November 15, 2008

Quote of the Day: Beer and Philosophy

"The claim that atoms arranged baseballwise fail to compose a baseball might be hard to swallow. But it goes down like draught Guinness compared to the claim that baseballs are simples." - Trenton Merricks, Objects and Persons, p. 63.

Some context: so-called 'folk ontology' (i.e. 'commonsense' beliefs about what sorts of things there are, modified by just a bit of modern science) claims that there are a bunch of atoms bonded together in a spherical region which compose an object called a baseball. Merricks is arguing that, while all of those atoms exist, there does not exist, in addition to the atoms, a large object called a 'baseball' of which all those atoms are parts. In chapter 3, from which the quote is taken, he argues that if there were such an object as the baseball, it would be causally redundant - i.e. it wouldn't explain any occurrences not explained by the atoms. In this passage, he is claiming that if we try to say that it is the baseball which causes (say) the shattering of a window we will be forced to say that the baseball is a mereological simple - i.e. that it has no parts - and, therefore, that the atoms are not part of it. This, he says, is even less plausible than the claim that there is no baseball. And he likes Guinness.

Posted by Kenny at November 15, 2008 5:25 PM
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Comments

It depends on what counts as causal redundancy. If you do it in terms of composition, then the baseball causes the glass to break, and the atoms making up the baseball cause the atoms making up the glass to move apart, but you don't have causal redundancy if those are separate events with two pairs of cause-effect that don't have common terms.

If you identify the baseball with the sum of the atoms, then you also don't have causal redundancy, since there's only one cause-effect set that's being thought of under two different descriptions.

So either way, I don't think there's causal redundancy just because you think the baseball exists. The only way you'll get causal redundancy is if you take the baseball and the mereological sum to be distinct entities while identifying the event of the ball breaking the glass and the event of the ball's atoms causing the glass's atoms to move apart.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at November 17, 2008 2:26 PM

So, Merricks argues at length against composition as identity, so he is denying the existence of the mereological sum, which, if it existed, would be an entity distinct from the atoms. So your second criticism is misplaced. If you use 'the sum of the atoms' to be (say) an abstract object, like a set of atoms, then we could just consider the atoms either individually or all together and there wouldn't be a metaphysical difference, but if by sum you mean a metaphysical entity distinct from the atoms - which is what Merricks means when he talks about composition - then there is still redundancy.

Your first criticism is more to the point, and Merricks does address it directly in the chapter from which the quote was taken. I, of course, don't endorse his arguments, but the book is certainly worth reading.

Posted by: Kenny at November 17, 2008 8:06 PM

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