Stephan Blatti’s “Material Constitution” Part Three: Dominant Kinds

hettmansperger_lgStephan Blatti takes the next step in his explanation of the state of the problem of material constitution by introducing the second general approach called the Dominant kinds approach.[1]  (Please see Part One and Part Two to this series).  For adherents of the Orthodox view of Coincident Objects, Lump survives its formation into Statue and so there are two coincident, yet distinct objects.  This is not the case for the Dominant Kinds view.  For adherents of this view, Lump does not survive the shaping into Statue.  Work of art or Statue is the dominant kind.

This at first seems strange, since we generally think of lumps of clay as the kinds of things that survive their re-shaping into different forms (including, here into the form of a statue).  But Blatti explains that Dominant kinds adherents offer their position in response to the problem that arises when “contradictory properties seem to be instantiated” by coincident objects (Blatti, 155).    Such a problem of contradictory properties occurs in our example: Lump instantiates the property being able to survive reshaping, while Statue instantiates the property being unable to survive reshaping.  Orthodox adherents seek to address this problem by postulating two different kinds of things in a single object.  Dominant Kind theorists reject this approach.  According to one of the leading adherents of this view, Michael Burke, whether the statue is taken to be a piece of clay or a work of art depends upon which kind is dominant in the object (piece of clay or work of art).  For Burke, “‘when a single object satisfies more than one sortal kind concept, its dominant concept is the one whose satisfaction entails possession of the widest range of properties'” (quoted in Blatti, 155).  So, since Lump can only instantiate physical properties, while Statue can instantiate both physical and aesthetic properties, work of art dominates lump of clay.

However, there appears to be an important qualification here that seems a little ambiguous to me: “this is why Lump goes out of existence in the afternoon: not because the lump of clay ceases to exist, but because the sortal concept satisfied by Statue comes to dominate” (ibid., 156).  I say ‘appears’ because as the reader of the quoted sentence may see, there is an apparent ambiguity in Blatti’s comment.  At once, it seems in this sentence that Lump (which we will recall is the name of a piece of clay) goes out of existence in the afternoon and that the same piece of clay does not cease to exist in the afternoon.  I imagine the way to resolve this is to think Statue as now instantiating piece of clay and not Lump.  If I’m right, then we would not think of two objects being really present in Statue (Lump and Statue), but rather Statue alone, since it takes up or appropriates Lump’s sortal property of being a piece of clay into itself.  Given that Statue has two sortal properties (physical/piece of clay and aesthetic/work of art) piece of clay is now instantiated by Statue and not by Lump.  Lump as a distinct object from Statue goes out of existence in the afternoon.  Furthermore, I imagine that this submits piece of clay to the dominant sortal property work of art, such that piece of clay no longer holds the property of being able to survive reshaping.  (On a side note, I wonder if, according to this view, Lump in the evening is the same piece of clay as Lump in the morning, when Lump has ceased to exist in the afternoon.)

There are several objections to the Dominant kind view.  The first we have already encountered: it seems intuitively objectionable that something durable like Lump/piece of clay (that indeed holds the property of being the same through various re-shapings) should cease to exist upon one particular re-shaping into a work of art.

The second objection focuses upon Burke’s criterion for establishing dominance.  Blatti writes, “On the face of it, Burke’s view seems to presume a stepwise hierarchy of sortal kind concepts, no two of [sic. which] entail possession of equally wide ranges of properties by the single object which satisfies them.  This is possible, of course, but it seems both artificial and unlikely” (ibid., 156).

Blatti concludes by briefly indicating Rea’s revision of Burkes criteria and his alternative version of the Dominant kinds theory of material constitution.

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

PicCred: Sue Hettmansperger 


One response to “Stephan Blatti’s “Material Constitution” Part Three: Dominant Kinds

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

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