Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity
Wiggins (David)
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Cover Blurb

  1. This volume gathers twelve essays by David Wiggins in an area where his work has been particularly influential. Among the subjects treated are:
    → persistence of a substance through change,
    → the notion of a continuant,
    → the logic of identity1,
    → the co-occupation of space by a continuant and its matter,
    → the relation of person to human organism,
    → the metaphysical idea of a person,
    → the status of artefacts,
    → the relation of the three-dimensional and four-dimensional conceptions of reality, and
    → the nomological underpinning of sortal2 classification.
  2. From a much larger body of work the author has selected, edited or annotated, and variously shortened or extended eleven pieces. He has added an Introduction and one completely new essay, on the philosophy of biology and the role there of the idea of process.
  3. The collection begins with an essay3 postdating his "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance Renewed" (2001), which amends and upstages his earlier presentation of his sortalist4 conception of identity.
  4. In subsequent essays and the introduction Wiggins examines the contributions to these subjects made by Heraclitus, Aristotle, Leibniz, Roderick Chisholm, Hilary Putnam, Sydney Shoemaker, Michael R. Ayers, Saul Kripke, W.V. Quine, David Lewis, Fei Xu, and others.

  1. In response to my editor Peter Momtchiloff's suggestion that I make selections, subject by subject, from among the papers I have written over the last four and a half decades, I decided to begin with the topics of substance and identity. These are among my longest-standing interests in philosophy. Out of a much much larger number of pieces about these two subjects — one part of my contribution to the publishing mania that has afflicted our times — I have chosen barely one third. Some such as Chapters 65 and 76 are given here in more or less their original state. That might have been a wise policy to follow everywhere. But where identity is concerned I still aspire to do more exact justice to the Aristotelian insight from which I once began. Fidelity to this aspiration has demanded a more energetic policy of local repair and improvement. All too often the essays repeat one another at certain points or redeploy some of the same well-worn examples. But, holding paramount the self-sufficiency and independent accessibility of each and every essay, I have been unable to do very much to reduce this overlap. To those who would have preferred a different policy I can only apologize.
  2. At the end of the book there is a would-be complete bibliography of the writings that I published between 1964 and 2016. The simple effort of continuing this from an earlier bibliography that I take from "Lovibond (Sabina) & Williams (S.G.) - Identity, Truth & Value: Essays for David Wiggins" (1996), has reinforced and renewed my gratitude to them — for this as for much else. (Any corrections or additions to the bibliography will be noted in subsequent collections.) Another debt is to [… snip …]
    → Oxford, July 2015

In-Page Footnotes ("Wiggins (David) - Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity")

Footnote 3: "Wiggins (David) - Identity, Individuation, and Substance".

Footnote 5: "Wiggins (David) - Heraclitus' Conception of Flux, Fire, and Material Persistence".

Footnote 6: "Wiggins (David) - The Concept of the Subject Contains the Concept of the Predicate".


OUP Oxford (10 Nov. 2016)

"Noonan (Harold) - Review of Wiggins's 'Continuants'"

