## Sunday, November 7, 2010

### Taking Statues of Clay With a Pinch of Salt

The puzzle of the statue and the clay is so well-known that it hardly needs any introduction. On Monday, a sculptor buys a piece of clay. On Tuesday, she moulds it into a statue. The statue and the piece of clay, the argument goes, cannot be identical because there are predicates that are satisfied by the one but not by the other. For instance, the piece of clay existed on Monday while the statue did not or, to take another example, the piece of clay would survive being squashed into a ball but the statue wouldn't. (These argument is often put in terms of properties rather than predicates, but I take it that anyone who accepts a reasonably sparse conception of properties would deny that any properties correspond to predicates such as 'x exists on Monday' or 'x would survive being squashed into a ball'.)

Slightly more formally, the arguments look more or less like this:

A:
(A1) The piece of clay existed on Monday
(A2) The statue did not exist on Monday
(A3) If the piece of clay and the statue are identical, then the piece of clay existed on Monday iff the statue existed on Monday
(AC) The piece of clay and the statue are not identical

B:
(B1) The piece of clay would survive being squashed into a ball
(B2) The statue would not survive being squashed into a ball
(B3) If the piece of clay and the statue are identical, then the piece of clay would survive being squashed into a ball iff the statue would survive being squashed into a ball.
(BC) The piece of clay and the statue are not identical

To my mind, the most surprising feature of this puzzle is that it has mislead so many good philosophers into embracing the view that material constitution is a relation between distinct objects with all its implausible consequences despite the fact that a much more simple and plausible solution to the puzzle has been around for decades (as far as I can see the position I have in mind is the one developed and defended by Roderick Chisholm in the 1970s). So, I was wondering if readers could help me see what's wrong with the Chisholmian solution or explain why it is almost completely ignored in the literature (in fact I cannot even think of anyone truly engaging with it in the literature).

Let me start by putting aside my mereological nihilist sympathies (as I assume few would embrace mereological nihilism with its seemingly implausible consequences just for the sake of solving that puzzle) and assume that there are pieces of clay and statues. For the sake of simplicity, let me also assume that the one made on Tuesday is the only statue there is, was, and will ever be in the whole wide world. Given these assumptions, it seems that one could truly affirm that

(A1*) On Monday, there was a piece of clay (i.e. On Monday, there is an x such that x is a piece of clay),

and that

(A2*) On Monday, there was no a statue (i.e. On Monday, there is no y such that y is a statue).

It is our inclination to accept something like (A2*), I suspect, that can be exploited to mislead us into assenting to (A2). However, accepting (A2*) does not amount to accepting anything like (A2), as one can easily concede that there was no statue on Monday and that there was one on Tuesday while denying that something new has come into existence between Monday and Tuesday (contrary to what (A2) surreptitiously suggests). One can do so simply by maintaining that, whereas our piece of clay (call it 'Clay') was not yet a statue on Monday, it became one on Tuesday, when the artist turned it into one. So, while there was no statue on Monday and there is one on Tuesday, the thing that became a statue on Tuesday (i.e. Clay) already existed on Monday, although on Monday it was not yet a statue, as it did not meet the conditions for satisfying 'x is a statue' (whatever these may be).

Consider now Argument B. Sure enough, if Clay were to be squashed into a ball, something would still be a piece of clay and nothing would be a statue. However, this does not imply that something would go out of existence in the process. It is simply that, under these counterfactual circumstances, Clay would no longer meet the conditions for satisfying 'x is a statue' (whatever these may be), while it would still meet the ones for satisfying 'x is a piece of clay'. So, one could truly affirm that:

(B1*) If Clay were to be squashed into a ball, there would still be something that is a piece of clay (i.e. there would be an x such that x is a piece of clay).

and that

(B2*) If Clay were to be squashed into a ball, there would no longer be be something that is a statue (i.e. there would be no y such that y is a statue).

And that, I think, is all we really mean to assent to when we assent to (B1) and (B2).

Consider now a third variation on our puzzle.

C:
(C1) The piece of clay would not survive the loss of any of its proper parts
(C2) The statue would survive the loss of some of its proper parts
(C3) If the piece of clay and the statue are identical, then the piece of clay would not survive the loss of any of its proper parts iff the statue would not survive the loss of any of its proper parts.
(CC) The piece of clay and the statue are not identical

Consider, for example, a piece of Clay that is neither too big nor too small--e.g. the piece that forms the nose of the statue (call it 'Nosy'). Here, the underlying intuition seems to be that, if Nosy came to be detached, the statue would remain the same statue as before (although deprived of its nose) but the piece of clay wouldn't be any longer the same. All this argument seems to show, however, is that the conditions for satisfying 'x is the same statue as y' are different from those for satisfying 'x is the same piece of clay as y'. Let's grant that, if Nosy were to be detached from Clay, Clay would cease to exist. In its place, we would have two smaller pieces of clay: Nosy and the rest of Clay (call it 'Clay Jr'). Each of them used to be a proper part of Clay and, so each of them, is partially identical with it (in the sense that part of each is identical with part of Clay) although not (wholly) identical with it. More importantly, one of them (i.e. Clay Jr) still meets the conditions for satisfying 'x is a statue'. So, after Clay ceases to exist, there still is a statue.

