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Philosophers

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Presentations

Biosemiotics
Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
 
Michael Burke

Michael Burke is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Indiana University.

He worked on problems of material constitution and critically examined Chrysippus's ancient problem of Dion and Theon.

Burke wrote in 1994:

The Stoic philosopher Chrysippus is said to have posed the following puzzle. Yesterday, there was a whole-bodied man called 'Dion' who had a proper part called 'Theon'. Theon was that part of Dion which consisted of all of Dion except his left foot. Today, Dion's left foot was successfully amputated. So, if Dion and Theon both still exist, they are numerically different objects now occupying just the same place and wholly composed of just the same matter. Presuming this to be impossible, the question is which of the two, Dion or Theon, has ceased to exist.

At first thought, of course, it seems that neither has ceased to exist. It would seem absurd to deny that Dion is still with us. Surely, a man can retain his identity despite the loss of a foot. But it also seems undeniable that Theon still exists. Theon, it seems, has emerged from the surgery intact.

Might it be that Dion and Theon, who initially were two, have both survived, but now are one? Assuming the indiscernibility of identicals, a principle invoked even in Hellenistic philosophy, the answer is "no." For even now there is something true of Dion which is not true of Theon: that he once had two feet.

As will be obvious to those familiar with contemporary identity theory, the puzzle of Dion and Theon is of more than antiquarian interest. The same type of puzzle commands much attention today. (The example discussed most often is that of Tibbles the cat.) Interestingly, none of today's theorists would agree with Chrysippus that Theon has perished. Theon has perished.

Tibbles the Cat
The original suggestion of Tibbles by Peter Geach in the 1960's may not have been what is called today a "body-minus" problem. But in 1968, David Wiggins imagined Tibbles as a cat without a tail, a renaming of the problem of Dion and Theon that has become very popular.

In 1980, Geach showed that Tibbles might actually be composed of 1,001 cats! About the same time, Peter Unger (1980) called this the Problem of the Many. Instead of cat hairs, Unger used water droplets in a cloud, both examples of the problem of vagueness.

About the same time, Peter van Inwagen (1981) imagined a Descartes who had lost a leg ("Doctrine of Arbitrary Undetached Parts," reprinted in Michael Rea's 1997 book, Material Constitution).

In their great 1987 compilation of Hellenic thought, A. A. Long and D. N. Sedley described Tibbles as an example of "two peculiarly qualified individuals coming to occupy one substance," something the Stoics explicitly denied is possible. Long and Sedley clearly are following Wiggins' 1968 version of Tibbles. They suggest that Chrysippus has given us an example of Dion surviving a diminution in his material without losing his identity, as the Academic Skeptics claimed.

The key is to recognize this as the ancestor of a puzzle which has featured in recent discussions of place and identity. Take a cat, Tibbies, and assign the name Tib to that portion of her which excludes her tail. Tibbies is a cat with a tail, Tib is a cat without a tail. Then amputate the tail. The result is that Tibbies, now tailless, occupies precisely the same space as Tib. Yet they are two distinct cats, because their histories are different. The conclusion is unacceptable, and the philosophical interest lies in pin-pointing the false step.

That Chrysippus' puzzle works along similar lines is made clear by Philo's later comments, in which he takes Theon to be related to Dion as part to whole. Dion corresponds to Tibbies, Theon to Tib, and Dion's foot to Tibbies' tail. The differences are twofold. First, the problem is about occupying the_same substance, not the same place. Second, Chrysippus assumes both the validity of the opening steps of the argument and the truth of the principle that two peculiarly qualified individuals cannot occupy the same substance at the same time. He therefore concludes that one of the two must have perished, and his problem is to see why it should be one rather than the other. Philo's elliptical summary leaves unclear Chrissippus' reason for selecting Theon for this honour, but it is probably that if we are asked whose foot has been amputated we can only answer 'Dion's'. Theon cannot have lost a foot which he never had.