Source: Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews; 2016.06.10

Author’s Conclusion
  1. In the other chapters1, and also in the wide-ranging first chapter2, Wiggins discusses the topic of personal identity. One of the main questions he addresses is what to say about Sydney Shoemaker's Brown / Brownson case. The standard psychological continuity account of personal identity goes with the claim that Brownson is Brown (because the same person), though not the same human animal. The standard animalist position goes with the claim that Brownson is not Brown (because not the same animal) and person is merely a phase sortal. Wiggins is not willing to take sides in this debate. In a piece of writing not in this collection he writes:
      If I must allow survival, I am not sure why I am committed to denying that the survivor that emerges from all these goings on is the same human being or the same animal as the one who enters them. It is my strong impression that, while I have always refrained from saying or writing that 'person' is itself a natural kind word, I have insisted on the dependence of the concept of a person upon the concept of a human being. But once you understand what a human being is and what the seat of consciousness is, surely you will not too readily assume that you will know what it is for the human being to be given a new seat of consciousness. If transplantation really were possible, then would not the person follow the seat of consciousness? In that case does not the animal that is the survivor follow it too?
      → "Wiggins (David) - Reply to Snowdon (Persons and Personal Identity)" in "Lovibond (Sabina) & Williams (S.G.) - Identity, Truth & Value: Essays for David Wiggins", p. 246
  2. This suggests a sort of disjunctive account between the standard neo-Lockean and animalist positions: human beings can persist through psychological continuity and also, in its absence, through mere biological continuity; in this sense we are animals the persistence conditions of which are partly biological and partly psychological.
  3. But Wiggins is not content with something so simple. He ends Chapter 5 with the words 'what if the remnant (brain) is housed in another body, what then? Even then the most that we can find is not a person but a sad remnant (or remnants) of a human being.' He adds in a footnote, 'such a remnant of a thing does not count as the thing, itself. Matters have gone too far.'
  4. So Wiggins has moved on between 1996 and 2014. But as in the rest of his discussion, it is not exactly clear where he has got to. What is clear is that he is not content with any position which allows straightforward classification. After four and a half decades of thought he is still searching for satisfactory answers to the questions that obsess him, and though there is no denying the difficulties his writings sometimes present the reader, we should join him in his search and be grateful that he is still continuing, after more than forty years, to contribute to discussion of these topics on which his past writings have been so influential.

COMMENT: For the full text, follow this link (Local website only): PDF File3.

In-Page Footnotes ("Noonan (Harold) - Review of Wiggins's 'Continuants'")

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: Chapter 1: "Wiggins (David) - Identity, Individuation, and Substance".

"Wiggins (David) - Activity, Process, Continuant, Substance, Organism"

Source: Wiggins (David) - Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity

Editors’ Abstract1
  1. (This essay) is a response to John Dupré's suggestion that an ontology of processes will provide a better framework for interpreting science than any ontology of substances. In response, after giving grounds to doubt that an ontology of pure processes can muster the resources to answer the individuative questions presented by the biological sciences themselves, I defend a plural ontology of process, activity, event and continuant.
  2. We are referred to “a manifesto entitled “A Process Ontology for Biology” at Link”.

Editors’ Abstract2
  1. David Wiggins, in his essay ‘Activity, Process, Continuant, Substance, Organism’, argues against the view put forward by Dupré3, Meincke4 and others that organisms are processes and that the appropriate ontological framework for biological science is provided by process ontology.
  2. Wiggins’s rejection of this view is mainly motivated by considerations about persistence: insofar as organisms persist through time they are, Wiggins claims, continuants, i.e., material things or substances.
  3. Thus, Wiggins criticises attempts to explain biological identity through time with the help of the concept of genidentity: organisms are not concatenations of states.
  4. Assuming that any plausible scientific explanation of biological reality should comprise a plausible account of the persistence of organisms, Wiggins concludes that an ontology that does not allow for material things or substances in addition to processes fails. He therefore proposes a plural ontology which assumes process, activity, event and substance, or continuant, as fundamental categories of being.
  5. Such an ontology attributes a characteristic principle of activity for each kind of organism and, Wiggins claims, is also able to handle convincingly difficult questions, such as the questions of whether siphonophores and slime moulds are individuals and how to count Blackberry plants.


In-Page Footnotes ("Wiggins (David) - Activity, Process, Continuant, Substance, Organism")

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: Footnote 3: Footnote 4:

"Wiggins (David) - Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity: Introduction"

Source: Wiggins (David) - Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity

Section 1 (Full text)
  1. Forty-four years ago I published a short monograph called "Wiggins (David) - Identity & Spatio-temporal Continuity", henceforth ISTC, in which I contended that the identity between x and y — or the persistence of x in the shape of y — cannot in general be determined without reference to what x is and what y is, the fundamental thing-kind of each. I recently discovered that, in placing such emphasis on the question x and y are the same what?, I was repeating something I had said in an entry for Analysis Problem number 11 (1957). I did not win the competition, but it was a consolation (I now recall) that, in his report, Arthur Prior who was the judge made honourable mention of my deployment of that question.
  2. In ISTC I contended also that a proper concern with that same question, so soon as it was married with a concern for the indiscernibility of identicals1, logically excluded the very idea, which was championed at that time by Peter Geach, of relative identity2. The point of the same what question was not to make room for relative identity3 but to focus attention upon the question what thing or things – and what sort of things – were being inquired about.
  3. Once ISTC was in print, I started putting one or two things right. From this process, once it was begun, arose "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance", henceforth S&S, and later "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance Renewed", henceforth S&SR.
  4. In the present collection the first essay summarizes, clarifies or extends S&SR.
    • A summary of this paper4 is given at Section 2 which ensues here.
    • Section 3 describes the contents of Chapters 2 to 12.
    • Sections 4 and 5 give explanations which are perfectly essential to the understanding of all the essays in this book.
    • Sections 6 to 8 treat less immediate matters which arise from recent controversy.

