Characterisations

Persistence is typically characterised as something existing for more than a moment, which isn’t an explanation of why anything persists at all, or why things persist for a short or long time. The notions of endurance and perdurance do not explain either why something endures or perdures; they just characterise persistence in ways conceptually compatible with the constraints of the A vs B view of time. According to the A view, all objects are only in the present but it allows what is present to change, wherefore things can come to exist at many times by passing from one time to another. According to the B view, time does not pass, and all times exist in parity, wherefore objects cannot pass through time and must therefore extend through time, having different parts existing at different times (Ingthorsson 2009). Similarly, mereology doesn’t tell us what makes p be a constitutive part of some whole tv, but only illustrates the formal relations between p and tv and any other parts of w, once it is assumed that pt, p„ p,... are constituents of w (for an overview, see Varzi 2019).

It bears mentioning that Kit Fine’s ‘Aggregative’ and ‘Monster’ objections to mainstream accounts of constitution (1999: 62-3) boil down to the claim that they don’t explain constitution; that they treat compound objects as mere aggregates, and therefore can’t really tell true unities from mere aggregates. This allows us to create ‘monstruous’ entities like the sum of Cleopatra, a slice of ham, and the sum of all objects that merely existed before or after the existence of a particular ham sandwich. Indeed, Fine’s account in terms of what he calls ‘embodiments’ is in some ways an attempt to provide an explanatory account, and he thinks it is roughly Aristotelian (Fine 1999). However, since Fine’s ‘embodiments’ are primitive sui generis relations between a whole and its parts, they are only explanatory in the same sense the attribution of ‘permanence’ to fundamental particles is an explanation of persistence. The fact that constitution applies to compounds and not simples, i.e. not to fundamental entities, raises the question of whether this strategy really is warranted for compounds. Furthermore, it is an account that doesn’t obviously connect ‘embodiments’ with the scientific explanation of how elementary particles make up atoms, atoms make molecules, etcetera. If not for anything else, if an account of constitution in terms of interaction works, it has the advantage over Fine’s account of not being sui generis, and clearly links our philosophical views with the theories and findings of science. For a critical discussion of Fine’s account, see Kathrin Koslicki (2008: 75-89).

The distinction between unities and aggregates is central for the issue of constitution. A unity is a collection of entities that bear a substantial relation to each other, such as the particles in an atom, atoms in a molecule, molecules in an alloy, or even the parts of an automobile. An aggregate, on the other hand, is a collection of entities that do not stand in any substantial relation to each other, such as the various deserts on the planet, or the cars parked in a given car park at a certain time. They amount to no more than the mereological sum of its parts. The existence of an aggregate is dependent upon the existence of each and every part, but the existence, qualities, and behaviour of the parts are not dependent upon the existence of the collection. In a unity, the parts are qualitatively modified as a result of becoming a part of the unity, and their behaviour is partly determined by the whole of which they are parts, but they also contribute to determine the behaviour of the whole. An example is the way the rotation of the Earth along its axis and around the sun is continuously influenced by the sun, moon, and other planets, and, vice versa, the presence of the Earth in the solar system affecting the behaviour of the system. Obviously, one cannot hope to explain the persistence of aggregates in terms of interaction, since by definition there are no substantial connections between the parts of an aggregate, and interaction is a substantial connection. We may have better luck with unities.

The objects we ordinary identify as objects, like tables, billiard balls, and persons, not only appear to us as unified wholes, but are accounted for scientifically as collections of parts bound together by physical bonds that all count as interactions in the way I describe them in Chapter 4. That is, ordinary middle-sized objects are compound substances constituted by parts bound together by continuous interaction. A brick is a unity of parts and it can in turn be a part of an aggregate whose parts interact, e.g. when the brick collides with a window. In this example, the unity of the brick is preserved but the unity of the window is destroyed. In ‘Causal Production as Interaction’ (Ingthorsson 2002) I maintain that the aggregate whole of brick and window also persists through an interaction, but this is not something it does because of the interaction, rather in spite of the interaction. The aggregate whole persists because of the ‘existential inertia’ it borrows from the simple substances that are its fundamental parts. Whether any unity contained in that aggregate survives as well—say, the brick—is decided by how well the unity succeeds in preserving its structure.

 
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