The title of Chrysippus' work shows that this puzzle was developed in connexion with the Growing Argument. But to what purpose? The following is a guess. According to the Growing Argument, matter is the sole principle of individuation, so that a change of matter constitutes a change of identity. Hence Socrates is a different person from the same individual with one extra particle of matter added. Now these two individuals are related as part to whole —just as Theon and Dion in the amputation paradox are related. Thus the paradox's presupposition that Dion and Theon start out as distinct individuals is not one that Chrysippus need endorse; it is a premise attributed for dialectical purposes to the Academic opponents, who cannot deny it without giving up the Growing Argument. But once they have accepted it, the Growing Argument is doomed anyhow. For whereas the Growing Argument holds that any material diminution constitutes a loss of identity. Chrysippus has presented them with a case, based on their own premises, where material diminution is the necessary condition of enduring identity: it is the diminished Dion who survives, the undiminished Theon who perishes.

In his 1996 article "Tibbles the cat: A Modern 'Sophisma'," Burke claimed Tibbles was "scholastic in origin," which is puzzling as he knows the story of the Greek Dion and Theon very well (Burke 1994b). He describes Tibbles, clearly following Wiggins or Long and Sedley?,

Before us stands a 10-pound cat named 'Tibbles'. Before us also is that 9-pound part of Tibbles which consists of all of Tibbles except his tail. Following philosophical custom, call that bodily part, for which English has no common name, a 'puss'; and give Tibbles' puss the proper name 'Tib'. Further, assume that cats are wholly physical. (Or else let 'Tibbles' name the body of the cat, or even a toy cat.) Suppose now that Tibbles loses his tail. We are left with a tailless cat - and a puzzle. If Tib and Tibbles both still exist, they are numerically different physical objects, one a former 10-pounder, one not, which now consist of just the same matter and occupy just the same place. That, presumably, is impossible. Either Tib or Tibbles, therefore, has ceased to exist. But which one? The identity of a cat surely is not tied to its tail. So Tibbles still exists. But surely Tib has not ceased to exist: Tib lost none of its parts. Something has to give. But what?

Tibbles-type puzzles are a mainstay of revisionist metaphysics. They figure in arguments for mereological esssentialism, the doctrine that every part of an object, no matter how small, is essential to its identity. They persuade some philosophers to deny the dictum that different objects cannot occupy the same place at the same time. They are part of what persuades other philosophers to relativize numerical identity, whether to time or to sort. They are used to motivate rejection of our ordinary conception of (physical) objects as three-dimensional in favor of a conception on which objects are assimilated to events and have temporal as well as spatial parts. And they convince Peter van Inwagen that there are no such things as undetached tails and pusses...

Burke proposes a "novel and conservative solution" to the body-minus problem, based on the idea of "essentialism," the idea that properties of an object are essential to the object. Burke's argument agrees with Chrysippus' view that it is Dion who survives. Tib ceases to exist because she was a puss and, if she still existed, would now be a cat. Though he doubts this was Chrysippus' argument.
Here is what I propose to say about Tib and Tibbies: Initially we had a 10-pound cat, Tibbies, which contained a 9-pound puss, Tib. Before us now, following the loss of the tail, is a single 9-pound object, one which is both a cat and a puss. That object is Tibbies, which earlier had a tail but now is tailless. Tib has ceased to exist.

What is novel in this account, and what will surely seem counterintuitive, is the claim that Tib has ceased to exist. After all, I allow that there was such a thing as the puss Tib. And I allow that there is a puss before us now. The latter is spatiotemporally continuous with Tib. And it is both qualitatively and compositionally identical to Tib. So how could it fail to be Tib? My answer, very simply, is that Tib was merely a puss, whereas the puss now before us is also a cat...

I assume that cats are essentially cats, from which it follows that noncats are essentially noncats. In doing so, I presuppose Aristotelian essentialism, the doctrine that some of the properties of an object are (non-trivially) essential to it, that others are accidental to it, and that the essentiality or accidentality of those properties is independent of how the object is described. More specifically, I presuppose sortal essentialism, the doctrine that an object's sort is essential to it. Second, I assume that Tib was a noncat. More generally, I assume the maximality of (the concept) cat. That is, I make the commonsensical assumption that proper parts of cats are not themselves cats. Third, I assume that if Tib still exists, now that Tibbles' tail is no longer connected to it, then Tib is now a cat. This, too, is a thoroughly commonsensical assumption. If Tib still exists, why wouldn't it be a cat? What qualification would it lack?

From the first two assumptions it follows that Tib was a noncat essentially, meaning that Tib could not have survived a change that would have made it, if it survived, a cat. In effect, the third assumption is that Tib's disconnection from Tibbles' tail was just such a change. Taken together, the three assumptions yield the surprising conclusion that Tib has ceased to exist.

