Stephan Blatti’s “Material Constitution” Part Two: The Orthodox View of Coincident Objects


Stephen Blatti continues to expand upon the contemporary state of the problem of material constitution by first introducing us to the Orthodox View of Coincident Objects.[1]  (If you’ve missed Part One of this series, you can find it here.)  Blatti first explains the basic position of the Orthodox View, then he goes on to explain three important problems for it and some possible solutions.

The Orthodox view is “the standard response” and it is committed to denying the impossibility of coincident objects and affirming this possibility–thus, its sub-heading of the coincident object view (151).  Lump and Statue (in the afternoon) and Tibbles and Tib (after the accident) are two different objects at the same time in the same spatial position.  Blatti explains that this position denies the “identity assumption”: that if ps (parts) compose x at t, and the same ps compose y at the same time, then x=y.  After having denied this assumption of identity, he challenge for the Orthodox view is then to explain the relationship between coincident objects.

Orthodox adherents try to meet this challenge by understanding the relation of coincident objects as constitution.  Blatti explains:

The constitution relation may be distinguished from identity by the fact that, unlike identity, constitution is asymmetric.  Whereas from the fact that a is identical with b it follows that b is identical with a, if a constitutes b, then it is not the case that b constitutes a.  Thus, for instance, it is held that Statue is constituted by Lump, but not vice versa. (152)

On top of understanding the relation between the coincident objects as constitutive, Orthodox adherents also have to explain why the Statue and Lump are not identical in the afternoon.  Their answer is that it is because Statue and Lump are of different kinds.  Lump is a piece of clay and Statue is a work of art.  This seems to make intuitive sense, since it would explain why Lump endures after the artist crushes Statue, but Statue does not: pieces of clay just are the kinds of things that endure such changes, whereas statues (or works of art) are not.  Blatti then shows the correlation between this explanation and the sortal properties it implies:

The difference in kinds corresponds to a difference in sortal properties: Statue instantiates the property being a work of art but not the property being a piece of clay; conversely, Lump instantiates the property being a piece of clay but not the property being a work of art.  This difference in kind-membership explains why Lump instantiates various modal and temporal properties that Statue lacks, including the properties being able to survive reshaping and having existed in the morning.  Ultimately, then, despite sharing all of their parts, Statue and Lump are nonidentical because they differ in their sortal, modal, and temporal properties. (152)

So it is possible to think of the statue (in the afternoon) as both a piece of clay and as a work of art and one would thereby have two different and non-identical objects in mind, even though they referred to the same material object in front of us.

Blatti then goes on to explain some of the main problems with the Orthodox view and gives brief explanations of some of the ways that its adherents have responded.  I will focus on the problems themselves, leaving their potential solutions for further research.

He first introduces us to the Grounding Problem.  The difficulty here revolves around how to determine the sortal properties (e.g., being a work of art).  Usually, we can determine primitive properties (e.g., shape) by the organization of the parts of an object.  But for coincident, non-identical objects, we cannot determine their non-primitive parts in this way.  The reason is clear: we cannot determine Statue’s sortal properties by the organization of its parts, since Lump shares these properties too.

The mereological problem arises because the Orthodox view seems to break the ‘principle of mereological extensionality.’  According to this principle, complex objects are equivalent  with all of their parts: “so, since they share all of the same parts, there simply is no basis for distinguishing between, say, Tibbles and Tib” (153).  The Orthodox view would then be a strange kind of “double counting” (ibid).

The arbitrary problem raises the charge of anthropocentrism against the orthodox view.  It insists that it is arbitrary for the Orthodox view to limit the kinds of object that are present to two: the constituted (Statue) and the constituting (Lump).  Blatti writes, “If, for example, the aggregate of material simples that make up both of these objects is itself an entity of some sort, then matters quickly grow complicated, with not only the Statue-Lump relationship requiring explanation, but also the Simples-Statue and Simples-Lump relationships” (154).  This position seems to compound the amount of objects that we can find located in the one material object in front of us.

In the next post in this series, Blatti will introduce us to another position: the Dominant Kinds Viewpoint.

[1] Blatti, Stephen.  ”Material Constitution.”  In Manson & Barnard, The Continuum Companion to Metaphysics (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2012, pp. 149-169).

PicCred: Pineapple Park


2 responses to “Stephan Blatti’s “Material Constitution” Part Two: The Orthodox View of Coincident Objects

  1. Pingback: Stephan Blatti’s “Material Constitution” Part Three: Dominant Kinds | Individuums·

  2. Pingback: Stephan Blatti’s “Material Constitution” Part 4: Nihilism | Individuums·

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