Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity
Wiggins (David)
This Page provides (where held) the Abstract of the above Book and those of all the Papers contained in it.
Text Colour-ConventionsBooks / Papers Citing this BookNotes Citing this Book


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 identity,
    → 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 sortal 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 essay1 postdating his "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance Renewed" (2001), which amends and upstages his earlier presentation of his sortalist 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 62 and 73 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 1: "Wiggins (David) - Identity, Individuation, and Substance".

Footnote 2: "Wiggins (David) - Heraclitus' Conception of Flux, Fire, and Material Persistence".

Footnote 3: "Wiggins (David) - The Concept of the Subject Contains the Concept of the Predicate".


OUP Oxford (10 Nov. 2016)

"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 Dupre'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 Web Link”.

COMMENT: Originally in Philosophy, vol. 91, 2016, pp. 269-80

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

Footnote 1:

"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 identicals, logically excluded the very idea, which was championed at that time by Peter Geach, of relative identity. The point of the same what question was not to make room for relative identity 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 paper1 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 1:

"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

  • Originally, European Journal of Philosophy, 20, 2012, pp. 1-25.
  • This version is much revised.

"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) - On Being in the Same Place at the Same Time"

Source: Rea - Material Constitution - A Reader

Author’s Abstract1
  1. (This paper) considers the possibility or impossibility of the co-occupation by distinct things of the same place at the same time.
  2. It lays particular emphasis upon the distinction between a proper substance and an aggregation of material components.

  1. S is the principle2 that “Two things cannot completely occupy the same place / volume / sub-volume at the same time”.
  2. Apparent exceptions that are fairly easy to explain3 include:-
    • Proper Parts: My forearm only partly4 occupies the volume occupied by my body. The apparent exception “doesn’t count”.
    • Sponges: The point is to “mingle” two things – in this case a sponge and a body of water – and then to recover them both afterwards. The things have to persist, or we can’t say they are two things5 in the same pace at the same time. Wiggins also considers (nomologically counterfactual) mingling as the atomic and subatomic level6. This “doesn’t count” either.
  3. Wiggins thinks he can resolve but one of the “difficult” questions arising from all this, but S is still inadequately formulated.
  4. The “is” of Constitution: Wiggins considers a tree7 (T) and its constituent matter (W). T and W occupy the same place at the same time, but are non-identical – because of Leibniz’s Law and the fact that they have different persistence conditions.
    • W survives T’s decomposition into cellulose molecules, while T does not.
    • T survives the loss of some of the constituent cells of W, in the course of organic change, while W does not.
  5. Wiggins thinks it’d be a “trick” to define an aggregate W1 with persistence8 conditions exactly the same as the tree’s. A trick because all you’ve done is define a tree.
  6. Wiggins spells this out: we have “contrived” an identity between stuff (W) and substance (T) by introducing a concept foreign to things falling under the “stuff” category – namely organisation.
  7. Wiggins has a footnote saying that more can be said about identity and the mereological treatment of aggregates – and refers us to "Wiggins (David) - Identity & Spatio-temporal Continuity", pp. 11-13, 67-8, 729.
  8. Wiggins has an excellent footnote10 illustrating – for artefacts – the difference between the stuff and the artefact from which the stuff is made. He proves, by transitivity, that the artefact cannot be identical to its stuff – in this case sweater, wool and socks – since the sweater is not identical to the socks, neither can be identical to the wool from which – at different times – they were made. The stuff (wool) must pre-exist the fabrication of the artefact, but the artefact cannot pre-exist its fabrication.
  9. However, he goes on to argue that none of this implies that T is something over and above W. His definition of over and above is open to objection11, in that he wants it to mean merely that there are no (material) parts of T that are not in W, or as he says, W fully exhausts12 the matter of T.
  10. Wiggins’s understanding of constitution13 includes:-
    • The “is” of material constitution is not the “is” of identity.
    • “x is constituted of y” is equivalent to:-
      … “x is made of y”, or
      … “x consists of y”, or
      … “x is wholly composed of y”, or
      … “x is merely y”, or
      … “x merely consists of y”.
  11. Wiggins notes that if T = W is a consequence of materialism, then Wiggins is not a materialist14, as he denies this equation.
  12. Wiggins claims that his denial that T=W only puts an uninteresting15 obstacle in the way of reducing botany to organic chemistry.
  13. Wiggins leaves T & W with the remark that what he’s shown is similar to a philosophical commonplace of assigning objects to different logical types. He prefers his approach, however, because it makes a smaller claims (he says) for two reasons:-
    • 1. It allows for a clear statement of the connection between objects and their constituting stuff, and
    • 2. The Leibnizian principle for the predicative “is” (as opposed to the constitutive “is”) is highly intelligible16
      If and only if A is an f (or is phi) then A is identical with an f (or with one of the phi-things); and if and only if A is one of the f's (or phi-things) then it must share all its properties with that f (or phi-thing).
  14. There is more to be said on the topic of “ranges of significance” – we’re referred to Russell’s simple or ramified Theory of Types17.
  15. The lesson from T & W is that we need to reformulate principle S as S*, namely
      S*: No two things of the same kind can occupy the same volume at exactly the same time
  16. Wiggins’s gloss on kind is “… satisfy (the same) sortal or substance concept”.
  17. He thinks there are at least three reasons for thinking this a necessary truth:-
    • 1. Space can be mapped only by its occupants.
    • 2.
    • 3.
  18. "Wiggins (David) & Woods (Michael J.) - Symposium: The Individuation of Things and Places"
  19. Wiggins closes with an application of principle S* to the problem of Tib and Tibbles. He attributes the puzzle to William of Sherwood, via Geach18
  20. … to be completed.