Mereological Essentialism
Essentialism has its roots in Aristotle's definition of the essence (ουσία), the unchanging "Being" of an object. Is "Essentialism" metaphysically valid or only an analytic language claim?

The essence of an object, the "kind" or "sort" of object that it "is", its "constitution," its "identity," includes those "proper" parts of the object without which it would cease to be that sort or kind. It would lose its identity.

Mereology is the study of parts and is historically the decomposition of an entity into its components, the parts which "compose" the whole. Some of these may be "proper parts," but in what sense can we say that? Others may be merely parts that we have picked out to focus on and have given names. They may in no way be "natural" parts, kinds, or sorts.

Aristotle knew that most living things can survive the loss of various parts (limbs, for example), but not others (the head, say). By analogy, he thought that other objects (and even concepts) could have parts (or properties) that are essential to its definition and other properties or qualities that are merely accidental. Mereological essentialism should ba the study of those essential parts.

At his presidential address to the twenty-fourth annual meeting of the Metaphysical Society of America in 1973, Roderick Chisholm defined "mereological essentialism," the idea that if some object has parts, then those parts are essential, metaphysically necessary, to the particular object..

The puzzle pertains to what I shall call the principle of mereological essentialism. The principle may be formulated by saying that, for any whole x, if x has y as one of its parts then y is part of x in every possible world in which x exists. The principle may also be put by saying that every whole has the parts that it has necessarily, or by saying that if y is part of x then the property of having y as one of its parts is essential to x. If the principle is true, then if y is ever part of x, y will be part of x as long as x exists.

No doubt some parts are essential, in the sense that the brain or heart is essential to a human being. But surely not every part of any whole is a necessary part in all possible worlds? As Aristotle said, some parts may be accidental. And some parts may not persist as criteria of the object's "identity through time."

An information analysis shows that much of the verbal quibbling in metaphysical disputes is about objects or "parts" of objects that are arbitrarily named, defined by language conventions, as opposed to objects that are "natural kinds."

Theon and Tib are what Peter van Inwagen called "arbitrary undetached parts." They have been "picked out" a separate objects to pose puzzles about the different persistence properties of different objects.

Coinciding Objects Demystified

An information-based metaphysics can show that for two "coinciding objects" can often be shown to be distinguishing between the matter and form of a single object, for example the statue and the lump of clay. But the immaterial form (abstract information) and the concrete material are not "parts" in the same sense. This seems to be a "category mistake."

In his 1992 article "Copper Statues and Pieces of Copper: A Challenge to the Standard Account," describes this "standard account."

We have before us a copper statue. In the same place,presumably, there is a piece of copper. Let's call the statue 'Statue' and the piece of copper 'Piece'. Now what is the relationship between Statue and Piece?
Information philosophy denies these two "consist" of the same matter. The Piece is wholly matter. The Statue is merely form. They have been picked out and named for their dialectical value as having different persistence conditions
Among philosophers who reject the view that objects have temporal parts, by far the most popular account of such cases is one on which Statue and Piece are numerically different objects even though they consist of just the same matter and are wholly present in just the same place. What shows them to be different objects, according to this account, is that they have different persistence conditions: Piece could survive a drastic change in shape; Statue could not. Let's call this 'the standard account.'

In his 1994 article "Preserving the principle of one object to a place," Burke begins by arguing that the standard account for many metaphysical identity theorists is:

It is common for the whole of one object and the whole of another object to occupy just the same place at the same time. So say many identity theorists...

Among the "identity theorists" cited by Burke are David Wiggins (1967), Saul Kripke (1971), Roderick Chisholm (1973), and E. Jonathan Lowe (1983).

Exceptions include Peter van Inwagen (1981), who Burke says calls it a "desperate expedient," David Lewis (1986), who wrote, "This multiplication of entities is absurd on its face," and Harold Noonan (1988), who says it "manifests a bad case of double vision" (as the Ancient Skeptics complained about the Stoic categories of material substate or body and the 'peculiarly qualified individual' or person in their discussions of the Growing Argument )."

In his extensive article, Burke cites several examples of coinciding objects, the statue and clay, a tree and its molecules, cats and pusses, and persons and bodies.

