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PhilosophyGround >> What makes a thing a thing?


7/8/05 3:19 PM
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vermonter
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Edited: 08-Jul-05
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A thing is itself? That's a good definition. The purpose of questions like this, however, is because that general definition, that works in almost every situation, doesnt work in every one. Consider the following "Ship of Thesius" problem. 1. The owner of a boat (for argument's sake the boat is composed entirely of wooden planks) undergoes regular maintenance of his boat by replacing rotted or warped planks one at a time as needed. He destroys the old planks. After 3 years, every plank on the boat has been replaced. Is it still the same boat? (Most intuitions say yes, particularly considering you have replaced most of your particles since you were born). If not, why? 2. Same guy, only this time, he dismantles his boat, keeps the planks and stores them away. After 3 years, he's got the whole thing apart in his boat house and he decides to put it back together. He does so, usuing the same planks in the same order, and in exactly the same fashion. Is it still the same boat? (Most intuitions say yes because the same parts in the same order are the same "thing.") If not, why? 3. Same guy, this time he is doing maintenance like in the first example. However, he doesnt destroy the planks this time, he stores them. After three years he's replaced every plank, and he has a pile of planks in the boat house. He puts the pile back together in the same fashion as the second example. Now he has two boats. Which is the original? Another significant question that causes these concerns to be raised is that if you think the table in Socrates' example is still the same, at what point does it stop being a table. Can you chip away at it until there is nothing left and still call the pile of sawdust a table? I take it you'd say no. At which point exactly is it no longer a table? -doug-
7/8/05 5:08 PM
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Jenny
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Edited: 08-Jul-05
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hey! thank you for answering! "Can you chip away at it until there is nothing left and still call the pile of sawdust a table?" no. a thing is itself because you identify it as such based on how it performs. a pile of sawdust cannot perform as a table. the boat problem -- erk! over my head. my first thought was that replenishing a thing is not changing it.
7/8/05 10:25 PM
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FastAndBulbous
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Edited: 08-Jul-05
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"i don't understand the purpose of questions like these." I agree. The table is still the same table until it is destroyed. Your table is slightly damaged, but it is still the same table. If it becomes a pile of sawdust, it has been destroyed and therefore the original table no longer exists. Here's the difference: Your table has been changed, but its identity, "a table", has not been changed. If you had a "new table" or a "perfect table", those things no longer exist. If you had a "red table" and painted it green, the "red table" would no longer exist. But the table would still exist, because the changes were not changes to its tableness.
7/9/05 10:14 PM
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Jenny
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Edited: 09-Jul-05 10:14 PM
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yeah.
7/20/05 3:06 PM
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vermonter
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Edited: 20-Jul-05
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Sorry to have gotten back to this so late. Hopefully you guys are still checking it out. Jenny, You're not alone in thinking that replenishing is not changing, which is why the Ship of Thesius is such a problem. Besides, i dont think it's over your head, it's just there to make you stop and question your current definition. I'll explain the purpose of questions like these as far as *I* see them. Science says that a table is a collection of wood, metal, glue, paint, etc. molecules right? But then folks like Socrates (the one on this forum) and Aristotle (to name just two) realized that an object like a table can actually "survive" (when i say survive i mean it will still be called a "table") a loss of its parts. Even a loss as significant as an entire leg or even two. Uh oh. So if you still call a table a table even though it's missing two of its legs, it seems like your newer definition based on function doesnt hold up either... A table with two legs doesn't hold your bowl of soup very well. Similarly, my car is currently broken down in the fine state of New Hampshire, and thus is not functioning as a car. Am i wrong to still call it a car based on your definition then? Seems like that would be pretty strange... what would you call it then? On the other hand, a chair could bare probably all the functions of a table, could it not? So why doesnt it make much sense to call it both? A definition of a thing based on its ability to perform certain tasks or act certain ways simply isn't sufficient. FAB, When you say a table is a table until it is destroyed you havent actually answered any of socrates's questions. Once you know the definition of 'destroyed', your claim is a priori, meaning it's true by definition of the words you use and fairly trivial. Anything is itself once it's destroyed, but what makes a thing itself? That's his ultimate question. Using the "science definition" as i called it earlier there is a collection of molecules arranged in such a way as to something we commonly call a table. So whats so special about a particular collection of these molecules? It isn't the shape, or the function, since, like i explained to jenny, the shape and function can be altered or impaired without losing its table-hood. As you noted out, other qualities, like color can be altered without losing its table-hood. In fact, according to the Ship of Thesius problem, the very collection of molecules that compse a particular table THEMSELVES arent even important. My question to you is this: what do you consider qualifies as table-hood? What exactly needs to be lost to lose table-hood, since i don't see a satisfactory answer in your last post? Finally, it seems as though you are making another, even more radical claim about things: It seems that, according to your loosely communicated definition of a thing, there could be several objects located in one region of space such as "new table," "red table," and "table." Besides being unintuitive and not very probable, a very similar (albeit stronger, and more based on physics) view to this one is one held by professor Mark Moyer, my first formal instructor. You might want to read some of his online papers to help advance your position. -doug-
7/20/05 6:08 PM
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FastAndBulbous
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Edited: 20-Jul-05
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"When you say a table is a table until it is destroyed you havent actually answered any of socrates's questions." I was eliminating some of the ways the table could be made not a table. Painting it, chipping it, etc. My point was that you must first decide what level of precision you want to use in defining the thing before you can decide what changes the thing's definition. You still have a car, but you don't have a "good car". Did you have a good car before it broke down? It was functioning, but it had some problems that caused it to break down. So what thing was that car when it was running? A running car? You no longer have that thing.
7/20/05 6:33 PM
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vermonter
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Edited: 20-Jul-05
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I'm not sure that you understand what it is to destroy something. Technically speaking, for an object to be destroyed, it is no longer the same object. So if Socrates were to assert that chipping it made it a different object, then you have destroyed it, because he's given a necessary criteria for table-hood, and he's given an example in which that criteria is lost. To understand what it is to destroy an object, you need to first know what makes it an object, which is what his question is. This is why you have failed to successfully answer him. To make it simpler, Socrates asks "What is an object?" You respond, "an object is what it is as long as it is, and once it isn't, than it isn't anymore." As for your second paragraph, precision descision making has nothing to do with object-hood. What if there were no people? Unless you are an idealist, or you do not believe that macroscopic objects exist (in which case there isn't much need for decision making about the objects that do exist), you have to accept the fact that there are mind- independant criteria for object-hood. And still (im not sure if you were debating this or not) you're philosphy has the consequence of more than one object in the same location in space and time. -doug- PS. i dont mean to have a harsh tone, if thats how im coming off.

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