Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Disembodied trees

Here’s an interesting thesis:

  1. If x has the ys among its parts, and for each z among the ys, x can survive losing z without gaining anything, then x can survive simultaneously losing all the ys without gaining anything.

There are obvious apparent counterexamples. A boat that has sufficient redundancy can survive the loss of any plank, but cannot survive losing them all. An oak tree can lose any cell but cannot lose all cells.

But counterexamples aside, wouldn’t (1) be a nice metaphysical thesis to have? Then essential parts wouldn’t be made of inessential ones. You can see all the nasty ship-of-Theseus questions that would disappear if we had (1).

I think an Aristotelian can embrace (1), and can get around the counterexamples by biting some big bullets. First, like some contemporary Aristotelians, she can deny that artifacts like boats (or bullets) exist. Second, she can say that oak trees can survive the loss of all their matter, becoming constituted by form alone, much as some philosophers say happens to human beings after death (before the resurrection). The second part seems a bigger bullet to bite, as one would need a story as to why in fact oak trees perish when they lose all their cells, even if they don’t have to. But perhaps that’s just contingently how it happens, though an all powerful being could make an oak tree survive the destruction of all its cells.

The big question here is exactly what philosophical advantages embracing (1) has.

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