Information philosophy, and an information-based metaphysics, analyzes all these problems as distinctions between the immaterial form (the information) and the material substance. As such, information philosophy is a dualist theory. Burke recognizes the importance of this distinction, potentially solving problems that are intractable for a modern materialist or naturalist philosopher, who denies anything immaterial, notably the mind.

Perhaps the most frequently cited example of coincidence is that of persons and their bodies. Let's briefly consider the example from both dualist and materialist points of view.

On dualist theories of the human person, there is no threat of genuine coincidence. Dualist theories divide into those on which the body is a proper part of the person and those on which the body is something like a possession. On theories of the first type, it is true that a person occupies the place occupied by his body. But it's not the whole of the person that occupies that place; it's merely a part of him that does so. This is no more a case of coincidence than is the case of a pipe and its bowl... On theories of the second type, on which a person is a mind or soul that "possesses" a body, it is only in some non-literal sense that a person may be said to "occupy" the place occupied by her body. The sense is similar to that in which a general may be said to occupy the area occupied by his army, even if he commands the army from outside that area.

On materialist theories, the matter is more complicated. For materialists who identify persons with their bodies, there is no question of coincidence. But for supporters of (some version of) the brain criterion or the psychological criterion of personal identity, coincidence may seem unavoidable...

To conclude this subsection, I want to indicate, although I won't here develop, a line of reasoning that suggests that coincidence is especially worth resisting precisely in the case of persons and their bodies. Suppose that Pete, a person, coincides with his body, Bob. Then Pete, like Bob, is a physical object. (It is only on theories on which persons are purely physical objects that persons are literally coextensive with their bodies.) Indeed, Pete consists of just the same particles of matter as does Bob.

Now here is the problem. Suppose that Pete is thinking. On both type-type and token-token versions of materialism, Pete's thinking is identifiable with some physical event taking place within Pete. But any physical event taking place within Pete is taking place also within Bob. Does this mean that Bob, also, is thinking? If not, why not? If a person and his body are different physical objects composed of just the same particles of matter, the only differences between them, it would seem, lie in their persistence conditions and, perhaps, in their early histories. (No doubt it would be said that death without dismemberment would terminate the existence of Pete but not that of Bob. And perhaps it would be said that Bob came into existence some months or years earlier than Pete.) But there is no apparent way to explain, simply by reference to those differences, why thinking (or talking or walking) is something done by persons but not by their bodies. Unless an explanation can be provided, or unless materialists are willing to accept the multiplication and coincidence of agents, they had better find a way to avoid saying that persons and their bodies are different physical objects wholly present in just the same place. To materialists who favor the psychological criterion (or the brain criterion) of personal identity, I commend the sort of account presented above.

References
Bowin, J. (2003). "Chrysippus' Puzzle About Identity." Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 24: 239-251
Burke, M. B. 1992. "Copper Statues and Pieces of Copper: A Challenge to the Standard Account." Analysis 52: 12-17.
Burke, M. B. (1994a). "Preserving the principle of one object to a place: A novel account of the relations among objects, sorts, sortals, and persistence conditions." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 54(3), 591-624.
Burke, M. B. (1994b). "Dion and Theon: An essentialist solution to an ancient puzzle." The Journal of Philosophy, 91(3), 129-139.
Burke, M. B. (1996). "Tibbles the cat: A Modern 'Sophisma'". Philosophical Studies, 84(1), 63-74.
Burke, M. B. (1997). Coinciding objects: reply to Lowe and Denkel. Analysis, 57(1), 11-18.
Burke, M. B. (2004). Dion, Theon, and the many-thinkers problem. Analysis, 64(3), 242-250.
Chisholm, R. M. (1973). Parts as essential to their wholes. The Review of Metaphysics, 581-603.
Long, A. and D. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, Cambridge University Press)
Lowe, E. J. (1995). Coinciding objects: in defence of the 'standard account'. Analysis, 55(3), 171-178.
Rea, M. C. (1997). Material Constitution: A Reader. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Sedley, David. 1982. "The Stoic Criterion of Identity." Phronesis 27: 255-75.
Unger, Peter.1980. "The Problem of the Many." In Midwest Studies in Philosophy. Vol. 5 Studies in Epistemology (pp. 411-68), ed. P. French, T. Uehling, and H. Wettstein Varzi, Achille, Mereology,Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Wiggins, D. (1968). On being in the same place at the same time. The Philosophical Review, 90-95.
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