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Thursday, December 06, 2012


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Hi Bill,

I wonder if you can help me see how the Bundle-Bundle Theory (BBT) satisfies the idea that there is really *one and the same thing* underlying alterational change.

The view strikes me as in some respects similar to four-dimensionalist stage theory, which is a kind of temporal analogue of Lewisian modal realism, complete with time-bound individuals instead of world-bound individuals. Very roughly, the view is that ordinary material objects are to be identified with time slices or instantaneous existents. These instantaneous objects, however, are suitably related to each other by temporal-counterpart relations, which make it true to say that ordinary objects persist through alterational change.

Such a view seems not *really* to satisfy the requirement that one and the same thing persist through alterational change. There is not, to cop a phrase from Aristotle, an underlying subject of the change.

The same seems to be true of the BBT. There is not really any underlying subject of the change, but wholly distinct individuals that are nevertheless suitably related to one another so as to make it true to say that the avocado, for example, persists through ripening. Strictly speaking, however, there are a variety of avocados that are bundled together and called 'the avocado'.

In short, my worry is that avocados could not be composed of *individuals* in the manner suggested by BBT, which means that there must really be a multiplicity of avocados bundled together to form 'the avocado', which in turn is really just a logical construction. If so, then there is not really one and the same thing underlying the alterational change.

This isn't an objection so much as an expression of unease.

Thanks, John. I'm a little uneasy myself.

On BBT there is no one underlying substratum that remains numerically self-same over time while its properties change. What we have is a diachronic bundle of continuum-many synchronic bundles of universals, each of which is an instantaneous individual. That does sound bizarre since, as you say, that implies that there are many instantaneous avocados with THE avocado being a mere logical construction. But each instantaneous avocado is itself a logical construction out of universals which are the basic existents on this scheme.

But is it not also bizarre to suppose that there is some one empirically undetectable underlying substratum of change?

Persistence cannot be denied. It is a datum. But endurance and perdurance are theories. What I was trying to show contra Loux is that a sophisticated bundle theory, unlike the simple bundle theory, can accommodate persistence.

There is really one and the same thing if we take that thing to be the diachronic bundle of synchronic bundles. But it cannot be said to 'underly' anything. It is just the avocado itself.

Granted, there has to be a subject of change that does not change. No change without unchange! But why can't the subject of change be the diachronic bundle itself?

Let me put it this way.

There is no alterational change without persistence. For without persistence we would have a Heraclitean flux. So there has to be some one thing that has different properties at different times. Why can't that be the whole diachronic bundle?

Hi Bill,

To be honest with you, I'm not entirely sure why that which persists through the change cannot be the whole diachronic bundle. As I said before, my reservations were expressions of unease moreso than anything else.

I agree that persistence is a datum and that endurantism and perdurantism are theories. But both seem to accommodate that datum in relatively intuitive ways. Endurantism tells us that there really is something that persists through a given change (although exactly how they tell this story will depend on whether the endurantist in question is also a presentist or is instead an eternalist about time). Perdurantism tells us that the persisting object is spread out in time, much like ordinary objects are spread out in space, by having parts at each time at which it exists.

Perdurantism contrasts with stage theory because perdurantism says that an ordinary object like an avocado is composed of temporal parts (which are not themselves avocados any more than the parts of a chair are themselves chairs), whereas stage theory says - very roughly - that in fact each of the parts is itself an avocado, and the succession of these avocados is connected by temporal-counterpart relations. That feels quite unnatural to me; ordinary objects aren't instantaneous existents linked together by similarity (as opposed to identity) relations. Stage theory does not have genuine persistence.

What I was trying to suggest with my last post was that BBT seems to me more like stage theory than perdurantism. But it now seems to me that I may have been misinterpreting the theory. Nevertheless, I have a worry that the bundles of universals are themselves *avocados* rather than *parts* of avocados. If that were the case, then I think BBT would be more like stage theory than perdurantism, in which case it would not allow for genuine persistence. But I am not sure I have non-arbitrary grounds for maintaining that the bundles of universals cannot be parts of an avocado rather than avocados.


Can you refer me to some article or book in which the distinction between stage theory and perdurantism is spelled out?

It is clear that the spatial (proper) parts of an avocado are not avocados. But why can't the temporal parts of an avocado be avocados? And what exactly is the difference between a temporal part and a stage?

Hi Bill,

Theodore Sider's "All the World's a Stage", which was a precursor to his 2001 book "Four-Dimensionalism: An Ontology of Time and Persistence" makes the case for what he calls stage theory. Katherine Hawley's book "How Things Persist", especially the first couple of chapters, articulates the differences between the two views. Like Sider, Hawley defends stage theory against both endurantism and perdurantism. Hawley, I think, is more careful about distinguishing between temporal parts and stages, and why the proper temporal parts of an avocado are not themselves avocados but the stages of an avocado are.

Thanks for the info, John.

My concern at present is with constituent ontology and how it contrasts with relational ontology. (These positions are logical contraries, not contradictories of one another: they both could be false. One could be an ostrich nominalist.)

Now would you say that the temporal parts of e.g. an avocado are ontological constituents of it? In other words, are temporal parts theorists committed to C-ontology? Contrapositively, are R-ontologists committed to rejecting temporal parts?

These questions have only recently occurred to me. I don't know what to say about them.

You're welcome, Bill.

I haven't given these sorts of questions much thought either, but that's because I've always come at them from the other direction. That is, I haven't given as much thought to the relationship between constituent and relational ontologies as I have to various accounts of persistence over time.

That said, I believe that I would say that the temporal parts of an avocado are ontological constituents of it. A thing's temporal parts are much more like a thing's material parts than any other putative constituent of that object, so I would say that if a thing's material parts are ontological constituents of it, then so too are a thing's temporal parts.

But I don't think I would say that this commits perdurantists to constituent ontology in any interesting sense. I have always understood the contrast between constituent and relational ontologies to be primarily a matter of how a thing relates to its properties: does a thing have properties by standing in some external relation to those properties, or instead by having those properties somehow 'immanent' in it? Perhaps this is wrong. But if it's right, then I would say that perdurantists believe that the temporal parts of a thing are among its ontological constituents, but that this does not commit them to any interesting version of constituent ontology.

That said, perhaps there is more to it. I think I can see how there are affinities between perdurantism and constituent ontology on the one hand, and endurantism and relational ontology on the other. I don't think I can see that there would be any logical entailments between the two, but affinities, certainly. I could be wrong, though.

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