The ship of Theseus

If we replace all of the parts of X, did X change?  We have problems either way: if X is nothing but its parts then it didn’t change but was simply replaced by something else; and if it is something other than its parts, then something other than X changed. Either way it is false to say “X changed”. Even if we don’t go to the limit of changing all the parts of a thing, the problem still remains, since there is still the riddle of the thing changing when its parts do.

The answer might turn out differently depending on what thing we are speaking of: to change the parts of a car might not be the same as to change the parts of a living thing or to change the habits, concepts, and memories that are the parts of the field of consciousness. But at the very least it is a dead end to deny that living things change when their parts do- maturity and growth are changes. So what does this say about the relation of “a thing with parts” to “the parts of a thing”? If the change is real, then there has to be not only some reality beyond the parts of the thing (or else there is only replacement and not change) but the parts have to be some how incorporated into this reality (or else the thing wouldn’t change when its parts do). Call this reality beyond the parts F.

The dispute between Aristotle and Plato focused on whether F entered into the being of some group of parts. For Aristotle,a natural thing was nothing other than something with an intrinsic F, and F was most of all what deserved to be called nature (an artifact, by contrast, had an extrinsic F, and a thing was artificial when this was extrinsic to it). Plato denied an intrinsic F to anything with parts, and in this sense denied the sharp distinction that Aristotle drew between what was artificial and what was natural. Properly speaking, modern science is not interested in this sort of question since it does not raise the question of how change is possible, but in the measure that it denies a sharp difference between nature and art, it is closer to the Platonic notion.

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