Notes on Sections 2 – 8
  1. Section 2 – as noted above – purports to be a summary of Chapter 2 ("Wiggins (David) - Identity, Individuation, and Substance"), but I found it incomprehensible without reading that chapter. Anything I can make of it appears against that Chapter itself.
  2. Similarly, the comments in Section 3 are used for the introductions to Chapters 2 – 12.
  3. Section 4:
  4. Section 5:
  5. Section 6:
  6. Section 7:
  7. Section 8:

In-Page Footnotes ("Wiggins (David) - Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity: Introduction")

Footnote 4:

"Wiggins (David) - Heraclitus' Conception of Flux, Fire, and Material Persistence"

Source: Wiggins (David) - Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity

Editors’ Abstract1
  1. (This essay, unrevised) records some of the contributions made to our subject2 by Heraclitus.

COMMENT: Originally in Language and Logos: Essays for G.E.L. Owen, ed. Martha Nussbaum & M. Schofield, CUP, 1982

In-Page Footnotes ("Wiggins (David) - Heraclitus' Conception of Flux, Fire, and Material Persistence")

Footnote 1: Footnote 2:
  • Presumable the subject is “Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity”.

"Wiggins (David) - Identity, Individuation, and Substance"

Source: Wiggins (David) - Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity

Author’s Introduction
  • My subject is identity and individuation. By identity I mean being the same as. By individuation I mean something done by a thinker. Among acts of individuation I include
    1. Singling out something which is a g (a donkey, say) as a g;
    2. Distinguishing that g from other gs;
    3. Singling something out when coming upon it again and recognizing it as that g, the same g again1.
    It will appear in due course how I take identity and individuation to be connected. By a substance I intend, with tradition, something singular or individual, a single particular object or individual thing. Unlike a universal / type / sort / kind / clone2 / character, a substance does not have specimens or instances. Nothing falls under it, exemplifies it or instantiates it3.
  • The approach I shall commend to questions of identity and individuation will be a sortalist one, claiming among other things that the identity of x and y is to be determined by reference to some fundamental kind f that x and y each exemplify. This approach is prefigured in Aristotle's question, definitive of his category of substance, ti esti or what is it? Contrast the question, definitive of his category of quality, what is it like? It is no longer wise to assume, however, as I once was apt to do, that everyone with a serious interest in the metaphysics of identity will know Aristotle's distinction or be eager to read such texts as Categories, Chapters 1-5. Nor can the other Aristotelian resonances by which I once set such store be relied upon any longer to enlighten or remind. If they have any effect, it is rather to cast doubt on my claim to have arrived at a general account — an account not at odds with anything that modern science reveals to us — of the identity and individuation of objects which are extended in space and persist through time.
  • So putting to one side the insights of Aristotle — who will enter now only at the point where the argument simply forces our attention onto him — we shall proceed here more simply and single-mindedly, starting from the bare logic of the identity relation and setting the still underestimated requirements of that logic in authority over the judgements of same and other into which we are constrained by the effort to make sense of the world of perpetual alteration in which we have to find our way.


In-Page Footnotes ("Wiggins (David) - Identity, Individuation, and Substance")

Footnote 1:
  • Some of the acts included in this list, like others I might adjoin, go beyond the dictionary definition of 'individuate'. No matter. The word itself does no distinctive philosophical work here beyond suggesting some of the questions to be pursued and answers to be proposed.
  • In due course the adjective 'individuative' will appear as qualifying thoughts or notions or terms, connoting various relations that such things can have to the business of individuation by a thinker confronting the world of substances. Such a thinker is finding his way in the world, needless to say, not creating it.
Footnote 3:
  • It can of course be copied, but that is different.