But what of the intuition that this statue is the same statue as the one that was there before? Since Clay and Clay Jr are not identical, how can the statue that Clay Jr is be the same statue as the one that Clay used to be? I think the answer should be that, despite the appearances, 'x is the same statue as y' (nor 'x is the same piece of clay as y' for that matter) expresses an identity relation. (Note that this position differs from the one (in)famously put forward by Peter Geach, as it maintains that Clay and Clay Jr are absolutely distinct, whether or note we take them to satisfy 'x is the same statue as y' or 'x is the same piece of clay as y'.) In other words, in order for Clay and Clay Jr to satisfy 'x is the same statue as y' (or 'x is the same piece of clay as y'), Clay and Clay Jr need not be identical. In order to satisfy 'x is the same statue as y' or 'x is the same piece of clay as y', Clay Jr would only have to meet some set of weaker (and vaguer) conditions, which, in the case of 'x is the same statue as y', may include its overlapping significantly with Clay and retaining its shape (and, in the case of 'x is the same piece of clay as y', may include its overlapping (almost) completely with Clay even without retaining its shape).

1. This comment has been removed by the author.

2. Of course something new came into existence on Tuesday- the statue. Didn't the sculptor create something? His creation didn't exist on Monday, though its makings did. The existence of Clay on Monday sans Statue, however, entails the possibility of adding to our stock of things a statue- something new- by making it satisfy the conditions for statuehood. Isn't that what the sculptor has done upon seeing to it that Clay does satisfy those conditions? A2 and A2* seem synonymous to me.

3. Hi Robert,

The defender of the view I'm sketching would agree that there was no statue on Monday and there is one on Tuesday but would deny that something new came into existence in the meantime, and I don't think that she would be very moved by your "of course something new came into existence on Tuesday". She would probably reply that you are taking the language of artistic creation way too seriously.

4. Gabriele,

So are there statues or not? Because if there are, it seems like you must account for their creation/coming into existence, using the language of artistic creation or some other idiom. Either way, I cannot see how you can avoid talk of newness without outright denying the existence of the statue, treating talk of it as a facon de parler. Are you saying that there is only a lump of clay here, whose shape is the only thing that is new? I can at least understand that view. But I'm simply not tracking the distinction you are trying to draw. Why is the artist wrong in thinking/saying on Tuesday, 'I have something new here'?

5. Are you saying that there is only a lump of clay here, whose shape is the only thing that is new?

Well, I don't believe it's (just) a question of shape (in fact I believe shape is neither necessary nor sufficient for statuehood but this is a question in philosophy of art not metaphysics) but yes the idea it's more or less that.

Why is the artist wrong in thinking/saying on Tuesday, 'I have something new here'?

Simply because there is nothing new there! All there is is our old friend Clay, which has become a statue.

Consider an analogy. If Prince Charles were ever to be crowned king, it would be true to say that there was no king the day before he's crowned and it would be true that there is a king the day after but that doesn't mean that something new (viz. a king) has come into existence in the meantime. (Does this help?)

6. Sort of. I can see that you are advocating some form of Eliminativism. Yet you talk about Clay becoming a statue, so I'm not quite sure. What does it mean to become something if not to add to the members of a kind? After the artist has gone through the trouble of turning Clay into a statue, hasn't it- a (mere) lump of clay- been replaced by something else? I know some Aristotelians would agree with you regarding artifacts and functionaries, but would draw the line when it came to organisms. Nature does transform, they would contend, cells into genuinely new creatures.

7. As I said, I'm sympathetic to mereological eliminativism/nihilism, but this is not the view I'm discussing here. The view I'm discussing here holds that there are statues, so I don't see in what sense it is eliminativist.
As for adding to the members of the kind statue that may be the case but that doesn't mean that something new is added to the "furniture of the universe". To use a toy example, if I paint something red, I've added something to the class of red things but I haven't added anything to the furniture of the universe.

8. Ok, maybe the view you are discussing works for cases of non-substantial change. But, surely, additions are made to the FOTU where persons or organisms are created, e.g., where a seed becomes a plant or cells and a soul become a person. No?

9. I'd be happy enough for the view to work in the cases such as the one of the statue and the clay, as they seem to be the kind of cases that have lead many to accept constitutionalism.

In any case, I don't see why what I've said wouldn't work for other cases as well. The strategy I discuss with regard to argument (C) would seem to be the way to handle cases like the ones you suggest. Wouldn't it? Maybe, I'm not sure I see the problem you are thinking of though.

10. There was no person on Monday, just some gametes, there is one on Tuesday, conception occurred. But nothing new exists, the gametes have become Jerry. This account of the matter, I am saying, makes a lot less sense than the analogous story you are telling re. Clay and the statue. It seem clear in the former case that a definite addition has been made to the FOTU.

11. The view I'm discussing assumes that composition sometimes (but not always) occurs. So, when a sperm fertilizes an egg, something new has been added to the FOTU--i.e. a fertilized egg, which you can simplistically think of as the sum of the sperm and the egg.

12. Is that fertilized egg a new SUBSTANCE or not? Has creation in the Aristotelian sense occurred here? Because if it has, then there is at least one counterexample to anti-Constitutionalism. Your opponents must only forgo using examples involving artifacts.

13. Is that fertilized egg a new SUBSTANCE or not? Has creation in the Aristotelian sense occurred here?

I guess the answers are 'no' and 'no'. Although I'm not sure answering yes would get the defender of the Chisholmian account in trouble.

14. Gabriele,
I deal with the pros and cons of Chisholm's earlier and later views on material constitution in the following paper which was published in Grazer Philosophische Studien:
http://web.mac.com/marksteen/Philosophy/Papers_files/Chisholm%27s%20Changing%20Conception%20of%20Ordinary%20Objects.pdf

I do analyze why it doesn't solve some of the problems, and show how his later, lesser known account (where entia successiva are replaced with 'modes') fares better, and try to figure out why he changed his views.

15. Thanks, Mark. I look forward to reading it!