Ontology of components

Knowledge of elements has always suggested an ontology of ordinary objects as mere combinations of elements, but atomic theory suggests this a bit more forcefully by making substance a particle surrounded by a vast nothingness. While such an ontology is easy on the imagination it breaks down when put in light of theory, much like Euclidean points or lines are easy to imagine until theory makes clear that the science can’t be treating of something visualizable.

Start with a simple equation like 2+4=6. The activity involved is addition, and the result or effect is a 6. The analogues to atoms are the 2 and the 4, and as such they might give us 6 or -2 or 8 or 0.5 depending on whether we add, subtract, multiply or divide. The effect that actually occurred, namely the sum-of-six, arises formally from addition, but the 2 and 4 are not formal to the result, but only enter into the equation as being as instances of numbers adequate to bring the sum about. That six is a sum requires addition as addition, but 4 and 2 are not required as four and two but only as selected out of the infinite-member class of things-adequate-to-add-to-six. The result thus arises per se from the concrete operation but not from the concrete components.

In artifacts, it’s clear that the operation bringing about the result is exterior to the components used, and so what is per se to an artifact will never be intrinsic to that artifact. In natural things it the concrete operation is intrinsic to the components that come together, but this doesn’t change the character of components as such, but only means that natural items of the universe are resolvable into component parts and distinct operators that act on these components, not in virtue of what the components are concretely and in fact, but only so far as they are things that the operator can use to attain the goals it tries to achieve.





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