Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Fusions and organisms

Suppose you believe the following:

  1. For any physical objects, the xs, there is a physical object y with the following properties:
    1. each of the xs is a part of y;
    2. it is an essential property of y that it have the parts it does; and
    3. necessarily, if all the actual proper parts of y exist, then y exists as well.

For instance, on the standard version of mereological universalism, it seems we could just take y to be the fusion of the xs. And on some versions of monism, we could take y to be the cosmos.

But it seems (1) is false if organisms are physical objects and if particles survive ingestion. For suppose that there is exactly one x, Alice, who is a squirrel, and at t1 we find a y that satisfies (1). And now suppose that at t2 there comes into existence a nut whose simple parts are not already parts of y, and at t3 this nut has been eaten and fully digested by Alice. Suppose no parts of y have ceased to exist between t1 and t3. Then y exists at t3 by (c), and has Alice as a part of itself (by (a) and (b)), and the simple particles of the nut are parts of y by transitivity as they are parts of Alice. Hence y has gained parts, contrary to (b), a contradiction.

(Note that the argument can be run modally against a four-dimensionalist version of (1).)

The mereological universalist’s best bet may be to deny that fusions satisfy (c). Normally, we think that the only way for a fusion to perish is for one of its proper parts to perish. But there may be another way for a fusion to perish, namely by certain kinds of changes in the mereological structure of the fusion’s proper parts, and specifically by one of the fusion’s proper parts gaining a part that wasn’t already in the fusion.

Here is another problem for (1), though. Suppose that Alice the squirrel is the only physical object in the universe. Now consider a y satisfying (1)(a)–(b). Then y is distinct from Alice because y has different modal properties from Alice: Alice can survive annihilation of one of her claws while y cannot by (b). But this violates the Weak Supplementation mereological axiom, since all of y’s parts overlap Alice. So we cannot combine fusions as normally conceived of (since the normal conception of them includes classical mereology) with organisms.

A way out of both problems is to say that there are two different senses of parthood at issue: fusion-parthood and organic-parthood, and there is no transitivity across them. This is a serious ideological complication.

1 comment:

Philip Rand said...
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