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Personal Identity

Intermittent Objects

(Text as at 04/07/2014 22:46:34)

(For earlier versions of this Note, see the table at the end)


  1. I allude to the possibility of intermittent existence in these Notes:-
  2. Artefacts
    • Are the classic cases of possibly intermediate objects, in that the same object can be disassembled and then reassembled, and it is usually thought that the reassembled object is numerically identical to the original.
    • But it is not clear whether the watch (say) ceases to exist when disassembled for cleaning, or whether it continues to exist in a scattered7 state. The recipient of a bag of watch-parts would still consider they had received their watch back, even if annoyed at having to reassemble it themselves.
    • But, as with all things artefactual, there’s a question whether our intuitions are conventional, and could be otherwise. My gut-feel, however, is that disassembled artefacts just exist in a disassembled, scattered state, rather than ceasing to exist. Hence, disassembled artefacts are examples of scattered objects rather than of intermittent objects.
    • I suppose the counter-argument might be that artefacts are the things they are for functional reasons, but does a disassembled thing have a function (or, at any rate, the same function it had when assembled)? I imagine we could say that an object might be delivered in kit-form, and then assembled, and it is probably arbitrary (or can be stipulated) whether the kit is of the same kind as the object or not.
    • The Write-up8 of "Carter (William) - Artifacts of Theseus: Fact and Fission" covers all this in more detail9.
  3. Persons
    • When it comes to Persons, it’s the possession of certain capacities, not the present exercise of them, that qualifies an individual as a person.
    • David Wiggins holds the view that a person is one who belongs to a kind whose typical members possess some open-ended list of properties.
    • In that case, a foetus or someone in a PVS10 would still be a person. They would not “intermit” while in that state.
    • However, on a “present capacity” view, they would not qualify as persons in such a state, and a person might have intermittent existence. For instance if I were to fall into, and then recover from, a PVS I would not be a person when in the PVS, but would on recovery again be a person, and (importantly) the same person.
    • So, someone like Baker11 might be committed to persons as intermittent objects because she thinks of human persons as ontologically separate from the human animals that constitute them.
    • However, an animalist like Olson12 would not be so committed. For the animalist, it’s the animal that’s the persisting thing, and the animal persists throughout the PVS.
    • I’m not sure what Olson’s view is of the ontological status of persons (I don’t think he considers them a kind); they are just individuals of another kind (most notably human animals) with special, maybe temporary, properties.
  4. Phase Sortals
    • My view is that human persons are phase13 sortals14 of human animals.
    • So, I side with Olson as against Baker in the controversy about what Persons are.
    • While persons are ontologically significant, this does not bring into being a new kind of PERSON, but raises the status of the kind whose typical members are persons (and of the individuals who are persons, of course).
    • So, I do not think that persons – at least persons falling under the kind HUMAN ANIMAL – can have intermittent existence. A fetus or a human animal in a PVS remains the same human animal.
  5. Constitution
  6. Physical Continuity
    • This topic20 addresses – amongst much else – both scattered21 objects and intermittent objects, the former intermitting in space, the latter in time (and maybe in space as well).
    • So, if persons are things constituted by other things, then the person intermits during a PVS, but there is no physical discontinuity.
    • But, as Baker believes, the very same person can be constituted by different bodies at different times, then there must necessarily be persistence in the absence of spatio-temporal continuity, which it usually taken as a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for persistence.
    • This leads on to our next topic.
  7. Resurrection
    • The possibility of Resurrection22 is the main reason for my interest in intermittent objects.
    • Clearly, if we are to claim that the very same individual who died is resurrected somewhere else (maybe not a place as such, though it is difficult to envisage bodies that are not at places) at some other time (or not in time – but similar worries apply) then we have an intermittent object.
    • This process (or fiat) would also seem to involve some sort of metamorphosis23, though maybe the Constitution View does not worry about such things, as it is the constituted person that persists, not the constituting body.



In-Page Footnotes:

Footnote 9: Or will do, once I’ve completed it!


Printable Versions:



Table of the Previous 3 Versions of this Note:

Date Length Title
18/12/2010 19:58:05 652 Intermittent Objects
26/11/2007 23:25:26 884 Intermittent Objects
12/08/2007 10:17:46 80 Intermittent Objects



Note last updated Reading List for this Topic Parent Topic
04/07/2014 22:46:34 Intermittent Objects Logic of Identity

Summary of Note Links from this Page

Artifacts Baker Carter – Artifacts of Theseus Constitution Constitution View
Fine - The Non-Identity of a Material Thing and Its Matter Fine - The Non-Identity of a Material Thing and Its Matter (Essay) Markosian - The Human Animal: Three Problems for Olson Metamorphosis Olson
Persistent Vegetative State Person Phase Sortals Physical Continuity Resurrection
Scattered Objects Sortals      

To access information, click on one of the links in the table above.




