This post is a sequel to Van Inwagen on the Ship of Theseus. Peter van Inwagen, Material Beings (Cornell UP, 1990), p. 31, writes:
The question 'In virtue of what do these n blocks compose this house of blocks?' is a question about n + 1 objects, one of them radically different from the others. But the question 'What could we do to get these n blocks to compose something? is a question about n rather similar objects. . . . . questions of the former sort turn our minds to various metaphysical and linguistic questions about the "special" n + 1st [read: n + 1th] object and our words for it: What are the identity conditions for houses of blocks?
Why does van Inwagen think that a house of blocks is an object radically different from the blocks that compose it? And why does he think that if there are, say, 1000 blocks, then in the place where the house is, there are 1001 objects? Not only do I find these notions repugnant to my philosophical sense, I suspect that it is their extremism that motivates van Inwagen to recoil from them and embrace something equally absurd, namely, that there are no such things as houses of blocks or inanimate concrete partite entities generally.
In other words, if one begins by assuming that if a house of blocks, for example, is a whole of parts, then it is an object radically different from the objects that compose it, an object numerically additional to the objects that compose it; then, recoiling from these extreme positions, one will be tempted to embrace an equal but opposite extremism according to which there are no such inanimate partite entities as houses of blocks. What then should we say about a house of blocks?
First off, it is not identical to any one of its proper parts. Second, it is not identical to the mereological sum of its parts: the parts exist whether or not the house exists. From this it follows that there is a sense in which the house is 'something more' than its parts. But surely it is not an object "radically different" from, or numerically additional to, its proper parts. If there is a house of 1000 blocks in a place, there are not 1001 objects or entities in that place. After all, the house is composed of the blocks, and of nothing else.
So on the one hand the house is 'something more' than its constituent blocks, while on the other hand it is not a "radically different" object above and beyond them. Think of how absurd it would be for me to demand that you show me your house after you have shown me every part of it. "You've shown me every single part of your house, but where is the bloody house?"
The house, thought not identical to the blocks that compose it, is not wholly diverse from the blocks that compose it . The house is the blocks arranged housewise. The house is not the blocks, and the house is not some further entity "radically different" from the blocks. The house is just the blocks in a certain familiar arrangement. Should we conclude that the house exists or that it does not exist? I say it exists: the house is the blocks arranged housewise, and the existence of the house is the housewise unity of the blocks. Van Inwagen seems to think that there is no house, there are just the blocks. (Of course, he doesn't believe in the blocks either since they too are inanimate partite entities; but to keep the discussion simple, we may assume that the blocks are simples.)
Now if it is allowed that the house exists, it seems clear that the house does not exist in the way the blocks do. But this does not strike me as a good reason for saying that the house does not exist at all. What is wrong with saying that the house is a dependent existent? And what is wrong with saying that about partite entities generally? They exist, but they do not exist in addition to their parts, but as the unity or connectedness of their parts. Saying this, we avoid van Inwagen's absurd thesis that inanimate partite entities do not exist. Of course, this commits me to saying that there are at least two modes of existence, a dependent mode and an independent mode. I suspect van Inwagen would find such a distinction incoherent. But that is a topic for a separate post.
The problem can be set forth as an aporetic pentad:
1. The house is not identical to the blocks that compose it.
2. The house is not wholly diverse from the blocks that compose it; it is not an object numerically additional to the blocks that compose it: given that the house is composed of n blocks, the house itself is not an n + 1th object.
3. The house exists.
4. The constituent blocks exist.
5. 'Exists' is univocal as between wholes and parts: wholes and their parts exist in the same sense.
Each limb has a strong claim on our acceptance. But they cannot all be true. Any four of the propositions, taken together, entails the negation of the remaining one. For example, if the first four are all true, then the fifth must be false. To solve the problem, one of the limbs must be rejected. But which one?
To me it seems obvious that the first four are all true. So I reject (5). Rejecting (5), I can say that the house exists as the connectedness of the blocks. Thus the mode of existence of the whole is different from the mode of existence of its simple parts. But this solution requires us to believe in modes of existence, which is sure to inspire opposition among analytic philosophers. Van Inwagen, if I understand him, denies (2) and (3) while accepting the others.
But van I's solution is just crazy, is it not? Mine is less crazy. But perhaps you, dear reader, have a better suggestion.