"Wiggins (David) - Mereological Essentialism and Chisholm on Parts, Wholes, and Primary Things"

Source: Wiggins (David) - Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity

Editors’ Abstract1
  1. (This essay, now abbreviated and reorganized) is a critical exposition of Roderick Chisholm's account of primary things, his mereological essentialism, and his defence of the principle that all the proper parts of a thing are essential to it.

COMMENT: Originally "Mereological Essentialism: Asymmetrical Essential Dependence and the Nature of Continuants" in Ernest Sosa (Ed.), Essays on the Philosophy of Roderick M Chisholm, Grazer Philosophische Studien, 7/8 (Amsterdam), 1979, pp. 297-315

In-Page Footnotes ("Wiggins (David) - Mereological Essentialism and Chisholm on Parts, Wholes, and Primary Things")

Footnote 1:

"Wiggins (David) - Putnam's Concept of Natural Kind Words and Frege's Doctrines of Sense, Reference, and Extension: Can They Cohere?"

Source: Wiggins (David) - Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity

Editors’ Abstract1
  1. (This essay, revised slightly) seeks to align Hilary Putnam's account of the semantics of natural kind2 terms with Frege's account of sense and reference. It defends and endorses the result.

COMMENT: Originally in Meaning and Reference, ed. A.W. Moore, OUP, 1993

In-Page Footnotes ("Wiggins (David) - Putnam's Concept of Natural Kind Words and Frege's Doctrines of Sense, Reference, and Extension: Can They Cohere?")

Footnote 1:

"Wiggins (David) - Sameness, Substance, and the Human Person"

Source: Wiggins (David) - Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity

Editors’ Abstract1
  1. (This essay, revised, is) concerned with persons as a special case of substances, and with some of the immediate practical and ethical consequences of the sortalist2 understanding of persons and their identity.

COMMENT: Originally in The Philosophers Magazine, August 2000

In-Page Footnotes ("Wiggins (David) - Sameness, Substance, and the Human Person")

Footnote 1:

"Wiggins (David) - Sortal Concepts: A Reply to Xu"

Source: Wiggins (David) - Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity

Editors’ Abstract1
  1. (This essay, revised) is a sortalist2 commentary on Fei Xu's account of how particular substances can be singled out. It emphasizes the central importance of the determinable concept object of some kind or other (to be determined).

  1. This Chapter is a response to Fei Xu’s Paper3 in Mind and Language, Volume 12, Issue 3-4, September 1997, pp 365–392, entitled “From Lot’s Wife to a Pillar of Salt: Evidence that Physical Object is a Sortal4 Concept”.
  2. Xu’s abstract is as follows:-
    • A number of philosophers of language have proposed that people do not have conceptual access to ‘bare particulars’, or attribute-free individuals (e.g. Wiggins, 1980). Individuals can only be picked out under some sortal5, a concept which provides principles of individuation6 and identity.
    • Many advocates of this view have argued that object is not a genuine sortal7 concept. I will argue in this paper that a narrow sense of ‘object’, namely the concept of any bounded, coherent, three-dimensional physical object that moves as a whole (Spelke, 1990) is a sortal8 for both infants and adults.
    • Furthermore, object may be the infant's first sortal9 and more specific sortals10 such as cup and dog may be acquired later in the first year of life. I will discuss the implications for infant categorization studies, trying to draw a conceptual distinction between a perceptual category and a sortal11, and I will speculate on how a child may construct sortal12 concepts such as cup and dog.

COMMENT: Originally in Mind and Language 12, 1997, pp. 413-21

In-Page Footnotes ("Wiggins (David) - Sortal Concepts: A Reply to Xu")

Footnote 1: Footnote 3:
  • I haven’t a copy of this paper.
  • I presume Fei Xu is this this lady: Link, a cognitive psychologist at Berkeley specializing, inter alia, in “conceptual development, developmental psychology, cognitive development, language development, social cognition in infants and children”.