Summary of Note Links to this Page

Aeon Papers - Summary Document Artifacts Johnston - Human Beings Person Phase Sortals
Physical Continuity Scattered Objects      

To access information, click on one of the links in the table above.




Authors, Books & Papers Citing this Note

Author Title Medium Extra Links Read?
Cooper (John) Body, Soul and Life Everlasting: Preface to the Second Printing Paper High Quality Abstract   Yes
Johnston (Mark) Human Beings Paper High Quality Abstract   Yes
Todman (Theo) Thesis - Artifacts Paper Medium Quality Abstract   Yes
Todman (Theo) Thesis - Intermittent Objects Paper Medium Quality Abstract   Yes
Todman (Theo) Thesis - Person Paper Medium Quality Abstract   Yes
Todman (Theo) Thesis - Phase Sortals Paper Medium Quality Abstract   Yes
Todman (Theo) Thesis - Physical Continuity Paper Medium Quality Abstract   Yes
Todman (Theo) Thesis - Scattered Objects Paper Medium Quality Abstract   Yes



References & Reading List

Author Title Medium Source Read?
Arnold (Keith) The Subject of Radical Change Paper - By Subtopic Medium Quality Abstract Philosophical Studies, Vol. 33, No. 4 (May, 1978), pp. 395-401 Yes
Beck (Simon) Let's Exist Again (Like We Did Last Summer) Paper - By Subtopic Medium Quality Abstract South African Journal of Philosophy, 2001, Vol. 20 Issue 2, p159, 12p; No
Brennan (Andrew) Discontinuity and Identity Paper - By Subtopic Medium Quality Abstract Nous, Vol. 21, No. 2. (Jun., 1987), pp. 241-260 No
Burke (Michael) Cohabitation, Stuff and Intermittent Existence Paper - By Subtopic Medium Quality Abstract Mind, 89, No. 355, Jul., 1980, pp. 391-405 No
Carter (William) Artifacts of Theseus: Fact and Fission Paper - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 61.3 (September 1983) Yes
Ellis (Brian) Australasian Journal of Philosophy - 61.3 (September 1983) Book - Cited (via Paper Cited) Bibliographical details to be supplied 83%
Fine (Kit) The Non-Identity of a Material Thing and Its Matter Paper - Cited Mind - 112/446 (April 2003) Yes
Gilmore (Cody) In Defence of Spatially Related Universals Paper - By Subtopic High Quality Abstract Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 81: 420-428 (September 2003) No
Hershenov (David) The Metaphysical Problem of Intermittent Existence and the Possibility of Resurrection Paper - By Subtopic Low Quality Abstract Faith and Philosophy, 20:1, January 2003, 24-36 7%
Markosian (Ned) Three Problems for Olson's Account of Personal Identity Paper - Cited High Quality Abstract Abstracta Special Issue I – 2008 (Brazil) Yes
Martin (Michael G.F.), Ed. Mind - 112/446 (April 2003) Book - Cited (via Paper Cited) Bibliographical details to be supplied 50%
Oderberg (David) Fission, Intermittence and the Primitiveness of Identity Paper - By Subtopic Low Quality Abstract Oderberg - The Metaphysics of Identity Over Time, 1993, Chapter 7 No
Oderberg (David) The Metaphysics of Identity Over Time Book - By Subtopic (via Paper By Subtopic) Low Quality Abstract Oderberg (David) - The Metaphysics of Identity Over Time 4%
Olson (Eric), Etc. Abstracta Special Issue on 'The Human Animal' Book - Cited (via Paper Cited) High Quality Abstract Bibliographical details to be supplied Yes
Simons (Peter) Parts: A Study in Ontology Book - By Subtopic (via Paper By Subtopic) Low Quality Abstract Simons (Peter) - Parts: A Study in Ontology 3%
Simons (Peter) Temporary Parts and Intermittent Existence Paper - By Subtopic Low Quality Abstract Simons - Parts: A Study in Ontology, 1987, Chapter 5 No
Todman (Theo) Thesis - Intermittent Objects Paper - By Subtopic Medium Quality Abstract   Yes



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