as set forth in Persons and Bodies (henceforth “P&B”). But I take into account subsequent refinements of the theory, such as occur in her contribution to this volume, “On Making Things Up: Constitution and its Critics” (henceforth “OMTU”).
  4. My essay has three parts:
    1. Although Baker’s theory is a painstaking explication of the “modal side” of constitution, I argue that it does not give us the whole truth about constitution; that constitution is, at least in part, a mereological relation. Spatial coincidence of two things, even with Baker’s close modal connections, is not sufficient for the one’s constituting the other — unless plenty of controversial auxiliary clauses are brought in to insure that, from spatial coincidence, it follows that neither thing has a part that has no parts in common with the other. So why not just say so to start with?
    2. Every coincidentalist has to decide whether she thinks (a) that there is more than one thinker where I am, one for each coincident object, or (b) that there can be a huge difference in the psychological profiles (or lack thereof) of two things without any differences in the nature of their smaller parts and their arrangement and relations to the environment. The difficulty of the choice constitutes what Eric Olson has called the objection from “too many minds1”. Some coincidentalists take the first option, others (the majority) take the second. Baker seems to want to have it both ways, but in the attempt winds up with a coincidentalism afflicted with a disease I call “creeping dualism”.
    3. I close with some reflections upon Baker’s methodology.

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