"Wiggins (David) - Substance"

Source: Wiggins (David) - Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity

Author’s Abstract1
  1. (This essay, revised) expounds the Aristotelian doctrines from which sortalism2 derives.
  2. It defends them, not without the help of Leibniz, against multiple misunderstandings and misconceptions of the category of substance.
  3. It asserts the indispensability to us of that category.

COMMENT: Originally in "Grayling (Anthony), Ed. - Philosophy 1 - A Guide Through the Subject", 1995, pp. 214-249

In-Page Footnotes ("Wiggins (David) - Substance")

Footnote 1:

"Wiggins (David) - The Concept of the Subject Contains the Concept of the Predicate"

Source: Wiggins (David) - Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity

Editors’ Abstract1
  1. (This essay, unrevised) records some of the contributions made to our subject2 by Leibniz.

COMMENT: Originally in On Being and Saying: Essays for Richard Cartwright, ed. J.J. Thomson, MIT Press, 1987

In-Page Footnotes ("Wiggins (David) - The Concept of the Subject Contains the Concept of the Predicate")

Footnote 1: Footnote 2:
  • Presumable the subject is “Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity”.

"Wiggins (David) - The De Re 'Must', Individuative Essentialism, and the Necessity of Identity"

Source: Wiggins (David) - Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity

Editors’ Abstract1
  1. (This essay, partly new)reconsiders, among other things, Saul Kripke 's argument for the necessity of identity — this in the light of a variety of attacks by contingency theorists such as A.J. Ayer and W.V. Quine.
  2. My eagerness to defend that necessity amounts of course to a serious tribute to Quine's power and authority.

COMMENT: Originally in Truth and Meaning, ed. G. Evans & J. McDowell, Clarendon Press, 1976

In-Page Footnotes ("Wiggins (David) - The De Re 'Must', Individuative Essentialism, and the Necessity of Identity")

Footnote 1:

"Wiggins (David) - The Person as Object of Science, as Subject of Experience, and as Locus of Value"

Source: Peacocke & Gillett - Persons and Personality: A Contemporary Inquiry, 1987, Chapter 4

Editors’ Abstract1
  1. Wiggins addresses the philosophical problems of our concept of a person. He identifies three elements which need to be brought into a single focus: the notions of the person as biological entity, subject of consciousness, and bearer of ethical attributes.
  2. He insists on the need to distinguish the sense of the term 'person' from its reference. In other words, we need to know not only what the term stands for, but also how it is being used, or the way of thinking implied by it. He notes that many words can be defined by some description or other, but that others are not susceptible to this kind of specification, so that one must appeal to what the entities being denoted are, what they are like. He suggests that 'person' is a term like this, that what it stands for and the way of thinking implied by it can only be grasped adequately by encounter with persons - indeed, with human beings. We need the idea of 'human being' to give some matter and substance to our idea of 'person'.
  3. To strengthen this claim, Wiggins turns to P. F. Strawson's notion that 'person' is a primitive concept in our practices of mental and physical ascriptions to human beings. He regards Strawson's 'P-predicates' (that is, predicates not ascribable to material objects, such as actions, intentions, thoughts, feelings, perceptions, memories, sensations and so on) as predicates which stand for properties that are not reducible2 to predicates proper to the physical sciences, but which are also matter-involving.
  4. If we remove a certain technical difficulty from Strawson's definition of these things, then perhaps every P-property is also an M-property (one ascribable to material objects). Wiggins illustrates this by reference to perception and memory.
  5. Turning to Locke's conception of what it is to be a person, he proposes that a person is one of a kind whose typical members perceive, feel, think, take up attitudes to themselves, and so on. The 'and so on' indicates that the indefinite set of further properties which we bring to our concept of a person has to be filled out in the light of our experience with human beings. In this experience, human beings are not only conscious, but also make sense of one another. In so far as we do this - and there is no alternative but for us to try to do this - we are engaged with others.
  6. Other persons and their thoughts and feelings cannot help but be significant to us. In so far as we understand others, we see them not only as organisms of a certain type, but also as thinking subjects and as objects of reciprocity - indeed, to put the culmination of a Humean argument in more Kantian terms, as members of the kingdom of ends.


In-Page Footnotes ("Wiggins (David) - The Person as Object of Science, as Subject of Experience, and as Locus of Value")

Footnote 1:

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