In-Page Footnotes ("Wiggins (David) - On Being in the Same Place at the Same Time")

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: It is something of an open question whether S is a physical or metaphysical question. Wiggins subsequently considers counterfactual physical circumstances which would allow indefinitely fine commingling of two distinct things, but this still leaves him thinking there’s a problem to solve. So, he thinks there’s an a priori metaphysical issue at stake.

Footnote 3: What’s the compulsion to believe S? Worries often have to do with language (how would our counting work – or else various epistemological claims; these are Olson’s worries about persons and animals occupying the same place at the same time), but the worries ought to run deeper than this.

Footnote 4: The conundrums of Dion / Theon and Tib / Tibbles are relevant here.

Footnote 5: Is there an issue caused by the supposed possibility of intermittent existence?

Footnote 6: Something like the case of miscible fluids would only take us to the molecular level – but at least that’s further than sponges.

Footnote 7: A change from “the statue and the clay” (See Goliath and Lump1 in "Gibbard (Allan) - Contingent Identity", etc.) – and better, since artefacts might be a special case where human concerns and arbitrariness muddy the waters.

Footnote 8: I’d thought of aggregates having less strict persistence conditions than those demanded by mereological essentialism – a heap that has lost a grain is still the same heap – but Wiggins picks up on this. That said, his “take” is an extreme one for the sake of argument, but you could define persistence conditions for aggregates that didn’t mirror those of organic objects, and that were, therefore, less contrived.

Footnote 9: Footnote 10:
  • There are obvious connections to the Ship of Thesesus paradox (Click here for Note) here: we could repair the sweater over time, and save the replaced threads, and make socks out of them.
  • This is interesting – there’s no temptation to paradox in this case (as socks can’t be identical to a sweater) – but if we made the threads into another sweater, the paradox would return.
  • This, I think, shows that the stuff returns to the universal pool of stuff, and carries no memory of its previous form with it.
  • Yet we’re still left with disassembled and reassembled watches, bicycles etc. Yet they aren’t disassembled into stuff, but into parts, which retain part of the form of the artefact.
  • So, the question is whether the material that makes ships and sweaters are parts or stuff. It would seem that pieces of wool have no relevant form, while planks of wood do – or might. Some planks will be interchangeable, while others are specific to function. Watch and bicycle parts, however, are very specific to place and function.
Footnote 11:
  • I think the disagreement is only semantic. It’s common sense that “the whole is more than the sum of its parts”, but Wiggins doesn’t want to deny this. He’s simply speaking mereologically.
  • The parts of the whole either support one another (as in the proverb) or else have form or structure.
  • This structure may explain the suggestion that the heap of sand in my garden has different persistence conditions to a mere aggregate (which – one presumes – has mereologically essentialist persistence conditions – as does a set).
Footnote 12:
  • I’m uncomfortable about this. If (counterfactually) we had immaterial souls, then we would – according to normal parlance – be something “over and above” the matter that constitutes our bodies, yet the matter under consideration (that of our bodies) would be “exhausted” – no more is needed.
  • Also, Wiggins takes it that T is “nothing over and above” W if T is constituted of W and nothing else. Yet, form is very important. Are diamonds “nothing over and above” the carbon atoms that constitute them? Would Wiggins say “yes”?
Footnote 14: I find this paragraph very difficult to construe. I repeat it here for reference:-
    If it is a materialistic thesis that T = W, then my denial that T = W is a form of denial of materialism. It is interesting how very uninteresting an obstacle these Leibnizian difficulties-real though they are-put in the way of the reduction of botany and all its primitive terms to organic chemistry or to physics. (If it does not follow from T # W that trees are something over and above their matter, how much the less can it follow that they are immanent or transcendent or supervenient or immaterial beings. This is obviously absurd for trees. A Leibnizian disproof of strict identity could never be enough to show something so intriguing or obscure.) I should expect there to be equally valid, and from the point of view of ontology almost equally unexciting, difficulties in the reduction of persons to flesh and bones ("Wiggins (David) - Identity & Spatio-temporal Continuity", p. 57), in psychophysical event-materialism, and in the materialisms which one might formulate in other categories (such as the Aristotelian categories property and state or the categories situation and fact). Over and above is one question, identity is another. But of course the only stuff there is is stuff.
Footnote 15: What does he mean by this? That the obstacle is illusory?

Footnote 16: This seems to be a restatement of Leibniz’s Law in sortal terms.

Footnote 17: Presumably, this survives Russell’s failure to reduce mathematics to logic. Wiggins gives the following references:- Footnote 18: He thanks Geach for allowing him to use the material, but gives no reference. For some reason, he doesn’t mention the ancient Dion and Theon (Click here for Note), which is of exactly the same form as Tib and Tibbles.

"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 kind 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 sortalist 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 sortalist 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 Paper2 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 Sortal 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 sortal, a concept which provides principles of individuation and identity.
    • Many advocates of this view have argued that object is not a genuine sortal 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 sortal for both infants and adults.
    • Furthermore, object may be the infant's first sortal and more specific sortals 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 sortal, and I will speculate on how a child may construct sortal 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 2:
  • I haven’t a copy of this paper.
  • I presume Fei Xu is this this lady: Web 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 sortalism 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 reducible 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:

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2017
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

© Theo Todman, June 2007 - November 2017. Please address any comments on this page to File output:
Website Maintenance Dashboard
Return to Top of this Page Return to Theo Todman's Philosophy Page Return to Theo Todman's Home Page