Michael ReaMichael Rea is a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame and director of the Center for Philosophy and Religion. He is also a professorial fellow at the University of St. Andrews, specializing in analytic and exegetical theology. Rea's 1997 book, Material Constitution: A Reader, is an anthology of 17 articles on the problems of coincident entities, contingent identity, mereological nihilism, and problems of identity, In 2008, he compiled the five-volume anthology Metaphysics: Critical Concepts in Philosophy, with 98 articles by modern metaphysicians covering all areas of metaphysics. His 2104 book Metaphysics: the basics, is an introductory textbook. Rea's 2002 book, World without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism, is strongly anti-naturalist, arguing that scientific research amassing knowledge on the basis of experimental evidence choosing between various theories is nothing but a "secular faith." Epistemically, Rea thinks science is no better than a religion. His five-volume anthology has a convenient chronological table of its articles (from the 1908 McTaggart article on A-time and B-time, to a 2007 article by Thomas Crisp on presentism). Its introduction has a challenging list of metaphysical questions, a surprising number of which may yield to the approach of information philosophy.
The Problem of Material ConstitutionIn a landmark 1995 article in the Philosophical Review, Rea arranged some classic puzzles and paradoxes in material constitution (The Statue and the Clay, The Ship of Theseus, Dion and Theon, Tibbles, the Cat, and The Growing Problem, as criticized by Chryssipus). Rea saw all these problems could be grouped together under a single problem of material constitution.
What I intend to show is that there is one problem underlying these four familiar puzzles (and their many variants).This problem I will call "the problem of material constitution." I say it underlies the four puzzles for the following reason: every solution to the problem of material constitution is equally a solution to each of these four puzzles, though not vice versa.Rea saw five assumptions at the core of each of the puzzles.
Informally, they are: (i) there is an F and there are ps that compose it, (ii) if the ps compose an F, then they compose an object that is essentially such that it bears a certain relation R to its parts, (iii) if the ps compose an F, then they compose an object that can exist and not bear R to its parts, (iv) if the ps compose both a and b, then a is identical with b, and (v) if a is identical with b then a is necessarily identical with b. Let us call these assumptions, respectively the Existence Assumption, the Essentialist Assumption, (with apologies to Frankfurt) the Principle of Alternative Compositional Possibilities (or PACP for short), the Identity Assumption, and the Necessity Assumption.Rea showed that any possible solutions to these puzzles can be grouped in a taxonomy of assumptions. He divided the possible solutions into those that deny the Identity Assumption, those that deny the Necessity Assumption, and those that deny one or more of the remaining three. The Identity Assumption is roughly the idea that "constitution is identity." At least one assumption must be incompatible with the others. The most flawed assumption, from an information philosophy point of view, is the identity assumption, especially the idea that material constitution is identity. This assumption, which dates from the pre-Socratics, was challenged by the Stoics, especially by Chrysippus' puzzling description of Dion and Theon. Dion/Theon is best interpreted as an attack on the Growing Argument, which the Academic Skeptics used to challenge the Stoic claim that their "peculiarly qualified individuals" can survive material change. The Stoics accepted the ancient claim that a change of material causes an object to cease to exist and a new "numerically distinct" object comes into existence. But the Stoics argued that this sort of material change should be called generation and destruction, since they transform the thing from what it is into something else. This is the Heraclitean philosophy of Becoming, that all is in flux, you can't step into the same river twice. If everything is always changing its material, what is to constitute its Parmenidean Being, especially a human being? The Academic Skeptic version of the Growing Argument was that matter is the sole principle of individuation, so that a change of matter constitutes a change of identity. But according to the Stoics, material change is not growing. Something that grows and diminishes must subsist. It must retain its identity over time. Otherwise we cannot say that "it" is growing. For the Stoics, what comes into existence, grows, then diminishes and dies, is the peculiarly qualified individual (ἰδίος ποιὸν) that is coincident with a different amount of matter from time to time. But material constitution is not identity, individuals are not their material substrate (ὑποκείμενον), but their unique qualities, which we can take to be Aristotle's immaterial form. The Stoics have therefore rejected matter as the principle of individuation.
ReferencesBaker, L. R. (1997). "Why constitution is not identity." The Journal of Philosophy, 94(12), 599-621.
Bowin, J. (2003). "Chrysippus' Puzzle About Identity." Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 24: 239-251
Burke, M. B. (1994). Dion and Theon: An essentialist solution to an ancient puzzle. The Journal of Philosophy, 91(3), 129-139.
Burke, M. B. (1996). Tibbles the cat: A Modern "Sophisma". Philosophical Studies, 84(1), 63-74.
Burke, M. B. (1997). Coinciding objects: reply to Lowe and Denkel. Analysis, 57(1), 11-18.
Burke, M. B. (2004). Dion, Theon, and the many-thinkers problem. Analysis, 64(3), 242-250.
Chisholm, R. M. (1973). Parts as essential to their wholes. The Review of Metaphysics, 581-603.
Johnston, M. (1992). "Constitution is not identity". Mind, 101(401), 89-105.
Long, A. and D. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers
Lowe, E. J. (1995). Coinciding objects: in defence of the 'standard account'. Analysis, 55(3), 171-178.
Noonan, H. W. (1993). "Constitution is identity." Mind, 102(405), 133-146.
Rea, M. C. (1995). The problem of material constitution.. The Philosophical Review, 104(4), 525-552.
Rea, M. C. (1997). Material Constitution: A Reader. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Rea, M. C. (2002). World Without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism: Clarendon Press
Rea, M. C. (2008). Metaphysics: critical concepts in philosophy.
Rea, M. C. (2009). Arguing about metaphysics. New York, Routledge.
Rea, M. V. (2014). Metaphysics: The Basics. London, Routledge.
Sedley, David. 1982. "The Stoic Criterion of Identity." Phronesis 27: 255-75.
Wiggins, D. (1968). On being in the same place at the same time. The Philosophical Review, 90-95.